Should I sleep train? - When to know it's time to start
Most of the parents we work with, who decide to sleep train, do so because they know how important sleep is to the overall health and wellbeing of the child (and the family as a whole). Here are some of the reasons why sleep training may improve a child’s sleep:
Sleep onset association
When a child learns to associate a particular action with their ability to fall asleep, this can lead to disrupted sleep. Think frequent night wakings and short naps.
Examples of common actions that lead to sleep onset association issues include:
using a rocking motion (in arms/stroller/swing/car)
holding or patting a child to sleep.
It’s common and appropriate for children to wake during the night. However, if a child receives parental help at the beginning of the night to fall asleep, it can be very difficult for them to fall back to sleep without it.
If mommy helped them fall asleep at bedtime, they’re going to want that help in the middle of the night too. This can lead to fragmented and shortened sleep for the entire family. This is the most common reason we help families sleep train at Huckleberry.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with helping your child fall asleep in any of these ways. In fact, it can be necessary to help your infant fall asleep when you have a very young baby.
Babies under the age of six months aren’t always able to fall asleep on their own consistently and may require help. At the same time, when we continue these habits past the point where’s it developmentally necessary, it can lead to inadequate sleep for children and their parents.
Bedtime is taking too long
How long is too long? Ideally most kids will take 10-20 minutes to fall asleep once their bedtime routine is over when it’s timed well, though some children who take longer to wind down will need additional time.
When a parent remains present after the lights are turned out, we often find that this can distract children and lead to prolonged bedtime routines. This can reduce a child’s sleep and interfere with a parent’s ability to engage in other essential activities - like put other kids to bed, wash the dishes or binge on their favorite shows. Hey, parental down time is a must! We tend to see this more with toddlers and preschoolers.
Need for a safe sleep space
The American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep policy calls for infants to sleep on their back, on a separate, flat and firm sleep surface without any bumpers, bedding or stuffed toys. We hope that families will stay informed regarding safe sleep practices before making decisions regarding their baby's sleep space. We also encourage families to consult their pediatrician to address any medical issues, such as reflux or food allergies, that may be making it more difficult to sleep alone on a flat surface.
That said, we get that it can be easier said than done when your child won’t sleep more than 20 minutes in their crib and everyone’s suffering from sleep deprivation. As parents ourselves, we understand that some moms and dads will choose to bed-share or use mechanical aids (such as swings) to improve sleep, against the advice of some experts.
We hear from many parents who have struggled with using the crib, especially during the newborn period, but now want to prioritize helping their child learn to fall asleep in a new sleep space. Sleep training can help those babies learn to accept a new sleep space.
Coping with reflux
While the inability to sleep well in a crib or bassinet is often linked to sleep onset association disorder, babies with reflux often have trouble sleeping on a flat surface, especially if they fall asleep while feeding.
Babies with reflux tend to sleep better if they are held upright after a feeding for 10-15 minutes and any trapped air is burped out - so not feeding to sleep is especially important. However, it’s also very common to feed your baby to sleep when they have reflux because they tend to eat better when they’re sleepy. It can be a tricky cycle to break. Sleep training can help a baby learn to fall asleep without feeding.
When a child has sleep issues, one of the first things we’ll want to consider is whether helping the child learn to fall asleep independently can improve the family’s days and nights. Many times the answer is YES. Although there are other factors that can also impact sleep (such as schedule, hunger and environment), independent sleeping skills are a big one.
When you’re ready to get started with sleep training we recommend skipping the lengthy books and conflicting articles on sleep. Who has time for that? Simplify the process by choosing Huckleberry’s Premium membership. Our customized plans are designed by sleep experts who take both your child’s sleep patterns and your own parenting style into account.