All of us, from babies from ~4months old to adults, sleep in cycles. We start off drowsy, transition through light sleep, into deeper sleep, back into light sleep, and then we often wake up for a moment (even if we don’t remember it). “Sleeping through the night”, is hence not the “goal” of sleep training, since none of us “sleep through the night”.

All of us, however, get into a habit regarding how we sleep. Most adults have the habit of going right back to sleep on our own when we wake up in the middle of the night. Many young children, however, have developed habits of depending on some sort of assistance from their caregivers to fall asleep. As such, when they wake up in the middle of the night, especially ~4months old when their sleep cycles become more similar to adults’, they call for help from their caregivers to assist them back to sleep. Most children do eventually figure out how to fall asleep on their own (randomized studies of sleep training have typically shown that, in the long term, kids who weren’t sleep trained catch up). An average age they voluntarily do this is around 3-4 years old.

Sleep training means allowing your child to learn a new habit or skill of falling asleep on their own. The vast majority of children can learn this new habit, if given the chance, long before they would voluntarily choose to figure it out on their own.

Is sleep training then teaching your child to go to sleep independently? Unfortunately, no one can “teach” such a thing. Your child will need to experience and learn for him/herself — all you can do is to respectfully give your child the time and space to figure it out. What you can do to make it very helpful though, are to ensure the following aspects of your child’s life are suitable for him/her to learn the new habit well:

1) Age-appropriate Feeding and Sleeping Schedule – Helps your child to fall asleep and/or stay asleep both during naps and during the night.

2) Pre-nap and Bedtime Routines – Cues your child to prepare for sleep, but not meant to assist them to sleep.

3) Sleep Associations – Sleep associations should only be developed with things your child will have with them easily at all sleeps – there should be nothing that requires caregiver assistance.

4) Noise and Light – Ideally, we all prefer dark, cool, quiet and/or with pink/white noise for sleep, but different people can sleep in different environments. Changes to any aspect of the sleeping environment though, may affect the process of falling asleep or staying asleep.

5) Sleep Training Method – There are several methods! (Yes, not just “cry it out”!) We elaborate on the all the different respectful approaches to sleep training here. Pick one that you feel you can remain consistent with, but have a back-up method too. Do understand that different children respond/prefer different things, so higher intervention / gradual methods do not always means less tears.

6) Consistency – We are trying to develop new habits. This means the schedule, routine, environment and method ALL require consistency. Inconsistency sends mixed signals and causes confusion for your child and it’s hard to develop new habits through inconsistency.

Through our Baby Sleep Consultations, we work through with your family your priorities and preferred lifestyle, in order to propose recommendations on the above 6 points to help your family get the rest you all need. As with everything we do, we believe that every family is different, and do not only prescribe fixed schedules, routines or methods as “right” or diss other methods as “wrong” ways. Instead, we work alongside you respectfully to figure what would be best for your family.

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