I used to sing the praises of sleep training to any tired parent who'd listen. (Hey, it worked for me!) But over time, I've come to realize it's not right for every family.
I remember the moment I became a sleep training fanatic. My son was a year old, and after many failed attempts at straight "CIO," or cry it out, we'd finally found sleep training success with the Ferber method—a controlled crying method where, starting between 3 to 5 months, you teach your baby to soothe himself to sleep (checking in at regular intervals).
For the first two nights, it took fifteen minutes and about four check-ins before he fell asleep. Then, on the third night, I put him down in the crib, left the room and heard...absolutely nothing. Holy cow, I thought, did he just go to sleep? On his own?! He slept 12 hours that night without uttering a peep. I felt like I'd just emerged the triumphant victor of a long and tortuous battle. That "sleeps through the night" milestone had eluded me, but I'd conquered it like a boss, and after a year of sleep deprivation those heavenly uninterrupted hours were now my sweet prize.
I felt so good about my victory that I wanted to spread the word. "How's your baby sleeping?" I would ask. "Have you tried Ferber? You've got to try Ferber. It's genius! I'm so rested I don't know what to do with myself!"
Looking back, I was kind of insufferable. But as far as I was concerned, I was killing it at the mom game. And deep down I felt like parents who didn't sleep train were kind of just doing it wrong.
Then, I started listening to friends of mine who said sleep training just did not work for their family and I read new evidence about infant sleep too. All that shifted my thinking, and my inner fanatic faded away. Now that I have a bit more perspective on sleep, here's what I'm left with:
1. Your sleep matters too. Whether your solution is camping out, co-sleeping, or enough night lights to reenact a scene from Stranger Things, know that it's okay to value your own sleep. A well-rested parent is happier, healthier and far less stressed. Maybe that means you try the Ferber technique or maybe it means taking a nap every day while your kid watches PAW Patrol. Whatever decision you make about your kids and sleep is okay—assuming it's a safe one, of course.
2. Sleep training doesn't harm babies. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, controlled crying techniques weren't shown to cause physical or emotional harm to babies. So once you feel your baby is old enough, if you want to give it a try, leave the guilt behind and go for it.
3. On the other hand, it isn't necessarily quick or easy. Sleep training usually consists of different stages, from establishing a bedtime routine, to regular naps, to finally sleeping through the night. It requires a lot of diligence. There were plenty of nights along the way with my daughter where she just wasn't sleeping well, so we gave up for the night and tried again when she was a little older. Plus, both of my kids required a re-training period (otherwise known as "back to your own bed!") when we switched from the crib to a toddler bed.
4. For some kids, sleep training just doesn't work. Thanks to my fanaticism, I used to have a hard time with this one, but the evidence actually suggests it's true. A Canadian study found genetics, not environment, largely determine whether a child will sleep through the night.
5. The bottom line: Like every parenting decision, sleep training is a choice, not a mandate. If you never sleep train because hearing your child cry is just sheer torture or it just doesn't work for your family, you shouldn't feel guilty about your decision. One way or another, your kids will eventually sleep or, at the very least, leave you alone while you sleep. Rest assured you won't be going with them to college.