Why I insist on sleep-training my children

fussy baby
CC BY 2.0 Mandy Lackey

Sleep-training goes far beyond maintaining my own parental sanity. It ensures healthier, happier, more well-adjusted children and a peaceful family environment.

My 8-month-old son just went down for his morning nap. I can hear him fussing upstairs, but I know that by the time I put away a few breakfast dishes, get my coffee heated up, and sit down at my desk, he will have settled and fallen into a deep sleep. Then I’ll have an hour alone to write before he wakes up, refreshed and happy, for the next portion of our day, which includes an afternoon nap and 11-hour nighttime sleep.

I am not “lucky,” as people tend to say. It has taken months of hard work, dedication, consistency, and structure to get to this point. It’s all because I’ve taught him how to sleep.

Sleep-training has a bad reputation these days. There is a lot of backlash against the “cry-it-out” (CIO) method, a controversial sleep-training method requiring parents to leave their child to cry in order to learn how to sleep alone and on schedule. At the other end of the spectrum are the “attachment” parents who keep their infants close, co-sleeping and nursing on demand.

It’s unfortunate that modern parenting has been dichotomized in this way because it distracts from the real issue at hand – that children in America and Canada are not sleeping enough. An unprecedented number of kids are chronically exhausted and suffering the negative effects of sleep deprivation. I’ve come to believe that the most important thing is to ensure babies and children get the solid hours of sleep they so desperately need, regardless of the parenting method one chooses to follow.

Everything else suffers when a child doesn’t get enough sleep. These are my reasons for why sleep-training is at the top of my parenting priorities. (I won’t go into detail about my sleep-training methods in this post, but it’s a gentler approach than CIO, influenced by the effective Baby Whisperer method, where structure and consistency are crucial and crying is minimal.)

It is a skill that can be learned.

Like eating solids, drinking from a cup, and using the potty, teaching a child how to sleep stands them in good stead for the future. Of course, you could let sleep issues resolve themselves over the years (hoping they don’t turn into long-term insomnia), but that does no favours to a kid who misses out on countless nights of good, restorative sleep that is crucial for development and memory consolidation, not to mention the peace within the family when a child sleeps well.

Adequate sleep helps to sort out other issues.

Knowing that a child sleeps enough makes it easier to diagnose and address other issues, such as weight gain, behavioural problems, inability to pay attention or stay focused, lethargy or over-activity, poor health, restricted language development, and trouble with relationships. A well-rested child is, generally speaking, a happy child.

It keeps me sane – and saves my marriage!

Knowing that all three of my kids will be in bed by 7 o’clock creates tremendous freedom for me and my husband. We can spend uninterrupted time together; we can hire a babysitter and go out for the evening; we can entertain guests or watch a movie; we can work in the yard on summer evenings or do a CrossFit WOD in the garage. Most importantly, we can always count on having those hours to fill as our own, which restores and invigorates us and makes us better parents, come 6 a.m.

We parents can sleep solidly.

When our kids don’t wake up, neither do we. There is no nighttime circus of bed-sharing or bed-swapping. My husband and I have our own bed, the kids have theirs, and we’re all happy. I wake feeling well-rested, which allows me to get up at 5:30 each morning to write these articles for TreeHugger. I have energy to cook healthy meals, stay in shape, read books, hold a job, and be a happier, fitter parent as a result.

We can travel.

Because our kids can sleep anywhere without issues, they can go anywhere. The only special requirement is their stuffed animals, which are easily portable. They’ve slept on trains, boats, airplanes, buses, and strange beds in foreign apartments with no complaints.

They can identify sleepiness on their own.

After all these years of regular sleep, established from the very beginning of their lives, my kids are now able to identify when they feel sleepy. My four-year-old will ask to go to bed immediately after dinner, sometimes as early as 5:30, if he’s had a long day at school. Occasionally the older one says he needs an afternoon nap on weekends.

Babies and children desperately need to learn how to sleep deeply and independently – and parents have a responsibility to find a way in which to ensure that happens, no matter which route they choose to get there. Enough with the CIO vs. attachment wars. Let's focus on what really matters here.

Why I insist on sleep-training my children
Sleep-training goes far beyond maintaining my own parental sanity. It ensures healthier, happier, more well-adjusted children.

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