Teaching babies to sleep

Published On: August 3, 2019 01:30 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

We have been making the babies sleep in our own way but babies gradually need to learn to fall asleep by themselves. Sleep training helps them

You may be surprised to find that sleeping is, in fact, a skill that does not come naturally to babies as they grow.  I understand, as a new parent, you become so exhausted, that you fall asleep, as soon as your head hits the pillow.  Unfortunately, your little one does not have that ability just yet.  Granted, they spend most of their time sleeping, they still need to learn when to sleep (day vs night) and how to fall asleep later as they grow a little older.   So, until they learn that, parents help them by soothing them and calming them before sleep.  Sometimes singing and sometimes rocking them. Yes, we have been doing these things all the time to help them sleep, but babies gradually need to learn to fall asleep by themselves. That is exactly what sleep training does.

Yes, there is such a thing as sleep training for babies.  Don’t be surprised.  We are not used to such technology.  Our children just went to sleep whatever way the parents thought fit.  Mothers sang them to sleep or they were too tired and went to sleep and some cried themselves to sleep.   At the time we had no idea about sleep training. Sleep is very important for babies, that’s what helps them grow.  No one tells us how to make sure that our babies sleep well.

We tried to fit in our sleeping schedule with that of our little ones.  Sleep when the baby is sleeping.  That is what we were told. That is what we also tell new mothers.  Now we know, sleep training is not just good for the parent, it is good for babies too. So what exactly is sleep training?

Learn the ideas

Well, sleep training is a process to help babies learn to fall asleep by themselves.  Sounds impossible? No, it is not impossible.  People have been doing so for some time in the Western part of the world. The idea is to set a pattern behavior in a child to make him/her independent, so far sleeping is concerned.  No, it’s not easy.  It sure takes time and effort.  Parents need to expect their baby to protest a bit, accompanied by crying, while sleep training.  Some babies start sleeping by themselves faster and some take some time, but eventually get the idea of soothing themselves to sleep.

Actually, there is quite a lot of knowledge about sleep in children, based on scientific studies. Multiple researches have shown that crying resulting from sleep training has no negative impact on the parent-child bonding.  In fact, some studies show improved security between parent and child after sleep training. I know some of you are thinking, ‘do I have to give up my daily routine for sleep training?’

Absolutely not. You do not have to give up your daily activities with your child, just because you are sleep-training him/her.  You can hold and sing to him/her as usual.  Just try to calm your child, so sleeping becomes easier.  You can convert your activities into a bed time routine.  Choose a quieter place for your child to sleep. Consider using a diaper for your baby for the night. That will help your baby sleep better. Try to calm them during the transition time from being awake to falling asleep.  The good part is you can share the room with your child but avoid sharing the bed because of safety reasons. I always felt unsafe and lost my sleep because of that.  At the time there were not many options to have our child sleep separately.  Now there are options.  You can buy a crib or a bassinet for your child.

You must be thinking sleep training is being selfish on part of the parents.  I assure you sleep training does not just benefit parents. Parents do sleep well after babies are sleep trained, but the babies benefit from it too.  I still remember waking up multiple times during the night to attend to a crying baby.  I still remember the difficulty I had helping them fall asleep when they became too agitated. It is actually traumatic for a baby.  This is when learning to self-soothe comes in very handy.  The child learns to self-soothe during sleep training.  This helps the baby to avoid crying at night. Next thing you might be thinking is: ‘So the baby sleeps through the night after the training?’

Well to be very frank, no one sleeps throughout the night at one stretch.  Even we wake up multiple times at night.  We do not realize that turning sides is also waking up. Even pulling the blanket over or throwing it to the side, when feeling hot, is counted as waking. These movements are actually protective for us.  Babies are no different.  Even after sleep training, you will notice babies waking up a few times each night.  They may roll over, move a little or even make noises.  The difference is that after sleep training babies will be able to soothe themselves back to sleep, after each waking.  Now your next question is bound to be, ‘at what age can we start sleep training the babies?’

When to train?

Majority of experts recommend that you try sleep training when your baby is between four to six months because that is when babies typically start developing their regular sleep-wake cycle.  By the time they are four months old, most of them stop demanding being fed during the night time.  The other thing is by this age many babies are also developmentally able to sleep for longer stretch at night.

Yes, I understand your concern.  Every baby is different. Some babies are not ready for sleep training until they are a bit older.  Under such circumstances wait for appropriate timing to start sleep training.  The other thing you can do is consult with your baby’s doctor. I would suggest that you consult your baby’s doctor before you start anything new with your baby.  Just to make sure that everything is ok with your baby.  If you are wondering how it is done, ask your baby’s doctor.  S/he will guide you through it.

Finally, it is nothing new that I am talking about.  We have all been doing it in one form or another, all the time. The only difference is that no one has recorded how we did it.  Most probably you are already doing it, but not sure, if that is exactly what sleep training is all about.  If your baby is already sleeping through the night and self-soothing, congratulations to you.  You have already achieved it.  Just a word of caution though.  When your baby starts sleeping through the night, you will be wide awake all night initially, worrying about your baby’s wellbeing.  After sleep training your child, your life is supposed to get better, your baby will be fine.   Take it easy, will you?

Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books


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