Why I sleep trained my babies and why you should too...
Deciding to sleep train wasn’t a conscious decision I made because of the importance of sleep in overall health or for its physical, emotional, and psychological benefits. Sleep training came into my life after I had been a mother for 9 years. I had three poor sleepers and one day I got the biggest surprise of all, twins. I had made every mistake in the book; from sleeping with my children, to having no expectation on bed time, holding them all night long hoping they would get five more minutes of sleep! Bed time could be as early as 7, my second daughter was born a decent sleeper of sorts as long as you put her to bed at just the right time. My oldest son was an unpredictable one. Bedtime for him was entirely dependent on what was on TV. If it was interesting enough to keep his attention, then the 7 o’clock bedtime would be laughed out of the house. Finally, the Chief, my eldest. At times, I found myself thinking that her staying awake until 10 /11 PM was her way of reminding me who was in charge.
It is still clear in my head, a period when the Chief at 10 months decided to change her night/day cycle. She would sleep all day. Literally. I had to bathe her while she was asleep since nothing could wake her. Then she’d stay awake all night. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the sickness at the pit of my stomach of how emotional, unhappy, and frustrated at that beautiful blue-eyed baby girl I was. I loved her deeply and resented her as well. What else did she want from me? I did everything by the book; long walks at the park, on demand holding to make her happy, lullabies to stop the crying, every meal made from scratch. Nothing worked. She changed the rules as she pleased and she ran a tight ship.
My second was an easy-going baby. He made life possible by going along for the ride. My dad, with the best intentions and a very large amount of pity for him, taught him how to be heard. Despite being so good in accepting the lack of attention, as the Chief had me going around in circles, he too learned how to get what he wanted with bouts of screaming demands. Suddenly, and just like that, I had two bosses pulling me in different directions.
My third, I feel from the day she was born, understood I was out of my depth in this motherhood gig. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking, “she knows”. Luckily for me, she marched to the beat of her own drum and did best when just left to it. The first time her aunt babysat her, she cried for hours. My sister did everything she’d seen me do with the other two and that just made the crying worse. Finally, at the end of her rope, my sister put her down in her crib and walked away. She took a four-hour nap without another peep. To this day we’ll laugh about all of her sleep habits, all of which boil down to a desire to go to sleep at just the right time regardless of her surroundings.
The whole thing made me hate myself. I hated how I was failing one, when I gave in to the demands of the other. I felt at my worst at the end of a very big pregnancy. I didn’t know the mother ship was about to arrive, in the form of two little boys. I can still remember the sinking feeling of my heart breaking in a million pieces as my doctor exclaimed that there was another, even bigger baby waiting to be born after delivering my fourth. That was when I actually learned I was having twins. My heart felt like it stopped, I utterly believed I was going to fail them too.
Don’t get me wrong I had a life filled with smiles and fun. My kids were beautiful and gave me the greatest joy. Those feelings of inadequacy came during the very few minutes I had for myself, when I showered or just before I fell asleep for the whole two to four hours I had every night. My twins were the straw that broke this camel’s back.
To my amusement, it was then, when I was at the end of my rope that I finally was able to I say no. No to my little bosses. It was then, when I took a step back and started to parent for all of us, not just the one that happened to be crying the loudest, that we all won. The simple fact of knowing that I had other children to tend to. That I couldn’t tend to every crying spell and demand. That was when the mother I wanted to be sprouted inside of me.
It started with a routine at night that required the twins to put themselves to sleep, with me providing some reassurances here and there. To my surprise, they responded well. Actually, I was blown away by them doing it again, and again, and again. There was a new sheriff in town and failure was not an option. Not long after that I had the other three falling back in line.
Sleep training didn’t come to me because of how good it was for the development of my babies. Realizing how much they benefitted came later. No, sleep training was my last desperate attempt to save the good mother in me, the mother I was meant to be.
Now, for the actual science of sleep and why sleep training is so important. The reasons why you should sleep train your baby are clear and undeniable. The first 24 months of your baby’s life is the biggest growth and developmental stage in a lifetime span. Your baby will grow emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Good sleep habits and meeting the recommended amount of daily sleep is essential to maximizing growth and development during this time. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, infants up to 12 months need up to 16 hours of sleep, toddlers (1-2 years old) need up to 14 hours of sleep, and pre-school aged children (3-5 years) need up to 13 hours of sleep per day. Proper sleep training ensures that your baby’s sleep needs are met at every stage of their development.
Helping your baby develop good independent sleeping habits also gives them the skills necessary to navigate the gauntlet of developmental phases that occur during their first two years of life, all of which can trigger a sleep regression. While good sleep will help your baby to feel rested and happy each day, that only scratches the surface of the benefits of sleep. According to Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at the NIH, “sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies. It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health”. Another neuroscientist at the NIH, Dr. Merrill Mitler agrees, “sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness, and mood.” Every night, your baby has the chance to essentially power down and rebuild from the molecular level on up.
At the end of the day, sleep is a primary need. You can go longer without eating than you can without sleeping. Sleep training is the gift that you give your baby that will help to ensure that they’re not one of the over 30% of Americans suffering from sleep deprivation. Sleep training ensures that your baby gets the sleep they need, when they need it most. It is also the gift you can give yourself. After all, you’re only human and you have the same needs your baby does. Everyone benefits.