Should I Sleep Train My Baby?
The Conundrum About Sleep Training a Baby
So you’re on the fence about this whole, “Teaching your baby to sleep,” thing. On the one hand, you know that sleep is essential for everyone in your family. You’ve read all the literature and have come to agree with the consensus of the pediatric community that sleep is vital to your baby’s development and well-being. You’re 100% positive that your little one needs some help learning how to sleep well, and you’re dedicated to helping them overcome this obstacle.
And on the other hand, you’re nervous as hell about it. Almost every parent I’ve worked with has started off absolutely riddled with anxiety. They know there’s a problem that needs fixing and they’re committed to that solution, but even with all of the research and evidence that this is a safe, effective process, they’re still on pins and needles.
When it comes to your baby, the research and evidence can’t override your concern that you might be doing something wrong. Especially if your baby doesn’t seem to take to the new way of doing things right away.
Two Biggest Deciding Factors for Baby Sleep Training
1. Sleep Deprivation
Let’s take a few things into consideration here. First of all, you’re probably running on empty at this point when it comes to your own sleep. If your baby’s not sleeping, it’s almost a guarantee that you’re not sleeping either, and that can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being.
Sleep deprivation stimulates activity in the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that controls several of your immediate emotional reactions. According to a 2007 joint study between Harvard Medical School and U of C Berkeley, “...a lack of sleep inappropriately modulates the human emotional brain response to negative aversive stimuli.” In other words, you’re likely to overreact when things go bad. For example, when your baby starts to cry, you’re less inclined to think, “I wonder what she needs,” and much more likely to think things like, “I’m a complete failure as a mother.”
This is what happens after one night of sleep deprivation, so you can imagine what chronic lack of sleep over the course of weeks, or even months, can lead to. You may even be experiencing it right now. It leaves you feeling helpless, inadequate, and riddled with anxiety.
2. Baby Crying
The other major reason that this process can be so difficult - baby crying. Will your child cry when you’re teaching them this skill? Here’s the straight answer. It is extremely likely, that, yes, your baby’s going to cry when you implement these new rules around bedtime.
Is your baby also going to cry when they get dropped off on their first day of school? Again, we’re looking at about a 95 out of 100 probability.
Will you baby throw a fit when you turn off their favorite cartoons, or when they get their first taste of asparagus, or when they’re told not to eat dirt?
You betcha. And even though you know they’re not in any danger or genuine distress in those situations, you’re still going to feel your heart explode when you hear your baby crying.
But again, if we look at this objectively, we can see that there’s an actual reason why the sound of a crying baby causes us such distress, and it’s not because of the actual level of urgency. Dr. David Poeppel, Professor Of Psychology & Neural Science at NYU, found that a crying baby differs from other environmental noises in something called the “amplitude modulation rate,” meaning how often the loudness of a sound changes.
Crying babies, along with car alarms and police sirens, have a modulation rate of about 100 times per second, compared to a regular speaking voice, which hovers somewhere between 4 or 5.
Experiments with an MRI to monitor the brains of people while listening to a variety of sounds, Poeppel found that baby screams have a unique ability to trigger activity in… you guessed it, our old friend, the amygdala.
Deciding For or Against Sleep Training Your Baby
Feelings of negligence makes it hard for us parents to appreciate the long-term solutions that will be gained when a baby sleeps well. But with the science behind why we feel what we feel, hopefully it will alleviate the stress and weight in the decision making process of whether sleep training is for your family.
Let us not forget that baby sleep training methods vary and should be catered to each child specifically. Gone are the days where the only method that works is "Cry-It-Out." Gentle sleep training methods now make it possible for all families with varying levels of cry sensitivity to embark on the challenge of sleep training. If you're looking for a holistic approach to sleep training, I've got you covered and you can book a free 15-minute sleep assessment call with me to chat.