What the books don’t tell you about sleep training

SLEEEEEEP! It is every new-parents’ favourite topic. Really it is more than a casual topic, it’s an obsession. But rightly so, sleep is a big deal (and more so lack-of sleep is a huge deal, and actually even a form of torture).

And I know there are endless arguments on both sides of the sleep-training coin, but for the record, I am PRO sleep training. Of course to each his own, but if you are teetering on the edge and looking to be swayed, I suggest reading this blog post, and this blog post.

[Also, let me clarify, I hate the term “sleep training”. Really I think it should be called “helping your child learn how to self-soothe and NOT on your boob”, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.]

So, we sleep trained our baby girl at 6 months, and it was a game changer for all of us. Before that, I would basically hold baby G for every nap in my arms during the day, and she was waking up every two hours during the night. Nothing would get her back to sleep except the all-mighty boob, so I was basically tethered to her all day and all night. Therefore baby was having short naps and interrupted sleeps, I was never getting any breaks and sleeping in a separate bed than my husband, and sadly my husband could do very little since he doesn’t have boobs and our baby wasn’t into the bottle. We weren’t in crisis mode by any means, but it was starting to wear on us. We talked to a few close friends who had sleep trained to great success, I read The Happy Sleeper and Sleep Sense, then decided on a method that works for us, and took the plunge.

I’m happy to report that we all get much better sleeps now. My husband feels like superhero now that he can get the baby back to sleep. And not only do I sleep in the same bed again as my husband, but I also can go out at night for a glass of wine with girlfriends without fearing that the baby will wake up and not be able to sleep without me. Plus, it was really incredible to watch our baby girl realize she has the power to fall asleep on her own.

But I did a LOT of reading on the subject, and I feel like there were a few key things I learned from the experience that somehow were never mentioned in any of the millions of discussion forums, blogs or books I read! So for any parent out there about to take the frightening plunge into sleep training territory, let me first of all say that it really is not as scary as you think its going to be, and here are a few other hot tips:

  1. 1.Whatever “method” you choose – be really comfortable with it – because you will do it for months (and who knows, maybe even years!) to come. We decided to check on our baby girl every 5 minutes of crying. Other friends chose 10 minutes. Other friends chose 20. Basically do whatever you are comfortable with, because even after the “2 weeks” of sleep training is over, if our baby wakes up in the middle of the night, we still go back to the method.

  2. 2. It does take 2 weeks (not 3 days like I thought it would!) – Nights 10, 11 and 12 were really hard for us. And oddly enough that is when I started to feel REALLY guilty. Because at this point I had had a few nights sleep that were really good, so then when G was waking up and crying I felt like what’s the point of all this if she isn’t having long interrupted sleeps? Am I just being selfish? They say those nights can be hard because the old sleep habits are coming back for a final last ditch effort, so just stay the course, and know that it is normal.

    3. Naps getting longer than 30 minutes may take months! – I was shocked at how well the sleep training worked for our baby girl to fall asleep for naps, but really disappointed that they didn’t magically make her nap longer (she was the QUEEN of the 30 minute nap!). I thought the sleep training would stretch out naps immediately, but honestly it took a solid 2 months for the morning nap to start becoming 1.5 – 2 hours.

    4. I was so scared and sad that it would mean my baby never got to sleep in my arms again, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. – I had so many tears over the thought of my baby girl never sleeping on me again before we started sleep training! But at the end of the day, that has just not been the case. Once my baby “got” the concept of self-soothing, I actually let her fall asleep on my boob all the time now for naps, steal a few sweet minutes of heavenly cuddles, and then transfer her to the crib. The DIFFERENCE is that I’m not anxious or afraid about the transfer because if she wakes up while I’m doing it, she knows how to put herself to sleep the second she lands in the crib.*

Is sleep training a guaranteed fix for perfect sleeping all the time? GOD NO. We still have good nights and bad nights. But has it been hugely beneficial to everyone in our family? OH YES. But like with so much of this wild parenting ride, I find it best to manage expectations properly, and hear from real people about their experience (the amount of times I’ve repeated the phrase “you are not alone!” is in the millions). So if you know anyone out there looking to read ONE MORE blog post about sleep training, please pass this on to them, and tell them not to hesitate to comment or email if they want some mamma solidarity!

*I hope it goes without saying that EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT. I have a dear friend whose baby wakes up refreshed if they fell asleep on the boob even for a minute, so they make sure he doesn’t fall asleep on the boob before putting him in the crib. You know your baby best and what works. ‘nough said.

4 Responses to “What the books don’t tell you about sleep training”

  1. Ashley

    Hi There, we are doing the sleep sense program…. just started. Im at my whits end with this baby and am starving for some sleep!!! as of now for three straight nights ive been up sitting by his crib for 2 HOURS hoping he will fall asleep…. same time every night. going to sleep has already gotten much better… its the staying asleep that Im really not sure how to shift.
    You mentioned the 30 min nap issue…. we are right there. and often 25 mins even. You said it took a few months to sort that out…. did it just organically happen for your baby? or did you do anything in the interim to encourage to stay asleep for longer periods? It’s like i FINALLY get a chance to sit down and he wakes what feels like mins later

    • lberco

      Hi Ashley! How old is your little one? Lots of pals and lots of reading I did said around the 4 to 6 month mark lots of babies just take 30 minute naps – also known as “crap naps”. We didn’t do anything specific to lengthen them, although I am meaning to get a blackout curtain (which may or may not do anything to help!). Hitting the 8 month mark is what seemed to help our baby learn to lengthen her naps, which also coincided with going down from 3 naps to 2 naps a day. I think the fact that she could stay up for longer stretches of time, meant she would get more tired, and we could do fewer (and hopefully therefore longer) naps. They are now usually over an hour, but rarely are they over and hour and and 15 minutes (once in awhile we get that golden 2 hour nap, but it is a rare bird). As long as your baby is falling asleep on their own, I think eventually he will learn to link his naps. Those are my guesses, but I believe it will happen for you! And in the meantime, just be sure to really treat yourself and do NOTHING during those restful few minutes 🙂

  2. Ashley

    Thanks for your input!! 🙂 I really appreciate it.
    He is 6 mos right now. So that makes sense! He is still struggling to go down on his own sometimes… which feels super annoying to spend an hour in there with him only to get 30mins out of it!!! Im finding this day (third day or program) to be the worst so far…. I wonder why? He seems to be protesting so much more. We’re headed for the second nap of the day…. dreading it and hoping it doesnt take long… my poor toddler has been watching a lot of TV!

    • lberco

      I know the feeling well Ashley! When they cry for 45 minutes, and you think they are so exhausted that they will definitely sleep for a long time, and then they pop awake after 20 minutes. It’s totally insane. But I remember the Happy Sleeper book really emphasizing that when you are trying to change their sleep routine, the cries are 99% protest. Like “hey this isn’t how I normally fall asleep!”. And if you think about it, he’s been falling asleep one way for a probably the last few months, and now it’s only been 2 days of this new routine, so the old sleep routine is just rearing it’s head. And that is why night 10, 11, and 12 were hard for us…after a few good nights, our baby was making a last ditch effort to go back to the old routine. But good luck! My fingers are crossed for you!


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