A Good Night’s Sleep

Pediatric Blog

After having a baby, most parents long for a good night’s sleep. Many turn to sleep training in order to make that happen. Sleep training is a controversial subject, especially lately with the Cry It Out method making national headlines. However, the importance of sleep for the health and happiness of the entire family is universally accepted. Very few infants sleep through the night before six weeks of age and if you ever meet a parent who says that their infant does – ask them specifically how and when they are sleeping. You will find that “sleeping through the night” has a very different definition for every family.

While babies will start sleeping longer stretches (4-6 hours) at night around 8-12 weeks, most don’t truly sleep through the night consistently until 12-18 months. Even if a baby has been sleeping through the night, sleep patterns often changes with growth spurts, teething, and illness. If you make a decision to go through with sleep training, you will have to find a method that everyone is comfortable with and makes sense for your infant and parenting style. You may find that you must modify your chosen sleep training method at different stages in their child’s development and what works for one child may not work for another. Recent studies have found no long term impact on children’s development or emotional health with behavioral sleep interventions.

The most widely accepted sleep training methods range from the Cry It Out (AKA extinction or gradual extinction) to the No Tears Methods.
  • The Cry It Out methods involves putting your infant in the crib while sleepy, but awake. Then letting them cry either until falling asleep or leaving them for incremental longer periods of time before gently soothing with patting or shushing – but not picking up, rocking, or feeding. The goal is to teach your infant self-soothing tactics. These methods generally take from 3-5 days to work. Authors who have written on this subject include Richard Ferber, MD and Marc Weissbluth, MD.
  • The No Tears Methods typically involve repeating the same bedtime routine every night, starting when your baby is showing signs of sleepiness. This may be a bath, massage, lullaby, then rocking or nursing to sleep. Remember that your infant will likely require this same routine with each nighttime wakening, which may continue until early toddlerhood (but hopefully not). Authors who have written on this subject include Elizabeth Pantley and William Sears, MD.
  • If you are a parent who started off by sleeping with your baby or older child, then a method of gradual extinction from the room may be your best bet. Start with a nighttime routine, then gradually eliminate yourself from the bed, then room. Many parents start by turning away from their child, then sleeping on the floor, by the door, outside the door, then in your room with the doors open. This may take weeks to accomplish, depending on the degree of separation anxiety displayed by your child.
Typically, I recommend a combination of these methods, modified for each family and baby. I have had good luck with starting a daytime feeding and sleeping routine around 6-8 weeks, with little stimulation at night (dark room, quiet feeding). After the baby starts following a predictable eating and sleeping schedule, make an evening routine leading to bedtime. With both of my boys, I have ended up with a modified Cry It Out method, increasing in increments no longer than 10 minutes. After MY anxiety dissipated, everyone was sleeping better and now they have healthy sleep habits.
The key to success with any sleep training method is developing a solid plan, being consistent and following through. Anticipate loosing some sleep and having some difficulty the first couple of nights with Cry It Out, seek support from your partner or family. You may feel that letting your baby cry is not the right approach for you or your baby and a No Tears Method may take longer, but will leave you feeling more at ease with your decision. Whatever your take, I hope for a good night’s sleep for everyone your family.
Heather Joyce, MD

Originally Posted on Pediatricians for Parents