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Sleep Training Techniques For Children & Exhausted Parents

21 June 2019

Sleep training can be defined as the process of guiding your child to fall asleep on their own. While some children sleep soundly and do not need help drifting off, others tend to struggle to sleep through the night. There are various sleep training methods, but the most important thing is to establish consistency and predictability in your training.

Research shows that up to 21% of children under the age of 36 months experience sleep problems. That is where sleep training comes in. Sleep training is also helpful for older children who find it difficult to fall asleep on their own, up to age 7-10 years old. 

Establish and use regular bedtime routines that your child can easily stick to and also develop a positive attitude towards sleep training. Avoid distractions such as blue screens or exercise before or during bedtime to promote self-soothing.

Popular Sleep Training Methods

Just like many aspects of parenting, sleep training can be quite challenging. New parents might take some time in discovering an effective sleep training method for your child, in order to help them develop healthy sleeping habits. 

Fortunately, there are a couple of evidence-based approaches that you can experiment with.

Bedtime fading

This involves first learning the time when your child falls asleep naturally, and setting that as a temporary bedtime for a few days, before moving bedtime earlier 15 minutes at a time. Bedtime fading allows your child to gradually adjust to earlier bedtimes and learn to fall asleep on their own. 

It is essential that you avoid letting your child sleep till late morning or taking naps in the late afternoon, as this means they will be less tired at bedtime and increases the chances of bedtime struggles. 

Cry it out method

The cry it out sleep training method is just what it sounds like- you put your child down at the designated bedtime hour, close the door to his/her room and let things play out.  Your aim is to let your baby cry until he/she falls asleep.

Supporters of this training method believe that it teaches children how to soothe themselves. With time, your baby will develop the ability to fall asleep on their own. For better results, integrate the cry it out method with the Ferber method.

In the Ferber method, you check on your child at set intervals, e.g., two, three, or five-minute intervals. The primary goal of the Ferber method is to slowly reduce the amount of comfort you provide your toddler with.

When you check your child, make sure that the interaction is brief, and there is no physical contact. If your child vomits or poops, go in, clean the bed, and leave. It may feel horrible, but you have to do it if you want your child to learn how to fall asleep on their own.

Camping out method

This is another evidence-based sleep-training method that consists of gradually withdrawing your physical presence from your child’s room at sleep time. Many parents prefer using the camping out method since it results in less crying, and it is one of the best ways to perform gentle sleep training.

If you have to interact with your child, make sure that your interactions are minimal and brief. Look at him/her and say gentle words such as “Goodnight,” “I love you,” and “It’s time to go to sleep.” Establishing consistency is important in helping your child learn. 

Talk to your child about nightmares

Children find it difficult to cope with fear, anxiety and nightmares. More often than not, your child needs comfort and reassurance from you to deal with nightmares. Talk to him/her about the difference between dreams and reality, and prove to them that there is nothing to fear.

You could consider leaving the lights on dimly and introducing a security object such as a soft toy. Avoid exposing your little one to frightening television programs or stories before bedtime and help him/her relax when they experience nightmares.

Benefits of Sleep Training Your Child

While some parents believe that sleep training a child is not necessary, getting sufficient and good quality sleep is imperative to the health of both parent and child. As a parent, you need to be mentally fit and healthy in order to provide care for your child, which often means getting enough sleep. Well-rested parents are better parents. 

Teaching your child how to sleep on his/her own will also keep him/her happy in the long-term, and help in his/her development. 

On the other hand, bad sleeping patterns can lead to chronic sleep deprivation. The consequences of sleep deprivation to parents include depression and mood swings, poor driving, and difficulty being attuned to your kid. Postpartum depression is usually hard on moms, but it may be even harder on your baby.

Sleep deprivation may also affect your child in terms of learning, behaviour, attention, mood, and weight.

When Should You Seek a Doctor’s Advice? 

Sleep training helps many parents address their children’s sleep issues in the long-term. However, you should be worried if your child doesn’t seem to respond to sleep training, no matter how hard you try. Chronic sleep issues may be an indication of a medical problem that needs to be treated. 

Typically, you should consult a Paediatrician who specialises in sleep if your child seems to have trouble breathing, makes strange noises while breathing, snores, or stops breathing while sleeping.

You should also seek a Paediatrician’s advice if you are convinced that your child displays unusual nighttime behaviour, experiences an unexpected number of night awakenings, or has significant fears that you do not seem to understand.

Conclusion

Sleep training is all about teaching your child that they are capable of falling asleep independently. Ideally, you want your kid to be able to sleep on his/her own without nursing, rocking or your constant presence. There are various approaches to sleep training.

No matter the sleep training method that you choose, keep in mind that patience and consistency are crucial to success. Trust your parental instincts and only do what seems to be effective for your kid.

When used with consistency, the right sleep training method can work wonders for your child’s sleep issues. With time, your child will learn how to fall asleep on their own, which is critical for their development. Do not hesitate to consult a Paediatrician if you suspect that there is something wrong with your child which is affecting his/her sleep. 

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