Sleep Training: How To Get Through It

*Disclaimer: We are not mental health professionals or doctors. Please consult your doctor on whether sleep training is appropriate for your child’s age and developmental stage.  

Congratulations! You’ve started what probably seemed like the hardest thing you could attempt (outside of labor – maybe).  (If you haven’t read Part 1: The Basics, go back and read it first – it’ll make more sense.)  For me, for a long time, this was a no-go, something I couldn’t do and felt so wrong. I would do unhelpful things like read perspectives on why its unnatural and “how x culture…” and “100 years ago…” – generally reasons not to do it, despite being exceptionally sleep deprived.  The thing is, there’s a reason you are trying this – you need sleep. We’ve all heard about the benefits of sleep, right? It improves mood, weight and cognition. According to a 2009 Harvard Mental Health article, sleep problems may raise the risk for psychiatric disorders. Moms, who  are already at risk for them, are also stressed, worried and possibly suffering from hormonal changes.  I could post more articles and studies, but you get the picture. The point is, other cultures did and still do function differently from yours. There are many reasons for that.  Using this as a reason may work for some – I cannot stress enough that if you don’t want to sleep train, don’t – and forgive yourself for it. If you are considering it, remember: the reality is – we live in our culture, which demands that we go to work quickly post-partum, which demands that we earn money to support our little ones, and do things like pay bills, call the doctor to schedule a follow-up and remember that we have a dentist appointment next week. It is really hard to do that sleep deprived. Additionally, hey – we do a lot of things differently from 100 years ago and if that was our standard, you wouldn’t be going back to work anyway because you culturally wouldn’t have to/be allowed to.  Now we do. Don’t even get me started on what sleep deprivation does to your relationship with your partner, both emotionally and physically!

Of course, when you’re struggling,  listening to your baby emit that cry that you are biologically conditioned to respond to, you can forget stuff like this very easily.  I did. So there are two areas to capitalize on in order to overcome this struggle: 1) things you can do and 2) things to keep in mind.

What You Can Do:

  1. LEAVE THE HOUSE. I mean it. Now is the time for your partner to make up for those nights you got up and fed the baby every two hours, or make up for the fact that a child exited your body and now they need to pay more than lip service to how much respect they have for you for doing that. Schedule a dinner with girlfriends, take the dog on a loooooong walk, go for a run, visit a neighbor – whatever. I didn’t do this on a few nights and had to have my husband physically restrain me from going into my son’s room.  That’s after sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, crying.  A glass of wine with a funny friend would have been a better idea.  If your partner isn’t available – have a friend, your parent(s), or an extremely kind neighbor come and stay in the house, while you get the heck out.
  2. Get noise canceling headphones. This seems cruel, especially depending on what method you’ve chosen. However, again, listening to these cries only adds to your anxiety.  Even if for a break for a few minutes – listen to something fun or soothing. I’m a particular fan of ASMR as we’ve discussed in past podcasts, but if that doesn’t float your boat, listen to something that takes the edge off.
  3. Indulge yourself. If you drink, enjoy a glass of wine. If you don’t (or if you do and need something to accompany it), grab the most sinful, indulgent thing you can think of.  Ice cream, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – whatever.  Now is the time to find ways to treat yourself, guilt-free. Sleep training is stressful enough without adding worries about your waistline to it.

What To Keep In Mind:

When it comes to this, I’m going to leave it to the folks who wrote the book that we both followed when sleep training and mentioned in Part 1, Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack, in The Sleep Easy Solution:

This may be the first time you haven’t leapt to your baby’s side as she cries, and every bone in your body is telling you to just pick her up and soothe her. […] But remember-these things are what you’ve already been doing for weeks, months, or years, and they haven’t been helping your child sleep! If you go back in and pick up your child or give in and lie down with him, you will calm him down temporarily, but you’ll be right back where you started-with him dependent on you to go to sleep and thus waking throughout the night.

They go on to remind you that the crying will not last forever and ultimately, you are supporting your child as they learn how to get the sleep they desperately need in order to develop and grow.  Don’t you get frustrated when you are learning something at first and have a hard time perfecting it? That’s what’s going on here too.  You made the decision to do what’s best for you, your baby and your family as a whole, so if you need a mantra, that’s a good one. Print it out and keep it by your bedside.

This all said, if you need to take a break from the training because its causing you extreme stress, STOP. You can always try again when you’re up to it.  Sleep training is hard when you’re not fully committed. We feel your pain – we both had to go through this – so have lots of parents. If you flag, try to remember that you are not alone, that we are all standing with you, your Mom tribe. If you need to email us, to vent or ask questions, please do – we are happy to help: heymamapodcast (at) gmail (dot) com.

You got this.