How to really get your baby to sleep through the night: A no nonsense approach

There is a safe and effective way to teach your baby to sleep through the night

Frequent infant night waking can be detrimental to a family. First, parents become exhausted with the burdens of childcare, the stress of managing a household, and the demands of work. Failure to sleep at night can easily and quickly deplete energy reserves making parents more susceptible to illness, short tempers, and burnout.

On the other side, infants who are not getting adequate sleep due to frequent night waking do not grow and develop as well as possible. Sleep is an important component of brain development; the brain uses the deep sleep with REM (rapid eye movements) to build new neuropathways, consolidate new learning, rest and recharge to take on the novelty and experiences of the new day. Failure to get the long stretches of sleep needed for REM means that the benefits are not actualized completely.

Together, parent fatigue and infant fatigue creates a negative cycle. Infants are cranky and irritable demanding more and more attention to soothe their overtired selves. And, parents have fewer resources to comfort and soothe their infants because they feel tired and overwhelmed at the excessive amount of comforting the baby is demanding.

So, how can parents get their babies to sleep for the necessary amount of time while giving themselves appropriate rest? Sleep training. Sleep training is exactly what it sounds like – training your baby to sleep in a way that is healthy and good for them. There are many options for sleep training, but the most reliable, rapid and easy method is extinction. Yep, crying it out is still the best.

Recent research1,2,3 has shown that the extinction method does not cause any cognitive, emotional, psychological, or attachment harm. Additionally, if extinction is used early, at 2 months, the length of time for the infant to learn to sleep is very short (1-2 nights). Many parents feel that extinction is cruel and harmful, however the research and personal experiences of other parents is to the contrary.

Parents who are quick to respond to infant crying generally have infants who sleep poorly. Why? The infant learns that the parent is necessary to soothe. Therefore the infant does not learn to self-soothe. Self-soothing is necessary for long sleep at night and during naps. Self-soothing is the ability of the infant to put themselves back to sleep after partially waking, passing gas, rolling over, or losing his or her pacifier. It simply is the baby’s ability to know that he or she is OK to relax and readjust independently. This skill will be exceptionally useful to the child over the course of their childhood.

Babies don’t know that they need to sleep for their health and well-being. It is a parent’s job to teach infants how and when to sleep. Sleep training with the extinction method can be used, and is recommended, at 2 months. In as little as 3 days, parents can give their children a healthy sleep pattern with no negative effect.

Best practices to get babies sleeping good naps and through the night

What do you need to know:

  • Infants can be more easily trained at 2 months than at 4-6 months.
  • Allowing a baby to cry an hour or two isn’t harmful; most will cry much less than that.
  • If parents do not intervene (e.g. pick of the baby), most sleep training can be accomplished in 3 or fewer nights.
  • Research shows that cry-it-out methods, called extinction training, do not negatively affect an infant’s psychological or physical health.
  • Many parents modify the extinction method by going in to soothe the infant at increasingly longer intervals that may extend the time it takes to sleep train the infant.

Although it seems counter intuitive, extinction sleep training is an effective, healthy, and loving parental action. It gives infants the assistance they need to learn to sleep in a way that benefits their growth and development while respecting a parent’s necessary sleep requirements. Additionally, the early sleep training is implemented the easier it is for the baby to adjust and get the whole family resting better.

1 Gradisar, M., Jackson, K., Spurrier, N. J., Gibson, J., Whitham, J., Williams, A. S., Doby, R., & Kennaway, D. (2016).  Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: A randomized controlled Trial.  Pediatrics 137(6), e20151486.

2 Price, A.M.H, Wake, M., Ukoumunne, O.C., & Hiscock, H. (2012). Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial, Pediatrics 130(4), pp. 643-651.

3 Mindell, J.A., Kuhn, B., Lewin, D.S, Meltzer, L.J., & Sadeh, A. (2006). Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children, Sleep 29(10), pp. 1263-1276.

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About the instructor
Proactive Parenting
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.

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