This is a question that is asked often – especially during the first chat I have with my clients. Parents want to be sure that what they are potentially embarking on is safe for their child.
I usually answer this by asking exactly what they mean by ‘long term’. “Are you wondering whether a sleep trained baby or child will somehow be different from those who weren’t sleep trained when they are, say, 7 years old? Or 13 years, or 18 years old? Maybe even an adult?”
The answer to the question is simple: No. There is no evidence that suggests a sleep trained child will be anything other than a ‘regular’ 7 year old, or 13 year old, etc.
Q: Will an older person who was sleep trained as a baby or child recognise the importance of consistency around their sleep routines? Will they be more disciplined in general? Will they be more intelligent because they had more sleep as a child and therefore their brain developed better?
A: Not likely!
Q: Will the older child’s relationship with his parents and friends and his sense of self be better or worse because he was sleep trained?
Q: Will a person’s sleep be better because they were sleep training as a baby?
A: There is no evidence to suggest this either.
(Managing sleep for older children, pre-teens, teens and adults is another story. While dealing with sleep issues at these older ages requires many similarities to sleep training a baby with regards to consistency, bedtime routines, good sleeping environment, etc. There are very often psychological factors to consider too. This is a subject for another time…)
Coming back to the question of the long-term effects of sleep training:
There is no empirical evidence suggesting there are any long term effects whatsoever.
However! What about the SHORT- and MEDIUM-TERM effects?
Medium term effects for the child:
- Achieving greater all-round contentment due to getting enough proper sleep.
- Eliminating anxiety around falling asleep as baby knows she’s got this.
- She is not unhappy at the prospect of bedtime approaching because she’s tired now and the bedtime routine is relaxing, pleasant and involves a nice cosy cuddle and possibly a story/song with mom or dad (or the carer).
- Having a really happy time with mom and dad (or the carer) during the day because EVERYONE is well rested. This means EVERYONE has the energy to have a good time together.
- More resilient to change.
Medium term effects for the parents:
- Feeling less anxious, much calmer and more decisive regarding taking care of baby’s needs
- More confident through baby’s various milestones and generally more in control
- More resilient
- Having plenty of time for sleep, relaxation, work and a social life (i.e. a healthy balance).
Less Anxious, Calmer and More Decisive
Having a new baby can be terrifying. Most parents feel completely overwhelmed and out of control – not to mention horribly sleep deprived and exhausted. Practically all my clients, at one stage, were floundering badly and were extremely unsure of themselves: Am I doing this right? What should I be doing? I don’t know what I’m doing, etc.
Embarking on a sleep training regime with an experienced sleep consultant really helps parents cope with babies who can be very frustrating to understand.
For example: One of my clients was really struggling. She didn’t know what was causing her baby to be so unsettled. Was baby tired? Hungry? Sick? This confusion combined with a severe lack of sleep resulted in a real struggle for her and her husband and they were unable to see the wood for the trees.
By having me to talk to and ask questions to gave this couple something solid and sure to hold on to. Because I have distance (and experience) I am able to give good and safe advice which made them feel less alone and more confident in their decision-making.
I was able to say things like: “If you last fed baby an hour ago he’s definitely not hungry. We can assume he’s just tired.” Then we take it together from there.
Confident and more in Control!
One of the things I love most about working together with parents is the wonderful rapport that forms between us. We go through a lot together. We have the same goal and therefore a special bond of trust is created. What I also love is how calm and confident they become within their parenting abilities.
Those clients who use me when their baby is very young particularly benefit from our relationship in the longer term.
They always know they can come back to me and they’ll get advice that will help them through whatever is challenging them at that particular point in time. Maybe the spanner is being thrown in the works because baby’s sick or going through a developmental milestone.
My clients have learned and they know that there are ways in which to iron out many of the day-to-day challenges that inevitably present themselves with growing children. They have the assurance that if they can’t do it themselves – all they have to do is contact me.
Life’s about moderation. Our children need to learn how to be resilient and to adapt to different things. Us parents need to help our children ‘roll with the punches’. It’s important to know that when (and I mean WHEN) things in life go pair-shaped, all we have to do is make a few changes and keep going till we’re back on those tracks.
The other thing is having balance: Many people believe that sleep training means I can’t do anything. It means I can’t go on holiday. It means I can’t have a staycation! It means I can’t go out when it’s baby’s nap time.
Absolutely you can! As long as the nap is at home 80% of the time.
And the very best part: the parents get lots of time at night to sleep and relax and socialise at night because baby will be sleeping!
Hope is a wonderful thing. When you are a parent who is flailing around, desperate, doesn’t know what he’s doing – the hope of having sleep and balance restored is really a wonderful thing.
Hope can create a sort of anticipation that good things are to come.
It makes me think of that first discovery call I have with clients where I’ve reassured a stressed-out parent that everything is going to be okay. I tell them that in just a few short weeks we’re going to have made really good progress.
I love it when I hear and feel my clients relax when they realise that together we WILL teach their baby to fall asleep independently. That they don’t have to suffer and they don’t have to do this alone.
All jobs have ups and downs.
With my job the downs are few and far between and are mostly sorted out within the first few weeks. I offer free 15-minute calls to everyone who either has:
- questions about sleep training in general, or
- is interested in working with me and who is invested in a programme where I factor in all their baby’s unique needs.
My downs are generally related to the anxiety of the parents. It makes me so sad to hear the misery and desperation in the voices of those parents who are exhausted, struggling and who are essentially having a terrible time when they should be full of joy.
When I say these anxious beginnings are sorted out within a few weeks, I mean it. Once I’ve had a chance to explain exactly what sleep training entails, my programme and the benefits to both child AND parents – not to mention the whole family – I have both parents looking forward to the experience.
Please call me to alleviate any concerns you might have. It gives me so much pleasure speaking to parents about sleep training. I don’t think I can help you and your family. I know I can.