mum patting baby in cot

We look at sleep training approaches, whether they work and the impact on you and your baby.

A big talking point for many parents is sleep. How much snooze they’re getting and how much their baby’s sleeping. How many times have you been asked ‘Is your baby sleeping through the night?’ Or wondered yourself ‘Should my baby be sleeping through the night?’

Many parents will also question whether there is something they could or should be doing to encourage their baby to sleep longer or better at night (BASIS, 2018a).

This is usually when thoughts turn to sleep training. Especially if (well-meaning) friends and family are worrying you with the perils of not sleep training your baby. ‘They’ll never learn to sleep on their own, if you don’t’. ‘You’ll spoil them if you keep rocking/feeding/cuddling them to sleep’. 

Do you need to sleep train your baby?

You might start wondering (or worrying) if you have a sleep issue to fix. But actually, your baby's sleep (even waking up at night) might be entirely normal for their age, and stage of development (BASIS, 2018a).

We know there are many reasons why young babies, in particular, need to sleep little and often.

If you do want to try sleep training, it’s important to be realistic about how often and why your baby wakes frequently. You should also make sure there aren’t any physical or medical reasons for frequent night waking, such as reflux or colic

What is sleep training?

Sleep training is usually split into two groups:

  1. Methods to treat existing 'sleep problems', more commonly known as ‘crying-it-out’ and controlled crying. They’re based on parents not immediately responding to their baby's crying while trying to settle to sleep, or if they wake up at night.
  2. Methods to prevent 'sleep problems' from developing, such as developing routines to help babies differentiate between night-time as sleep time, and day-time as play/feed-time, for instance.

(BASIS, 2018b)

Does sleep training work?

Sleep training has been shown to lead to improvements in sleep (Mindell et al, 2006). And many studies have shown that sleep training can change a baby's behaviour, though they don't show whether they last (BASIS, 2018b).

There is little research, however, that looks at the effects of sleep training on babies, beyond the effect on their sleep (or crying). Questions have also been raised about the potential long-term effects of this approach. It can be stressful for baby and parents (BASIS, 2018c).

To sleep train or not?

Like any other decision in parenting, there are different factors to weigh up. Talk to other parents about their experiences and think about what would be best for you and baby.

You could also speak to your health visitor. There may also be local sleep support services in your area where you can discuss what options feel comfortable to you.

Baby Sleep Info Source (BASIS). (2018a) Sleep Training and Managing How Babies Sleep. Available from https://www.basisonline.org.uk/sleep-training-and-managing-how-babies-sleep/. [Accessed in March 2019]

Baby Sleep Info Source (BASIS). (2018b) Sleep Training Research. Available from https://www.basisonline.org.uk/sleep-training-research/. [Accessed in March 2019]

Baby Sleep Info Source (BASIS). (2018c) Things to Consider – Potential Costs of Sleep Training. Available from https://www.basisonline.org.uk/things-to-consider-potential-costs-of-sleep-training/. [Accessed in March 2019]

Mindell J, Kuhn B, Lewin DS, Meltzer LJ, Sadeh A. (2006) Behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17068979. [Accessed in March 2019]

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