I hope all is well.
I procrastinated responding since I kept hoping Susan’s sleep would improve again, but it really hasn't. When we first followed the plan, she adapted after just a few nights.
We were away for 4 days over Christmas, and even though we tried the same routine when we returned, she screamed and screamed that she wanted the door open for multiple consecutive days/nights - and spent lots of time during the day asking that we "not put the lock on her door." (the lock, by the way, allows for ther door to be open about 4-5 inches.)
We're really now at a loss for what to do, because she seemed so unhappy even during the day while we were attempting to keep her in her room. A few nights ago we started sitting in her room again for her to fall asleep, and then she eventually wakes up and comes back to our room - which is obviously not great, but she is much happier and less upset during the day. So we're back at an impasse...
If you have any thoughts, would appreciate hearing them as we're pretty stuck....
Thanks for your email. I am sorry to hear that you are struggling with sleep again, and feeling stuck.
It’s always hard when the routine changes with travel, and the bigger the exception you make in her routine – for example, if she slept in your room and especially if she slept in your bed – the harder it is to get back to the old routine.
I think -- I am guessing -- that apart from making exceptions to the rules, that the problem here is that it's feeling really uncomfortable for the two of you to hear your precious Susan telling you how much she doesn't like being alone in her room. Understandably so! No one wants to hear their child crying and protesting! And if that triggers of your own baggage -- and we all have baggage -- it's that much harder for you two.
But I wonder if part of the discomfort for you guys is that you have an idea that it "should" be easier for her now, that she "should" want to go to sleep alone, and stay in her bed all night?
One of the things that I am working on in my own life is thinking about challenges as "of course it's supposed to be hard."
So, for example, I am learning to stand up for myself differently in a close relationship with a family member and the other person is actually not that pleased about it! Suprise, surprise! And him not liking it is really uncomfortable for me, in turn.
But when I think, "of course this person doesn't like that I am re-drawing the map of our relationship -- it's super uncomfortable for people when we change! People don't want to have change imposed upon them. And it doesn't mean I am doing something wrong!"
So... what if you thought, "of course Susan doesn't want to be alone at night. Of course she doesn't want to be alone in her room. It's normal for young children to want to be close to their parents... It's normal for children to cry when they are left alone in a room when they know there's an option of being in their parents' bed. (Even if it doesn't serve anyone's need for great rest.) And that's not a problem! We know that we all need better sleep. She doesn't know that and so we are going to do this hard thing because we know it's necessary."
So my thought is -- decide what you want to do in terms of her sleep and then allow her to protest. Know that her sleep will improve again with your consistency and let it be okay for her to be unhappy.
You can shower all the love and affection in the world on her during the day... and let her be upset at night. Know that she will recover and she will be securely attached to you (all the studies show this to be true) and be so much happier for being well rested. And you will be better parents, spouses, employees and human beings when you are well-rested, too.
So get comfortable with the idea of discomfort. Know that this is exactly what is supposed to happen. Welcome it. Remind yourselves that all of this is part of the plan. And you will all be so much better off at the other end of this journey. Not only because you will all be well-rested but also because you will be that much better at sitting with an processing discomfort. Even better, Susan will have learned that she can do hard things and succeed.
I am still working on this myself, every single day. It's hard, hard work. But I can see my whole life changing as a result.
We can do hard things.
Are you on the fence about sleep training? Worried it could be harmful to your child?
You are not alone. Many parents feel the same.
To address your concern, Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University and the author of Expecting Better. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting meets Freakonomics: an award-winning economist disproves standard recommendations about pregnancy to empower women while they’re expecting" lays out the data on sleep training.
First off, she says, without a doubt, it's effective. She looks at three different meta-analyses -- one based on extinction (aka CIO), one based on timed checks (such as Ferber), and one based on the chair method (parent stays in the room) and all showed significant progress in children's sleep. Best of all, the progress persisted 6-12 months after the end of sleep training.
Next, she looked at studies that claimed that sleep training is dangerous. And what she found -- similar to my own research -- is that none of the studies that state that sleep training is dangerous are actually based on children being sleep trained.
Instead, they are based on children in long-term stressful situations. The most common was children in Romanian orphanages. These children were left in cribs for years with virtually no adult contact. They were also subjected to years of emotional and physical abuse.
Data gleaned from these studies is then extrapolated to be applied to children in loving homes who are being sleep trained.
I think we can all agree that that is hardly a fair comparison.
Looking at studies of children being sleep trained in healthy homes, she found that children's attachment to their parents actually increased after sleep training. Five years later, there was no difference in attachment between children who were sleep trained and children who were not. And as above, sleep training was shown to be effective in improving sleep.
Finally, she says that we may never be able to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that sleep training isn't harmful BUT we have also not proved that sleep deprivation isn't harmful. Oster says, "Among other things, you could easily argue the opposite: maybe sleep training is very good for some kids -- they really need the uninterrupted sleep -- and there is a risk of damaging your child by not sleep training."
There is no research yet on this compelling point, but the research would be fascinating. Anectdotally, hundreds of parents have reported to me that their children are noticeably happier -- not just more secure but also more calm, more focused on their play, less likely to have meltdowns, and more eager to go to sleep -- after sleep training. Take it from them that sleep training is beneficial and consider: what are the costs to your child to not sleep training?
If you are considering sleep training, schedule a free chat and find out more information about what it would look like for your family. You'll get some free tips and there's no obligation to buy.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.