I thought I should first talk about my philosophy on helping your child learn healthy sleep habits.
I don’t define "sleep training " as cry-it-out (CIO). You don’t have to let your child cry to teach healthy sleep habits. Some people seem to think they are synonymous and I disagree. Sleep training starts with respecting your child’s need for sleep (Weissbluth) and doing your part to ensure they get the sleep they need. This does not mean throwing up your hands if they won’t nap and saying to yourself "I guess if they won’t sleep, they don’t need it." Babies, toddlers, and young children need a LOT of sleep. Adults don’t get as much sleep as they need either, but I won’t go there. Babies younger than 6 months need 11-12 hours at night and 3-4 hours each and every day, on average. Some will be less, but not that much less. Sleep is important for their growth and development!
When my eldest son was a baby, several people told me to keep him up during the day, so that he will sleep more at night. Maybe that one night he would sleep more, I’m not sure, but crashing due to exhaustion is not what I call healthy sleep habits. And, I knew he needed more sleep than THAT!
Over time, I determined that he almost always slept better at night, the better he slept during the day. After all, as Weissbluth says, "sleep begets sleep ". With my son, this was 100% true. The better he napped, the less overtired he was and the better he slept at night. I would say that is going to be almost always true for most challenging sleepers. After all, remember, these challenging sleepers are not those who just magically fall asleep when they are tired. These are the babies/toddlers who struggle and need help learning to become good sleepers.
Teaching Healthy Sleep Habits
I am not going to get into all of the sleep training methods just yet because that would make this article entirely too long. And, I don’t promote one sleep training method over another but take a unique situation, the child’s personality, and find a method that suits the family in question. What I am going to say, though, is teaching healthy sleep habits is done with consistency and persistence. It is putting your child’s need for sleep as a higher priority than other things you might have or want to do.
Babies basically just eat, sleep and poop in those early months. You wouldn’t deprive them of food or a clean diaper, so I challenge you not to deprive them of their sleep, either. Whether you co-sleep with them or allow them to learn to self-soothe or anything in between, the main goal is for them to get the sleep they need. The #1 important aspect of how you do it, is that you are consistent . To nap with them only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for example, will only confuse them and set unrealistic expectations. This is unfair to them. So, whatever you do to get your child to sleep, do it the same way each time as much as possible. This is not to say that some days won’t need to be more flexible or that rules won’t be broken on vacation; I am only talking on the whole.
You may also be interested in reading my article on sleep associations.