Why It’s Not “Selfish” to Get Your Children on a Sleep Schedule
I came across a post on Reddit once where a very exhausted mother was asking for help regarding her 6-month-old’s sleep.
“He wakes every two hours, sometimes every hour, all night long,” she wrote. “He’s constantly eating and has to be rocked back to sleep every time. I haven’t slept in 6 months and I’m supposed to go back to work. I am at my wit’s end. What can I do?”
As the mother of a child just a few months older, I felt for this woman. “Have you looked into sleep-training?” I wrote in response to her post. “Your baby is old enough, and it’s the only thing that worked for us.”
I thought my response was fairly innocuous.
Apparently not. I was instantly attacked. By other moms.
“Sleep training is SO WRONG,” wrote one in response to my post. “You are harming your baby for life.”
“It’s basically child abuse,” wrote another. “It’s only for the parents’ benefit. Only selfish parents sleep train.”
Alarmed by the misinformation, I wrote back. I’d done my research before deciding to sleep train my child. I linked to various resources that showed this was simply false.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t matter to them.
The other commentators didn’t provide any facts to contradict what I had posted, or any resources to back up their own claims. They just kept insisting that sleep training is “wrong” and “abusive” and “selfish.”
Unfortunately, the original poster didn’t seem to know what to believe. “I really need sleep but I don’t know what’s true,” she wrote back. “Is there any other way to help?”
The anti-sleep training moms didn’t have any real advice. They wrote things like, “It’s normal at this stage,” and “He’s just waking up because he needs you.” Not exactly helpful (or even true.)
Look: I’m a mom.
I get it. Engaging in any type of sleep training that involves controlled crying (letting your baby cry for a set amount of time) feels intuitively wrong. You are hard-wired to respond to your baby’s cries.
In fact, when it came time to sleep train my daughter, at first I didn’t want to do it at all.
And in the end, I couldn’t do it. I had to leave my apartment while my partner did it.
He found it difficult, too. But he was able to resist his instincts and get it done.
The first night, it took fifteen minutes of crying plus check-ins.
The second night, eight minutes.
The third night, five.
And by the fourth night, she was settling herself down for sleep, and stopped waking up at night.
My daughter is two and a half, and has been an excellent sleeper ever since.
So was it hard? Yes. No matter how long, it’s always hard to hear your child cry. Just hearing about the fact that she was crying from my husband was hard.
Was it worth it?
So what changed my mind and got me to sleep train?
There are a lot (and we mean a lot) of strongly held opinions on there on what is right and what is wrong when it comes to your baby’s sleep. Spend five minutes anywhere on the internet, and you’ll know how true this is.
But here at Kulala, we don’t deal with opinions. We deal with science and research. Every recommendation we give you is based on those two things.
And the fact is? Sleep training does not harm your baby.
In case you need to hear it again: Sleep training does not harm your baby.
How do we know?
Research shows there are no harmful effects to sleep training
This has been shown in every long-term study done on sleep training.
Consider this randomized trial which checked in with children who’d experienced various degrees of sleep-training, from controlled crying to no sleep training at all. After five years of monitoring these children, the researchers involved “couldn't find any long-term difference between the children who had been sleep-trained as babies and those who hadn't. We concluded that there were no harmful effects on children's behavior, sleep, or the parent-child relationship," the head researcher involved in the study said.
There are other studies out there which come to the same conclusions. What’s more, other studies have shown that babies who are sleep trained sleep better, their parents have fewer symptoms of depression, and these methods do not affect the child's stress levels. Read more here.
So those people telling you sleep-training is harmful to your baby? They’re wrong, plain and simple. The science is clear!
Still not convinced that sleep training could be a good thing for your family? Here are some more facts to consider.
Sleep training is not the same thing as cry-it-out
Some people think when you say you’re going to “sleep train,” you’re putting your baby into their room, closing the door, and ignoring them entirely for the rest of the night. But that’s not necessarily what all sleep training is.
Sleep training simply refers to using a method to help your child get better sleep. This covers everything from controlled crying to getting your baby onto a schedule using their circadian rhythm.
In fact, the Kulala method of sleep training involves letting your child cry for only 90 seconds at a time. Studies show that waiting one minute to 90 seconds before comforting your baby makes a big difference on the path to sleeping through the night. Even though it's not long, it teaches baby how to self-soothe.
After those 90 seconds, you can go in and soothe your child. Learn more about the Kulala gentle sleep training method here, including when it’s appropriate to begin (when your baby is at least 11 pounds, which they usually reach at about three months of age, and has five hours or more at least once.)
90 seconds of crying for a lifetime of good sleep, for both you, your partner, and your little one? Sign us up!
Being well-rested benefits your child.
This is what people who call parents who sleep train “selfish” get wrong (among other things): sleep training does not only benefit the parents.
Though parents obviously do tend to sleep better once their child is sleeping through the night, getting good sleep is also beneficial to the child.
Think about this: you don’t actually “sleep through the night.” All humans tend to sleep in 4-hour cycles. Chances are, you wake up at least once during the night. The difference is between you and your baby is, you don’t call out for help to fall back to sleep. You fall back asleep on your own.
A child who has not been sleep-trained generally doesn’t know how to do this. So she wakes up in the middle of the night—and cries out. You run to her, because that’s what you’re used to doing. You do the things you usually do to get her to fall to sleep in the first place—pick her up, rock her, feed her. Your baby needs you do to these things to get back to sleep, because you’ve trained her that that’s how getting back to sleep works.
But this habit is not ideal for your baby. The baby who cries out, has a parent rush in, and needs to be rocked and nursed back to sleep, will only continue to need those things the more they are done. You're using yourself as a sleep prop for your child. But the sleep-trained baby knows how to get herself back to sleep. By teaching her how to sleep on her own, we give her confidence as she grows.
Not sleeping well is not good for anyone’s health, including children. Studies have shown that children who sleep less are more likely to become obese or overweight. Setting your child up for a lifetime of good sleep early on is beneficial to them.
Not to mention, sleepy children are generally more cranky—as are sleepy parents.
Which brings us to our other point:
Having a well-rested parent also benefits your child.
Another thing the “sleep-training is selfish” moms get wrong: Having severely sleep-deprived parents is not good for the child.
Studies have shown that moms who get less sleep are more likely to have postpartum depression, which can affect your ability to care for your child. A parent’s mood can be felt by the child, even a very young baby. It’s in everyone’s best interest, parent and child, that the parents be as well-rested and as well as possible in those postpartum months.
Also consider this scary fact: Driving while sleep-deprived can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk. Would you drive drunk with your child in the car? We didn’t think so.
Being well-rested benefits you, too.
Finally—and we cannot stress this enough—it is not selfish to be concerned about your own health in addition to your child’s.
You know the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? How about “put your own mask on before securing others’ masks”? That applies to parenthood, too.
Of course, when your child is young, you need to put their needs before your own. That’s what parenthood is: sacrifice. But no one is asking you to be a martyr. It is completely reasonable to look after yourself as well as your child as best you can. And getting enough sleep is a big part of that—just as important as a good diet, enough water, and exercise.
So the bottom line is: when it’s appropriate for your child’s age and health, there is absolutely nothing wrong with helping him learn to sleep better—for his sake, and for yours, too.