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25th Sep 2023

How sleep training worked for my family (but was a disaster elsewhere)

Sleep training isn’t for everyone, and there are lots of myths and misconceptions around it, but it worked for us.

In late spring 2021, my otherwise tranquil world was disrupted by the relentless challenge of sleep deprivation. Also known as ‘being a parent to a newborn’. I loved my little girl, no doubt, but as a self-employed mother who had to go back to work almost immediately postpartum, the sleep – I mean, of course, the lack of sleep – was killing me (and my husband, for that matter). 

The day of reckoning came as I was so exhausted I reversed my car into my house. Then and there I decided to consult a sleep trainer. In Ireland, nearly 40% of adults grapple with sleep issues, we knew we weren’t alone, but we also knew we couldn’t keep things the way they were. 

I found myself in a tug-of-war between my child’s sleep needs and my eternal quest for rest. Sleep training, I discovered, is a nuanced endeavour. It involves teaching infants the art of independent sleep. It’s a controversial topic, I also discovered – many people I spoke to ahead of trying it had a distinctly negative view of the process. But I knew I had to try it. 

The objective? To find an experienced professional to coach us through. To foster self-soothing skills while minimising tears. To sleep through the night once again.

But before I started, I made a pros and cons list to weigh up whether or not we were doing the right thing, and it went something like this (I’ve depersonalised it in case anyone wants to use the list as a starting point).

The pros:

Improved sleep for both child and parents
Encourages independence and self-soothing skills
Establishes consistent bedtime routines
Reduces night awakenings for better sleep quality
Supports parental rest and mental well-being
Could lead to improved family dynamics

The cons:

Initial tears and emotional distress for child and parents
Potential feelings of guilt and stress for parents
May not be suitable for all children, considering their temperament and needs
Requires patience and consistency
Effectiveness can vary; not guaranteed to solve all sleep issues
Controversial; some believe it may disregard a child’s immediate comfort needs

I also did my research: I wanted to find as much evidence that was backed by science and research as I could so that I knew I was making the right choice for my family.

How it went

I found an amazing Irish sleep coach based out of Qatar and had a consultation, which left me feeling confident and relieved at how much she understood both our situation and our wish for it to be better.

Those initial nights were an emotional trial. The trial of the century, I’d wager. The sound of my daughter’s cries reverberated through the house, testing my resolve and frankly, breaking my heart. We persisted, offering comfort at delicately calculated intervals. Progress was almost immediate, and within a week there were transformative – miraculous – changes. She started falling asleep unaided and waking up less often. She was in better form during the day. Her naps stabilised. She was hungrier. And best of all? I was a much more present, happy and patient parent.

I absolutely recognise that sleep training isn’t a universally embraced concept. It’s a topic steeped in controversy. Critics argue that it dismisses a baby’s immediate needs for comfort and care, a debate rooted in divergent parenting philosophies. But for me, for my family, we found that we acknowledged those differences while navigating our own choices. 

All that being said, a friend of mine who used a sleep trainer for help with their second child found it to be an absolute disaster for their family, with disruption continuing and the child in question taking weeks to settle in – which is why I would always say, for those contemplating sleep training, consider starting here: Research extensively, seek advice from experienced professionals if needed, and brace yourself for an adjustment period. It’s a whole process, believe me, and one that unique to every child’s temperament and family dynamic.