I am a Paediatric Sleep Consultant in Singapore, certified by the Sleep Sense Program guiding parents in sleep training their babies and toddlers. "Sleep training" means teaching children the skill of sleeping well and independently.
"Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain's battery. Sleeping well increases brainpower just as weight lifting builds stronger muscles, because sleeping well increases your attention span and allows you to be physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time. Then you are at your personal best."
- Dr Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
Why sleep train? Sleep training, when done right, gets your child having a solid uninterrupted night sleep and good naps. Sleep experts agree that consolidated (uninterrupted) sleep is the most restful and healthy kind of sleep for both infants and adults. Sleep that is interrupted by one or more awakenings during the night usually leads to daytime sleepiness, a decrease in mental flexibility and attention and mood impairments.
If you're reading this, you may be a parent whose sleep is interrupted by your child's night wakings, and you would probably know what I mean about not feeling well-rested or at your best in the morning!
Our little ones are no different. They need their SLEEP to function and develop at their personal BEST.
-Learning. Sleep has been shown to be important for maturation of infants’ brains and consolidation of their memories. Several studies have shown that babies and children with more efficient nighttime sleep (greater percentage of time spent asleep during the night) had higher cognitive scores.
- Mood. Children that sleep more at night have been found to have an “easier” temperament, being more approachable, less distractible, and more adaptable.
- Growth. Good quality sleep fuels growth in children; and boosts muscle mass and the repair of cells and tissues.
Many parents put off sleep training, or don't ever do it, because they cannot take the crying which sometimes comes with it.
It is important to remember this. Human beings are creatures of habit, and we are pretty protective over our sleep environment. We don't like things changed. We all have our own ways that we like to get ourselves into sleep (eg a shower, pajamas, maybe socks, blanket etc). If one of the important elements in that is changed, we are likely to complain or protest against that.
Babies are the same. When you implement a change in their sleep habits, even though it is for their own good and is important for them, they are likely to protest against it to some extent. And their only way to do so is to cry. So the crying is a protest against a change.
Let's face it. In our parenthood journey, we will often face protest (crying) when we try to impose good habits eg brushing teeth, washing hands before a meal (sometimes even going to school is met with some protest). Often our little ones cry or protest against things which are good for them. That doesn't mean that we let them go to bed with unbrushed teeth, eat with dirty hands, or stay home from school without a valid reason. Instead, we face the protest, and instill those good habits anyway. Because we're parents and we gotta do what's best for our kids.
Instilling good sleep habits is no different. We will probably have to encounter some protest, but the result is that our children get the sleep they need, which is important for their health and development.
So I cannot promise that there will be no protest during the sleep training process. But I can promise you that I will never ask you to leave your child alone to protest on his or her own.