I'm Pretty Sure Every Sleep Training "Method" Is BS, Here's Why

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I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in over three years. I wish that was an exaggeration, but sadly it isn’t. My son, who is 2-and-a-half, has never slept through the night (add the joys of trying to sleep while uncomfortably pregnant, and that’s how you end up with three years of sleeplessness). My husband and I have tried every possible sleep-training method — and have failed.

I moved the goalposts: “By three months he’ll get the hang of it!” Then, six months. A year? TWO YEARS?

My daughter, who is now 5, began sleeping through the night when she was six weeks old. Naively, I assumed this was a general blueprint for babies. When my son woke every 45 minutes around the clock for the first four weeks of his life, I assured myself, “if I can just make it to the six-week mark, we will be fine!”

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What a bunch of hooey.

Six weeks came and went. Still no sleep. So I moved the goalposts: “By three months he’ll get the hang of it!” Then, six months. A year? TWO YEARS?

Nope, nope, and nope. I’ve tried everything recommended by experts and my pediatrician, and have come to the conclusion that my son simply does not like to sleep.

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I even army-crawled out of the room once to trick him into thinking I was still there. As the sleepless nights wore on, I became desperate.

At first, we tried simple remedies, like establishing a bedtime ritual — warm bath, pajamas, breastfeeding, then crib — to trigger his understanding that nighttime is for relaxation and sleep. But he wasn’t having any of it; if he had the dexterity to give us the middle finger, he surely would have.  

I tried comforting him from afar, otherwise known as “camping out.” I would sit next to the crib and gently “ssshh” to try and calm him. Each night, I’d sit further away from him (and closer to the bedroom door), in the hopes of weaning him from my presence. Hell, I even army-crawled out of the room once to trick him into thinking I was still there.

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As the sleepless nights wore on, I became desperate. I begged and pleaded with my son — an infant — to let me sleep. I nonsensically hoped that he’d sense the despair in my voice and concede. I lightly sprayed his sheets with my perfume and yes, even a few drops of breastmilk, so that he would be comforted by my scent and drift off to sleep. A+ for effort on my part, but still a failure.

Then came the dreaded cry-it-out method. It was pediatrician-approved and my husband insisted we try it. For the record, it pains me to hear my kids cry and  I wanted to avoid tears at all costs. But I relented, and agreed to try the Ferber method when my son was around nine months old. Our pediatrician had warned us it would be a tough few days, but would ultimately result in all of us getting sleep.

Spoiler alert: he was wrong.

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Now, instead of screaming his lungs out in his crib, he simply walks into our bedroom and wakes us up.

As our son grew older and graduated to a toddler bed, the situation did not resolve. Now, instead of screaming his lungs out in his crib, he simply walks into our bedroom and wakes us up. Again, I tried the experts’ way of handling toddler sleep interruptions: I walked him back to his bed, over and over and over again.

Guess what? It didn’t work.

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The repeated failed attempts at securing a full night’s sleep despite our best efforts  left me wondering: are we — parents, pediatricians, so-called sleep “experts” — going about this all wrong? Are we trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with a one-size-fits-all approach to sleep training?

In a word, yes. While experts tend to agree that what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another, they still recommend very limited solutions that ignore family dynamics — for example, when young children share a room with their siblings, like mine do — and little ones’ personalities.  

Would it be amazing to sleep eight hours a night? Of course. But that’s not the hand I’ve been dealt.
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It’s taken me two-and-a-half years to reconcile my sleep reality with what I’m told it ought to be. Would it be amazing to sleep eight hours a night? Of course. But that’s not the hand I’ve been dealt. For better or for worse, my son wakes up every night and needs comfort. He isn’t being defiant or intentionally trying to drive me insane; it’s simply his nature to need more affection and security.

So I’ve stopped trying to enforce sleep training and instead take it night by night.  Some nights, that means letting him come into bed with me and snuggling him back to sleep. Others, it means walking him back to his bed. And sometimes, it’s both. I’m still tired, but at least we aren’t stressed and anxious.

Besides, there will come a day when, presumably as a teenager, he will want to sleep all the time. And I’ll be there to wake him up extra early as my own form of sweet revenge.

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