Monthly Parenting Magazine

(How) does sleep training work?

does sleep training work

Apphia Michael tries out the jedi mind tricks of sleep training, and gets some fascinating results

Words Apphia Michael

Ten pm and there it is – the all-too-familiar whimper-like arpeggios that signal the first movement in our son’s nightly waking symphony. At ten months old, our breastfed-on-demand baby is waking multiple times with alarming precision. The only way to stop baby B’s cries from hitting a deafening crescendo is by feeding him back to sleep, after which, alas, the cycle repeats itself after a couple of hours.

The sleep-deprived hangover from the constant shuffle between our bed and the cot is only amplified by daily efforts to keep up with our three-year-old toddler, whose bunny-like energy knows no bounds (thankfully, she is a perfect sleeper at night). Running on empty with almost a year of broken sleep under our belts, my husband and I have turned to child sleep consultant Sofie Petts-Sabine for help, who assures us that her methods will have baby B nodding off happily on his own, and give him the tools to be able to resettle himself with ease.

A certified member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants and founder of the aptly named ShutEye, self-professed ‘sleep geek’ Sofie offers parents a range of services and various levels of support, from self-learning video masterclasses to house visits. We sign up to her two-week ‘Sleep Success VIP’ plan which includes check-in phone calls and daily text messaging support.

I immediately feel we are in good hands. Unlike some proponents of the rigid ‘cry it out’ method, Sofie is a mum who herself experienced sleep deprivation with her firstborn before discovering the transformative effects of sleep training on her family. She is a keen believer that sleep is key to a child’s development and wellbeing and thus should be seen as top priority. Most importantly, she understands that babies are people and not machines.

Five minutes into our initial Skype consultation, Sofie has gently highlighted one of the reasons for our nightly wake-up calls – by feeding baby B every time he wakes for fear he might be hungry, I have unwittingly programmed him to associate sleep with feeding, which he now uses as a comfort mechanism.

We also learn that consistency is key. Frustrated by the frequency with which baby B has been demanding night feeds, we have been deploying our best shushing, patting and rocking techniques some nights, but relenting and feeding him to sleep on others, sending him mixed messages in the process and augmenting his inability to consistently settle himself to sleep independently.

After an in-depth conversation and a detailed sleep questionnaire, which delves into everything from our parenting style and beliefs to what we are and aren’t comfortable with, Sofie emails us the bespoke plan she has created for baby B. She then painstakingly talks us through it over the phone, taking the time to make sure we are comfortable and confident before starting.

I remark with relief that the plan allows for plenty of reassurance and touch. “There are so many things that can be done to support children to sleep”, Sofie remarks of her ‘mix it up’ approach to using various methods, none of which require us to ‘cry it out’. This is not to say that there isn’t an element of crying  involved, but a strong emphasis is placed on a combination of tweaks and improvements to things like his sleep environment, feeding times and bedtime routine.

“Think of baby B’s sleep as jigsaw puzzle. All of the pieces need to fit together in the correct order for you to see the picture,” says Sofie. We get started with a structured yet flexible routine, working with his circadian rhythms and putting him down at specific times to catch the window in which full restorative sleep is optimised. Whenever he wakes at night, we employ the soothing techniques Sofie laid out, until we can comfort him with our voices alone.

Baby B quickly makes progress and after just a few weeks is sleeping through the night from 6.30pm to 6.30am. Just as Sofie promised, he now goes down happily awake in his cot, before falling asleep on his own. As for disrupted sleep? It is now a thing of the past and our happy, contented baby is a self-soothing superstar. Our wish for night after night of unbroken sleep has been miraculously granted and it is all thanks to our sleep genie Sofie.

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