Gentle Sleep Resources

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Copyright: Kirill Federspiel

Copyright: Kirill Federspiel

Often when I write about crying-it-out or controlled crying, I get comments from people who have done it asking what else they should have done in their sleep deprived state.  The question concerns me because it highlights not only how mainstream the idea of leaving a child to cry has become, but also about how ignorant society is as a whole about the alternatives to sleep training.  So here I thought I would present a few of the options out there and some resources that you may find helpful.  Hopefully we can hit a stage where these become the “norm” in what parents are first told to try.  Why are they “gentle”?  Well, because they involve continuing to respond to your child’s needs for comfort and love instead of leaving them – even temporarily (and I’m not talking 3-5 min of sleep whining/fussing/talking/etc. here).  However, if you are experiencing many wakings or lots of crying, please check this post out on what ISN’T normal sleep for infants so you can first address any underlying issues.

Education on Normal Sleep

I start with this because I believe it should be a component of any intervention on infant sleep.  Providing parents with real information based on baby’s biology is important, regardless of what else is also promoted.  The reason being that many parents express incredible anxiety over their infants’ sleep which is made worse when they are given unrealistic expectations  of what to expect their infant to do[1].  When parents have a greater understanding of not only what they might expect, but also the reasons they might expect it, it may be sufficient to remove anxiety and any need for further intervention.  You can read more on normal infant sleep here and some of the reasons babies do wake and signal at night here.

In line with this education on normal sleep, we need to make sure families also examine the potential reasons behind the wakings looking at age-appropriate expectations.  For example, an infant will feed frequently and often, that is normal.  However, an infant who is feeding excessively coupled with lots of crying may have a tongue-tie that is preventing him or her from feeding fully, an infant who cries regularly at night may have a food intolerance (yes, they get proteins and other elements of food via mom’s diet) and may need mom to make some dietary changes to sleep well, or an toddler who is waking regularly in his own room may be experiencing severe separation anxiety and may need to be closer to his parents at night.  So when we talk about what is normal, we must also encourage people to check these options out.  It may be that one just has a very hungry infant or an infant with reflux or something else we don’t know, but as normal as most behaviours are, not everything is “normal” in the sense that it doesn’t reflect an underlying problem.

The Wait-It-Out Method

Not really much of a “method”, but it has a name and many people subscribe to it (yes, even working parents and those who have other kids).  As you can probably imagine from the name, it involves simply waiting it out.  This often comes when parents have read up on why their child might be waking and accepting that this, too, shall end.  Notable here is that this is not for cases in which a child is showing clear signs of sleep deprivation (you can read up on the symptoms of sleep deprivation here) and this should not be based on the amount a child sleeps, but the actual physical symptoms of a child.  But basically, you continue to respond to your child’s wakings and cries, knowing one day they will end (yes, this too, shall pass).

Evidence for using this method comes from trials which looked at the efficacy of CIO or CC in infants and compared them to those who simply did nothing (something that oddly is not often compared in sleep training research).  At follow-ups 6 months later, there were no differences between the two groups[2], suggesting that if parents believe they can last that time, they may see no difference and spare themselves any hassle of an intervention.

The Routine

It sounds so simple that parents seem to ignore it, but having a routine (not a schedule, for the difference see here) is hugely beneficial to children and infant sleep (and mom’s happiness)[3].  Some problems that often come up when people try to implement a routine include:

  • Mistaking a routine for a schedule and being too strict
  • Not having a nuanced routine that is child-centered
  • Not being flexible in changing the routine as the child ages and changes
  • Not being consistent with it

However, if parents can overcome these problems, they are often met with wonderful rewards when it comes to sleep.  An added benefit is that with a set routine, if you need to move sleep a bit earlier, you can slowly do that by simply starting the routine 5-15 minutes earlier each night until you have shifted sleep gently and without too much disruption for your child.  This has been found to be as effective as extinction methods of sleep training (specifically, controlled crying)[4].  Notably, this method works particularly well with toddlers.

Other Resources

These will not work for everyone, and as such there are other methods devised by individuals to help you.  Because I’m not going to commit plagiarism, I will simply leave you with links to various resources that address infant sleep problems in a gentle, responsive manner.

Books (you can click on the book title for the link to Amazon which provides a small portion of the sale to EP at no cost to you to help cover our costs, but also gives you access to reviews and more information):

                                        The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Gentle Ways to Stop Bedtime Battles and Improve Your Child’s Sleep     The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems (Pantley)     100 Ways to Calm the Crying     The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family (Sears Parenting Library)     Gentle Goodnight     Helping Baby Sleep

 

Sites and classes that offer help (again, you can click to see):

If I’ve missed anything, please let me know and I will continue to update this section with more resources for families looking for alternatives to what has become the mainstream of sleep training.

Good luck and happy sleeping :)

[Image Credit:  Bebo Mia]



[1] Douglas PS, Hill PS.  Behavioral sleep interventions in the first six months of life do not improve outcomes for mothers or infants: a systematic review.  J Dev Behav Pediatr 2013; 34: 497-507.

[3] Mindell JA, Telofski LS, Weigand B, Kurtz ES.  A nightly bedtime routine: impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood.  Sleep 2009; 32: 599-606.

[4] Adams LA, Rickert VI.  Reducing bedtime tantrums: comparison between positive bedtime routines and graduated extinction.  Pediatrics 1989; 84: 756-61.

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Comments

  1. Anna says

    Another sleep book that I read a lot of the same research you reference is Helping Your Baby to Sleep – Why Gentle Techniques Work Best by Anni Gethin & Beth McGregor.

  2. Natalie says

    “And not to forget the Safe Sleep Space guide that encourages parents to create an emotionally safe place where sleep can happen. It promotes responding to baby and toddler. Originating in Australia and being used around the world. http://www.safesleepspace.com.au – that now has an App as well”

  3. Amanda de oliveira says

    Just found out about you tracy and already looove ya ! Im a biologist that have some experience in animal behavior and to have a point of view from a human behaviourist makes much more sense to me, cheers al the way down from brazil

  4. Catherine says

    Thanks for these links – my baby doesn’t sleep well but I am loathe to ‘sleep train’ and my instinct says that leaving him to cry is wrong. I am getting desperate for an alternative though so appreciate the info provided. I have also noted the reminder on routine before bed – we have one but it has become a bit loose of late so I will improve on that first. I suspect I will be an advocate of the WIO method though – indeed, this too will pass! All too quickly in retrospect no doubt, so I try to enjoy our afternoon naps together instead of resenting the broken nights.

  5. Jennifer Kitterman says

    If you’re trying to get your child to sleep more, you have to try the sleep sense program! I finally found this program when my daughter was 5 months old, she was sleeping only 3 hours at a time at night, the day I found this program and read through it she slept 10 hours! I’ve since used it with my two boys and they have been sleeping for 12 hours at night since they were 6 weeks old! I can’t say enough about this program! It works! Check it out :) http://www.sleepsense.net/share.html?w=buynow&p=jensleeps

    • says

      I’m afraid I can’t endorse that link AT ALL. It’s filled with lies about infant sleep (the citations do not support what this person is claiming) and using fear to get parents to buy into a program. Absolutely awful.

    • S says

      I think “trying to get your child to sleep more” is a dangerous blanket goal in the absence of any other context. Most young babies do not sleep for many hours straight because it is not safe or healthy for them to do so yet. Babies’ natural sleep rhythms remain shallow and easily rousable for as long as they are utterly reliant on others’ to meet their many needs. They are not supposed to sleep deeply or for long stretches because they need to wake up in case they are too cold or too hot, hungry, thirsty, alone, scared, in pain, wet, ill, in danger, or anything else. They need to be always ‘close to the surface’ to become aware of their hunger or pain, so they can signal someone that they need help. I think we have swerved dangerously off track thinking that simply or always “getting our babies to sleep more” is a good thing, a safe thing, or something to strive towards. Perhaps a more practical goal might be to parent babies through the night, and help them gently settle into age-appropriate sleeping rhythms, with the gradual aim of supporting life-long healthy sleep habits. Simply getting them to sleep more, or deeper, or without disturbing us–regardless of their age–is not necessarily in their, or our, best interest.

  6. says

    Love your work! and would love for you to check us out when you have a spate minute and add as a resource for parents.
    Daisy Birth & Baby classes are available in several countries now, originating in the UK, and provide vital peer to peer support…women supporting women! Creating awareness of gentle methods to support natural processes from pregnancy through to early childhood, through gentle movement, massage and relaxation
    Happy, healthy mums and baby’s, growing and developing together! xxx

  7. says

    Hi Tracy,

    It would be great if you’d like to add our gentle sleep website to your list of resources:

    http://www.betterrestmethod.org

    We provide a gentle step by step method (for people who like step by step methods), and we also summarise many of the other gentle authors and approaches (with their permission, as we ran the summaries by them before publishing).

    Thanks!

    Jane

    • says

      Hi Jane,

      Unfortunately I’ve heard complaints from some of these authors that they requested changes that weren’t made, they weren’t happy with the write up, etc. As such, I’m afraid I cannot add it to the list.

      Tracy

      • says

        Hi Tracy,

        Thank you so much for alerting me to this issue.

        I hope I can reassure you that we have been in touch with all the featured authors, and through process of elimination I can guess which author you may be referring to. I have temporarily removed the link to her material while I attempt to get back in touch with her. I hope she will agree to be featured, as I really think it will help to direct more readers towards her work and spread the word about gentle parenting to a wider readership.

        Hope that helps, and please do let me know if you have any further questions.

        Warm wishes,

        Jane

  8. AO says

    A fantastic article. Thank you. My daughter is almost 3 now, and still shares a bed with me and my husband (with no end in sight, I might add…. :-). We have received so many VERY critical comments from family and (used to be) friends. I was in the military and now hold a senior role in the corporate world, but I never hesitate to soothe my daughter in the middle of the night — regardless of the issue. I will never place my work over the importance of her needs. Thank you for such a well researched and well written article!

  9. says

    Are you willing to list practitioners that only do gentle evidence based sleep counselling and education? I am a peer counsellor and BFC that does sleep help internationally by phone and Skype.

    http://thebirthingspace.ca

    If you’re willing to add me it would be wonderful. Thank you so much for the wonderful resources I use daily. :)

    • says

      I don’t list practitioners because I can’t know what exactly they promote to individuals whereas I can read the books and look at the websites. Sorry!

      (Also, too many use “gentle” and “evidence-based” when in fact they are not gentle and evidence-based in so much as there is evidence that extinction methods work. I’m not saying this is you at all, but I don’t share because of that.)

      • says

        Understandable! That’s exactly what I don’t do – but I totally get the point, there is such garbage in sleep info that it’s almost impossible to wade through it all.

        I have a similar background to you, with a degree in cognitive science and communication and it’s nice to see real information get out to parents.

        My info on my website states that we never do no sleep training whatsoever! Ever. It’s about counselling parents to fully understand the biological underpinnings of their babies bodies and do that which is biologically normal.

        I hate the co-opting of the terms gentle and evidence as much as you, I promise.

        Keep up the progress towards truth. :)

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