Can you co-sleep and sleep train?
This is an interesting one. Can you co-sleep and sleep train?
Co-sleeping is a parenting practice close to some people’s hearts, and often the same people don’t appreciate sleep training. Let’s firstly acknowledge I’m being brave using both terms in the same sentence, let alone in a heading.
The fact is, I had to teach (or train) my children to sleep well; they were not children who picked it up and slept all night automatically. And I know from helping clients that this is the case in a lot of families! My children now sleep well, independently (no more co-sleeping here), but there have certainly been occasions where I have co-slept in the past. And there is some co-sleeping still happening at times. Honestly I do it when the need arises.
I get it!
It happens, and I get it. I really do. After all, I’m a mother myself. The absolutely primal and uncontrollable impulse to stay close to your baby is so deeply rooted in our DNA that it is almost frightening sometimes.
This phenomenon could be evolutionary defensive instincts at play, but it feels more like love to me.
It’s totally normal to love your little human to the point where you want to be in contact with them 24 hours 7 days a week for all 365 days of the year. And hey, if your baby doesn’t seem to mind, and it’s done safely, sleeping next to your baby is beautiful, it feels so maternal. It almost seems crazy not to do it that way.
Or at least that’s how some of us felt up until the first week or two (or more) of co-sleeping.
Then it was more like, “Listen, I love you, you love me, that’s established. But I can’t sleep next to someone who hasn’t yet figured out the etiquette involved in sleeping next to another person”. You know what I mean right? Getting a thumb jammed in your eye at 3:30 A.M. is simply not helping either of you sleep.
You may have plenty of friends who co-sleep and many swear by it. Friends of mine love it and it works just fine for them. Some even have more than one child sleeping in bed with them. Power to them I say. If they enjoy it and they are doing it safely, I say co-sleep your heart out. But there is another side to the story (and it’s not just safe sleep).
When you’re woken up again, and again
I’ve spoken to more than a few parents who are big on co-sleeping but are still being woken up by feet in their face or thumbs in their eyes several times a night.
A number of these parents want to know if sleep training will get their little ones to stop squirming or waking up fifteen times a night to nurse. Which, just for the record, your eighteen-month-old really does not need to do, developmentally wise.
That movement and constant needing you can get too much. I really wish I had a more satisfying answer for those parents who want better sleep in a shared bed, because like I say, I completely sympathise. I understand wanting those two best-case-scenarios to live in harmony. Sleep next to your baby but not have them wake you up repeatedly through the night. That would be magical, no question.
Unfortunately, it’s not really all that likely for a couple of reasons.
Here’s the catch
Once your baby passes the 6-month mark, he or she will think you’re just the greatest. When they have a naturally occurring wake in the night and see you lying next to them, they get excited. They start thinking “ooh, there’s my favourite person” And then it’s all on.
They want you to interact with them. So they try to engage with you, and since they’re not aware of societal norms yet, they don’t know enough to lay a hand on your shoulder and quietly whisper, “Are you awake?” Nuh uh. They get your attention by jamming their finger in your ear or slapping you on the forehead.
Have you been there? It’s not polite, but man it’s effective!
Or the toddler years
And then your baby becomes a toddler. Toddlers are often very animated sleepers. It’s just a fact. They twist and turn and readjust themselves a thousand times a night and will often end up completely on the other side of a queen-sized bed with their feet towards the headboard. That meme saying that co-sleeping with a toddler is like sleeping with a drunk octopus is funny simply because it’s true.
So why can’t sleep training alleviate this? Simply put, because it’s not a sedative.
What is sleep training then?
Sleep training is all about teaching your baby the skills to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake up in the night. That’s a slight simplification, but at its core, that’s what we’re doing.
We’re not doing anything that will get your baby to fall into a deep sleep and stay there for a solid 11 hours. That’s a job for anaesthesia, and there are obvious reasons why we’re not going down that road (no it’s not an option).
So while it’s possible that you could see some success in your child’s sleep habits by teaching them independent sleep skills in your bed, you’re not likely to see the same kind of results you will if you get them sleeping in their own bed, without any distractions. And while you can still share a room when they’re young, it can help to move them out when they’re older and even more aware and alert.
But I want sleep AND the cuddles
For those of you who are wary about giving up those magical cuddles in your bed, I have a suggestion that has helped my own family and many of those that I’ve worked with. At night it’s independent sleep, but then after your kids are out of bed and well-rested, set aside fifteen or twenty minutes every morning to bring them into your bed.
That’s when you cuddle them, play with them, sing some songs, play-wrestle, whatever their hearts desire. You can still enjoy the closeness and familial bond that comes with sharing a bed. But without creating any negative associations that might mess with their ability to get to sleep at night, and without waking each other up.
So what’s it to be?
If co-sleeping is working for you, you’re both getting the rest you need and it’s done safely, then sleep is working. Congratulations!
But if you’ve been co-sleeping for a while and have decided it’s time to reclaim your bed or bedroom but your little one has other ideas. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ve worked with many families to get them through this exact scenario with tremendous success, and I can help yours too.