Blog Posts 1–5, based on the United States of America Department of the Army Field Manual: Holistic Healing and Fitness, describe what really matters for your child’s sleep. If sleep is an important enough topic for national defense than surely sleep should be considered a serious topic for parenting!
I created the term ‘Sleep Training’ as a shorthand phrase to describe several strategies that parents could use to help their child achieve healthy sleep. Blog Post 49 reviews the history of the term ‘Sleep Training’.
The phrase ‘Sleep Training’ echoes similar notions of ‘toilet training’, ‘Parent Effectiveness Training (PET)’, and ‘obedience training’ for our German Shepard. Although today, the phrase, ‘Sleep Training’, usually refers to only the extinction method (Blog Post 25), the original use of this phrase referred to a package of items (Blog Post 95A), not just one item. Just as there is not just one item that is performed for toilet training, PET, or obedience training, there are several different things performed to achieve your goal of healthy sleep.
To illustrate how the different items involved in ‘Sleep Training’ are interrelated, I used the image of a rotating Ferris wheel and created the metaphor of the Sleep Wheel (Blog Posts 152 and 153). The rotating Sleep Wheel also adds a dynamic quality to the notion of ‘Sleep Training’ because parents do different things at different times over a twenty-four period.
Another feature of ‘Sleep Training’ is that as your child becomes older, the items that are important to achieve or maintain healthy sleep change. For example, as your child becomes older, the bedtime hour changes, and napping patterns change.
Perhaps because some sleep deprived parents are in a hurry to get their own sleep back, some parents have unrealistic expectations regarding how quickly their child will learn to sleep better. It is important to remember that the ‘Sleep Training’ process or the development of healthy sleep habits takes time. It is a learned skill, like learning how to ride a bike.
Training wheels are mounted parallel to the rear wheel of a bicycle to assist learning how to balance. Over time, they are gradually raised as the child’s balance skill increases. The emphasis here is that the wheels are slowly raised as the child’s skill slowly improves. Eventually, learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels is achieved. Some children acquire this skill faster than others, but a parent’s patience is always rewarded with a confident bike rider.
Similarly, some very young children require a lot of parental soothing to sleep while other children require less. Over time, parents can reduce the intensity and duration of the soothing to sleep process as the child acquires more self-soothing skills. ‘Sleep Training’ is a learning process. It takes time to develop the skills of self-soothing to independently fall asleep at bedtime or for naps and the ability to return to sleep unassisted in the middle of the night. Fast learning occurs over only a few days in infants who have not experienced chronic sleep deprivation or have not learned unhealthy sleep habits.
When an older child is not sleeping well and parents start a sleep solution (Blog Posts 26, 133, and 138), the improvement is often sequential (First, night sleep. Second, the morning nap. Third, the mid-day nap). The improvement sometimes occurs fast and sometimes slow. The reasons for slow improvement might be related to the parent (Blog Post 155) or the child’s temperament (Blog Posts 46 and 47) or infant colic (Blog Posts 43 and 44). If your child has not been sleeping well for a long time, it may take a few weeks to pay back a chronic sleep debt and achieve a well-rested state (Blog Post 80).
Please remember that patience is required when you attempt to help your child develop healthy sleep habits or when you attempt to fix a sleep problem.