Friday, January 30, 2009

Sleep Training

I use gmail and it constantly has ads popping up that somehow pertain to something about the e-mail I've written or received. They are distracting to me and I try to ignore them, but find myself reading them anyway.

Today, there was something about infant sleep and how to help your child sleep through the night. I thought about it for a minute, then decided to click on it to see what the information being disseminated to parents said.

I read the advertisement. Very convincing. Yes, sleep-deprived parents are a problem. The answer is that babies must learn to sleep through the night using specific techniques. But as I read my free tips to help my child sleep better tonight (which I don't need because my child is 5 and sleeps quite well unless he isn't feeling well), I felt a twinge of uncertainty.

There were a lot of assumptions: 1. Babies waking up is disruptive to the parents. 2. Parents need their sleep and so do babies or there are major health risks for both. 3. The only healthy solution for parent and child is to train the baby to sleep. 4. One of the tips is to use a transitional object so that when baby wakes up alone, he will have this object that is "with him" to help him go back to sleep and be comforted.

This assumes that: 1. babies shouldn't be waking up during the night. It is simply a bad habit and it is the parent's job to teach them to sleep, 2. That there is something wrong if they are waking up and 3. That separation and disconnection are the answers. How scary and sad that this is what parents think sleep is supposed to be about.

For babies who are separated from their parents all day while their parents are both at work, the child is expected to spend maybe an hour with parents before he or she is off to bed for the night. Where is the bonding and connection? It is absent.

In The Continuum Concept, I was amazed to read about cultures that don't have all of the rules about what night time sleep is supposed to be like. I read about one group who would regularly wake up, tell a joke, everyone would laugh and then return to sleep. We would never think of doing this sort of thing. Once you're asleep, no one is supposed to disturb you.

But what does it mean to disturb one's sleep? I think this is more about interpretation than anything else.

If I look at my child's waking as a major inconvenience and I don't understand that there are biological reasons for young children to wake, both for frequent breastfeeding and to keep baby out of the deep sleep states that are correlated to SIDS according to Dr. James McKenna, mother-baby sleep expert, I would probably do everything I could to "fix" this "problem." But what if it is we who have the problem of interpretation instead of a problem with our baby?

What if we brought our babies into our beds (following safe co-sleeping guidelines) or brought them into our rooms at night, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for the first 6 months of life? We would find that our sleep states synchronized and we would naturally be waking when our baby was waking. It is much less disruptive this way than when baby is down the hall and the sleep rhythms are different.

What if we redefined what was disruptive and instead looked at this night time as precious time with our little ones who will not be little for very long at all. In fact, when I think back on the time with my little ones, I look back fondly on those nighttime feedings once I realized that I didn't have to even get out of bed anymore and could doze as my baby nursed. I enjoyed being close and knowing that my baby's needs were being met all the time, but that mine were not being forgotten, either.

Babies and children pick up on our emotional states. If we are stressed, they will be stressed. And stress does not help anyone get back to sleep. When we look at ourselves and our own feelings and interpretations about our struggles with our children, and release the stress we have around those situations, sometimes that is enough to change the situation entirely. That means that we can make it different and we don't need to buy another book about sleep to make things different in our lives. Imagine that! We can be our own expert or our own life! We can focus on connection instead of disconnection and make our lives work for us! How empowering!

The answers are within you and you don't need another expert to tell you what to do. Turn inward and connect with yourself. Connect with your baby. That's where the answers are!

Happy sleeping...


Annie said...

I agree with you! My "awakening" was one night years ago when my husband's friend, a zoo director, gave us an "after-hours" tour of the zoo. We crept into the cages where the monkeys slept and as he flashed his flashlight into their area, I was so touched to see mama and papa monkey and all their children all curled up together sleeping. I'm not sure how long after I bought a narrow little antique bed for my daughter so she could sleep in our room (rather than just creep in and sleep on the floor by my bed on the many nights she work up scared.) Well, she's 21 now, and not only not sleeping in my room - she is happily living in another state - untraumatized by sleeping in her parents' room all the way through high school! Now that we have four younger children, they're also welcome in our bedroom. To my dismay, they are all in a stage of wanting to sleep in their own rooms... But it has really struck me as odd, too, the sexualized idea that we have given "bed" - a place to be cozy and to sleep in my book!

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

I love hearing about the connection in your family and also hearing from a mom who has had children graduate from the family bed! How wonderful!

I personally have one graduate (who is always welcome to come back if he needs to) and one who is welcome to join us (and frequently does!)

I do love hearing about the monkeys. It does put things into perspective.

Snuggle up!!

Thanks, Annie.