053: Sleep! (And how to get more of it)

“HOW DO I GET MY CHILD TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT?!” is the thinly-veiled message under the surface of many of the emails that I get about sleep.  And I don’t blame you.  I don’t claim to be a magician in this regard, although I did get incredibly, amazingly lucky – my daughter put in her first eight-hour night at six weeks old, and has regularly slept through the night for longer than I can remember.  I’m really genuinely not sure I could parent if things weren’t like this.

But today’s episode is about the data, not about anecdata.

Zoe in Sydney wrote to me:

A hotly debated topic with my friends has been “sleeping through the night.” My daughter never was great at napping and still wakes up once a night, coming into our bed. We have never been able to do controlled crying etc – I would love to know what science says about sleeping through the night! And what is best for your child (vs the parent). My close friend is a breastfeeding counselor and said they are taught that lots of children don’t sleep through until 4 years old! Other mothers I knew were horrified if their child wasn’t sleeping through by 6 months – and the French talk about their children ‘having their nights’ much earlier…

As I started researching this topic it became clear that sleep is driven to an incredible extent by cultural preferences.  Some (Western) psychologists advocate for letting children Cry It Out, while people in many cultures around the world see putting a child to sleep in their own room (never mind allowing them to cry) as tantamount to child abuse.

So: can we get our children to sleep more?  Is bed-sharing inherently bad?  Does Cry It Out harm the child in some way?  Let’s find out!


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  1. Jessica Moran on December 20, 2017 at 9:01 PM

    Thank you so much for this episode! I appreciate you tackling it so thoroughly even though it’s not of great interest to you. As the mom of a 6-month-old I’ve devoured a ton of media on the topic recently, and most of it is so questionable, and so stress-inducing. Your episode was a big relief for my brain 🙂

    • Jen Lumanlan on January 10, 2018 at 5:24 AM

      You’re welcome, Jessica – glad it was helpful!

  2. Johanna Robinson on July 19, 2018 at 6:42 PM

    I really enjoy your podcast! This one was also very insightful. You introduced me to RIE and I like this approach to parenting. It seems so disrespectful to have a child cry it out during sleep training (when transitioning them to a crib) ,but I also want him to learn to self soothe. It’s hard to figure out a balance for me. Have you had success with RIE and sleep training?

    • Jen Lumanlan on July 23, 2018 at 6:05 PM

      Hi Johanna,

      Thanks so much for your question – sleep really is an issue that I consider very much to be part of the ‘dance’ that I think of parenting as – your son is your partner, and you both give and take. I think the upshot of the sleep episode is “children evolved sleeping next to their parents and this is how they get to sleep most easily, but this approach doesn’t fit well with how many parents today want to live their lives.” And, ultimately, a lot of it is related to how much crying you can/want to tolerate.

      The RIE stance on this is that self-soothing is a skill that your child will learn if you allow him the space to do this. Magda Gerber says “Your goal is to help your baby develop good sleeping habits,” but she does not acknowledge that “good” sleeping habits are very much culturally determined. She is also silent on exactly how to achieve these good habits: she says “Some children seem to really need to cry themselves to sleep. Sometimes just letting them cry those extra parent-painful minutes before sleep can be helpful. Theories and fads keep changing, from advising you to sleep together in the “family bed,” to putting the infant far enough away to not be disturbed by his crying” – and then she offers no opinion on where on the continuum of family bed<>Cry-It-Out is ‘best’ according to RIE, which isn’t very helpful.

      If your child was sleeping well before but is no longer sleeping well in the crib, I’d suggest going back to what you were doing before unless there is some reason you simply cannot/don’t want to do that any more, in which case you will need to tolerate some crying. It does seem fairly clear from the research on both people and animals that a consistent approach is needed once you determine what is right for you; if you say you won’t go back into your child’s room and you go back after they have been crying for 20 minutes, they learn that if they cry long enough, you will go back. So set limits you are willing to hold, and hold them. Hope this helps…

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