The more work I do as a sleep consultant, the more I realise how important it is that we look at sleep from a scientific stand point and not from an emotional one. Sleep, especially baby and child sleep, has become such an emotional topic of discussion. I completely understand why people get emotional about sleep because when your struggling to get your child to sleep and your feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s hard not to get emotional about it. When you go day after day, week after week, month after month battling to get more than a few hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep, it’s hard not to want to cry your eyes out. But the more emotional parents get about their child’s sleep (or lack thereof), the harder it becomes take a step back, remove the emotion from the situation and look at sleep for what it really is.
Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings (thank you Wikipidia). Notice the word NATURALLY. Yes, sleep is a naturally occurring process. Sleep is a basic human need and as I often say, we are all born or biologically designed to sleep. We all have internal sleep systems in place. Each and every one of us has a 24-hour body clock or circadian rhythm that controls when we sleep and when we wake. Really, sleep should be a very easy, straight forward thing we all do, day in and day out. But it’s not. So, why is that?
Baby and child sleep has become such a complex, complicated and controversial subject and I wonder if a lot of it has to do with the amount of emotion that has been brought into it. Many sleep experts out there really focus on the emotional side of things when it comes to helping families struggling with sleep. They are all about nurturing and protecting the emotional wellbeing of the babies, children and families. They are all about “never leaving baby alone”, “never leaving baby to cry”, “always being there for your baby” and “cuddle, hold, feed, touch your baby whenever they need it” and if you don’t, you are risking the bond and the attachment you will have with your child.
I see sleep in a very different way. And whilst I do whole heartedly encourage nurturing, bonding, secure attachment between parents and child and so on, for me, sleep is about sleep. Sleep is about our bodies, our hormones, our natural drive and our basic need. Sleep is about our environment, waking up in the morning when the sun rises, and the light tells us it’s “daytime” and it’s about going to bed at night when it’s dark and that signals to out body it’s sleep time. Sleep is about feeling tired and drifting off for no other reason than that.
I work with many different families and I do find that the families who try their very best to take the emotion out of it whole situation and what we are trying to do (setting up healthy sleep habits), achieve success far quicker and far easier than those families who are caught up in the whole emotion of it.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all when there are some many people out there who say, “sleep training and leaving your baby to cry will permanently damage your baby” and “if you leave your baby alone they will never trust you again”. But if you put all that stuff to the side and see sleep for what it really is, it becomes a lot easier to understand why sleep is not happening, to make the changes that need to be made and to stick to them.