Common Myths About Sleep Training

There's perhaps no parenting practice more loaded with myths and misconceptions than sleep training. Here, we help you wade through fact and fiction.

Finally, the day has come. After months of cooing and rocking your baby to sleep, you’re ready to take the plunge into sleep training. If all goes well, your child will soon be soothing his or her own way to dreamland while you recapture a few precious minutes with your spouse, your dog, and your flatscreen TV. Or so you’d like to think. For many parents, sleep training is a weighty topic, filled with heated chatter from other parents and experts about the best way to do it and tales of a terrible fallout if you somehow screw it up.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sleep

“The biggest myth of all is that there is only one right way to sleep train your child,” says pediatric sleep specialist Rebecca Kempton, M.D., founder of Baby Sleep Pro. “Every child is unique, and most parents end up using a combination of methods to match a child’s needs and temperament.” Read on for other common sleep training myths, busted.

Myth #1: Crying It Out Is Damaging

Can crying it out damager childhood development? Nope. It just doesn’t. “You might make the decision that the cry-it-out approach isn’t right for you or your baby, but that doesn’t mean it’s a less successful method,” says Dr. Kempton. Rumors have circulated for years that the cry-it-out method leads to stunted emotional growth or even brain damage. But a study in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics, found that not only was the method successful, it showed no harmful effects on babies’ long-term emotional or behavioral development.

RELATED: How to Sleep Train With the ‘Cry it Out’ Method

Myth #2: Nighttime Waking Means They Need You

Sorry, wrong again. Babies this age are learning to move around, and a lot of this motor development occurs during sleep. It’s not uncommon, therefore, to babies to accidentally wake themselves as their little limbs twitch during the night. “Parents automatically assume that a waking baby must need something, or be hungry,” says Dr. Kempton. “There are many reasons for a baby waking, and those cries can simply be them saying, I am tired and need to go back to sleep but I don’t know how.”

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Myth #3: Keep Them Up During the Day for Better Sleep at Night

It’s easy to see how this idea got started. If she’s not sleeping at night, maybe it’s because she already got enough sleep during the day. But babies cycle through much shorter bursts of energy at this age, so they need multiple opportunities to recover and reset themselves. What’s more, “keeping your baby up late in hopes of inducing sleep will have the exact opposite effect,” says Dr. Kempton. Unlike adults, overtired infants go into hyper-activity mode. While you’re hoping he will peacefully drift off after a bedtime delay, what you’ll actually get is a meltdown.

Myth #4: Sleep Training Is A Long Process

Actually, sleep training can take as little as two nights, or as much as several weeks, with most babies over four months figuring it out after two weeks. Which, in the grander scheme of things, is a blink of the eye. “I tell parents to keep focused on the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Dr. Kempton. “Your goal is for a well-rested baby, and therefore well-rested parents. Sleep consolidation is really important for your baby’s development, and they usually get there in a matter of days to a few weeks.”

Myth #5: We Can Take a Break If It Gets Tough

Consistency is everything when it comes to sleep training. Everything. “Inconsistency is probably the biggest mistake I see parents making,” says Dr. Kempton. Children thrive on routine. If you do things one way for several nights, then in frustration try it another way the next, you might as well start from zero, and expect it to take longer this time as your confused child tries to sort out the message you’re sending. “Once you choose a method, you need to follow through,” she adds. “All behavioral sleep issues are 100 percent solvable, but it’s your job to be consistent in the routine so your baby knows what to expect.”