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What Sleep Training Is Really Like, According to 5 Dads

“It felt like we were just in this perpetual state of a long night”

When your baby is ready to start learning how to fall asleep, they’re roughly around 10-12 weeks. Funny enough, this also happens to be when you’re at your most sleep deprived. This makes coaxing your baby back to bed, already an overwhelming and exhausting experience, all the more difficult. And, whether you opt for the Cry It Out method, Ferber method, or, most likely, use a mix of the other sleep-training methods, chances are, it will be an emotionally draining experience. Because, here’s your child, this creature you haven’t stopped thinking about since they wailed into this world, struggling to do something on their own for the first time. Honestly? It sucks. 

But rest (ha!) assured: It may be stressful in the moment, but things will get better. Many other dads have been there and made it through the other side. As no parent’s experience with sleep training is the same, we asked five dads to explain what it was like for them. Each said he was a bit worse for the wear afterward but emphasized that it’s important to remember that old Persian adage: this too shall pass. Here’s what their sleep training experiences were like. 

“I would lose entire nights of sleep.”

I have two kids. With my daughter, for the first four months or so, every time she cried in the night we’d go to her, but the advice that we’d read was that you don’t give them any eye contact. You do the necessities, but you don’t make it enjoyable.

After about four months, we moved her over to her bedroom. We moved her over there and then we started letting her cry a little bit longer. We’d just at least let her cry a little bit. And then you let that go longer and longer until eventually they’re able to put themselves back together and can self-soothe.

We suffered a lot during the process. After three or four nights of kind of giving her longer and longer periods of time where she could cry, we would comfort her, lay her back down, and walk out, then she’d start crying again, you’d wait five minutes, you’d go back in, calm her down. It’s not fun for a few reasons. It’s so much faster to go in and rock them back to sleep. You lose a lot of sleep during the sleep training process. That’s the first thing. It’s hard to convince yourself to give up those nights of sleep. The second thing is, you don’t like to hear your kids crying! My wife absolutely hated hearing her cry. It tore at her heart so bad.

I’m not a good sleeper. I would lose entire nights of sleep because of this. It’s hard to describe how tired you can be. I was in the army for a long time, so functioning on lack of sleep is a lot easier for me. Once you just don’t sleep for four months, it’s like, yeah, I’m exhausted, but I can still function.

— Eric Bowlin, 32, Texas

“It can be exhausting beyond words.”

We’ve had more than 55 kids and babies come through our home from the foster care system, and none of them sleep well those first few nights, or even those first few weeks, because they’re in an unfamiliar environment. We’ve had all ages of kids going through sleep training. Every single age. I’ve been awake at all hours of the night with little babies and infants and kids.

Lack of sleep affects everybody in the house. When the child is not sleeping, most likely, I’m not sleeping or my wife is not sleeping and then we both become exhausted and then if I’m exhausted because the child’s exhausted, it may be more difficult to get through the day. It can be exhausting beyond words. We had a five-week premature baby placed in our home. He was so underweight. He was up, maybe, every other hour. It exhausted us.

In our house, we’ve had as many as 11 kids in our own home at a time. When my head hits that pillow, and I finally fall asleep, I am so exhausted by the end of the day that I’ll just crash. Years ago, when we first started this, when our first kid did sleep through the night, I might have experienced that, Oh my gosh, is this really working? But I’ve been doing this for 16 years now. So, that wonder has long since gone.

— John DeGarmo, 49, Georgia

“He just started to wail so loudly”
If you asked me two days ago, I’d just say this is part of the dad thing. But last night was pretty frustrating. Our son woke up a lot, we let him cry it out. Then he started to wail so loudly. He got himself so worked up that he started coughing and dry heaving almost like he was going to throw up. I try to approach it with the mindset this being my opportunity to teach my son to put himself to sleep. But when it’s two in the morning and you’ve had a long day and all you want to do is sleep and they are beside themselves, it can definitely be pretty frustrating.

There are times when as soon as he starts crying, we just don’t have the patience or energy to deal with it, and we’ll grab him and go as far as bringing him back in our bed so we can get a little extra sleep. And that’s usually on days where we know that we have a big project coming up at work, or some sort of event, where we can’t deal with it. It’s a process for us, as well, not just him.

There have been a couple of nights where my wife and I will wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and be uneasy and then we’ll go in and check on him. That might go 2 or 3 days, where that will be the norm, and we get to a comfort level where we’re like, alright! Cool! The worst is behind us! And then, sure enough, something happens and we’re back to square one.

— Steve Scheetz, 34, Nevada

“It felt like we were just in this perpetual state of a long night”
Sleep training time is really kind of a bonding time. At two or three o’clock in the middle of the morning, when I’m up with them, when I look at it the right way, it’s a great experience, to have that one-on-one time with the children. There are no distractions — it’s just you and the kid. Taking it with a little bit of lighthearted humor, it really has been the best bonding time that a father could have.

The first few times, when we went through it, did we get tired? Of course, It’s exhausting. I’ll never forget, with our first kid, it felt like we were just in this perpetual state of a long night. It was a challenging experience, but at the same time, a very rewarding one. After going through it a couple of times, you understand why you’re doing it. If you were doing something that you really enjoyed, would you be complaining about it if you’re exhausted? You get tired, but when you look at the rewards that it brings, that makes everything worth it.

Justin Hill, 37, California

We created our own sleep training program.
I don’t think we’re in the thick of it anymore. But it’s always changing, and I’m sure other people will say the same. It’s always on to some other phase. My daughter is nine months old. When she was four months, our pediatrician encouraged us to try sleep training and they recommended the four-day cry-it-out method. It’s hard to remember how it went.

The first day was difficult. She cried for long periods. Even minutes feel very long. The first night, even though she cried a fair amount, she ended up sleeping for a longer period than she had in the early morning. Over the next two nights, sleep wasn’t progressing.

We didn’t do the full program for four nights. It didn’t feel like anything was accumulating. We felt that it maybe set us back a little bit. I think if we had let her take her natural course it might have been better for everyone. Though, we did learn something. We found that she was able to self-soothe after about 10 minutes.

It’s really, really hard. Having this ten-minute rule helped me, because I knew, okay. Ten minutes. I can handle it. We were in better shape before we started, sleep-wise. We were doing sleep training preemptively — they said it was a good time to do the training before the habits set in. It’s we were responding to a terrible situation, but we ended up having less sleep during the trial. Like 4 hours of sleep. It’s kind of in the past, now. I can’t remember it that clearly.  It’s hard to remember exactly how it went. Maybe you just block out the unpleasant parts.

— Tim, 36, Brooklyn