At some point during their baby's first months of life, many parents wonder whether there is something they could -- even should -- be doing to 'help' their baby sleep longer, deeper, better, or through the night.
The importance put upon encouraging independent sleep in young babies, and of having them fit into our 21st century Western lifestyle, leads many parents to undertake sleep training regimes. Adding to the pressure on (often already sleep-deprived) parents, popular parenting advice books, and advice from well-meaning friends, family, and other sources can lead parents to believe that if they don't 'sleep train' their baby, they will be unable to learn to sleep for longer, or through the night, of their own accord. The well-worn phrase "making a rod for your own back", often used in relation to parents rocking, feeding or cuddling their babies to sleep, is an example of this. In response, many parents try to put their babies down to sleep alone, only to find that their babies have other ideas, and object -- loudly! The end result of this process is, in many cases, parents who feel that they/their babies have 'sleep problems' when, in fact, their baby's sleep (including waking at night) may be entirely normal for their age, and stage of development.
A number of different methods of training babies to go to sleep alone, and to sleep for longer stretches of time, have been developed. Many of these have been evaluated by infant-sleep researchers.
In the following sections we discuss the research that has evaluated sleep training methods; what it can tell us about whether these methods 'work'; what problems might exist with the studies done; and what else parents might need to think about with regard to other, potentially harmful, consequences of changing the way babies sleep.