7 Huge Misconceptions About Sleep Training, According to Experts

For parents with little ones in tow, getting a good night's sleep may seem like a luxury they'll never ever get to experience again. And while it's true that new moms and dads will no doubt have many a sleepless night, sleep-training your little one might factor in as to just how many you're in for. But before you consider sleep-training your children by letting them cry it out (CIO), it's important to do your research — and that includes debunking a few myths.

Dr. Smita Naidoo, a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and an author of The Quest For Rest, suggests that parents start by becoming familiar with the acronym C.A.G.E. — which stands for consistency, adaptability, going with the flow, and expectations — when diving into the hotly debated topic of sleep training.

"All of these sleep methods are a bit different, but at the end of the day they're pretty concrete and rigid," said Dr. Naidoo. "So one of the things we advocate for as pediatric psychiatrists is using the acronym C.A.G.E. It doesn't matter what kind of sleep-training philosophy you use, these elements are what's going to matter the most."

Here are some myths to be aware of before embarking on your sleep training journey, according to experts.

Flickr user Yoshihide Nomura

1. If your first child was easy to sleep-train, your second baby will be too.

Was sleep-training your first baby a cake walk? That's great. But Dr. Naidoo warns that parents with another on the way shouldn't get too comfortable just yet.

"You can't compare one child to another, so it's important to be adaptable," she explains. "Everyone is born with an intrinsic thing called a temperament — and that could make a child fussy or easy to control. The most important thing about adaptability is that as a mom you're really trying to understand the cues of the specific child."

And the same can be said when it comes to keeping up with the Joneses. It's great that sleep training came easy to your sister or neighbor — but everyone's journey is different.

"One of the most important things moms should try to avoid is getting caught up in expectations," said Dr. Naidoo. "Don't forget that sleep training is both a process and a journey. Some people are going to have easier journeys."

2. If you take a break from sleep training, all is lost.

Although being consistent is key to finding success in the sleep-training department, slacking off for a few days isn't the end of the world. Dr. Naidoo compared taking a sleep training hiatus to what happens to adults when they stop exercising.

"It's OK if you miss two or three days if you're on vacation. It's kind of like working out. It's going to be harder, but you can still do it," she said, adding that: "If you do take a week or two off, you can still transition back to the process later on. But keep in mind if you take off two weeks, it'll probably take you four weeks to get back on track."

Dr. Nicole Caldwell, an ambulatory physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, agrees, saying that taking breaks is all part of the process.

"If you need to take a break due to illness, or other disruptions in your family's schedule, you can always revisit the process and start again. However, if it has become too stressful, or does not seem to be effective, you may want to reconsider whether CIO is right for you."

3. Once babies are sleep-trained, they won't need nighttime feedings.

Although Dr. Caldwell doesn't recommend beginning sleep training until your child is between 4 and 6 months old, babies are still people — and sometimes people wake up in the middle of the night.

"The earlier the infant learns to fall asleep on their own, the easier you may find it is to sleep-train," said. Dr. Caldwell. "However, infants that are still regularly waking at night to feed should not begin sleep training."

Dr. Naidoo thinks ultimately parents know their children better than anyone — so if your baby wakes up hungry, then by all means feed baby.

"If you think about it, it's a pretty big transition for baby. They go from getting fed consistently in the womb through the placenta to having to wait every few hours once they're born," said Dr. Naidoo. "It's not surprising it would take a few months for them to get used to that."

Flickr user Mohammed A. Fadil

4. The more rigid you are with sleep training, the better.

Keep it consistent, but don't be too rigid," advises Dr. Naidoo. "Whether you're using CIO or another method, it's important to stick with a consistent bedtime and keep a steady sleep routine within reason."

And while it's true that babies crave consistency, it's imperative that parents value their infant's cues more than anything else.

"The issue of development comes into play based on the age of the child. When you think about CIO, it's like crate-training a puppy — it's super rigid. But sleep-training a child is very different than crate-training a dog because the child's neurodevelopment comes into play. Children have different biological needs."

5. Sleep training only matters for the first year.

A common pitfall for parents when it comes to getting their kid to sleep through the night? Not taking it seriously past the first year.

"Parents are rigid, rigid, rigid, during the baby's first year of life, and then the child hits 2 years old and then parents say, 'Whatever, I'm exhausted now. My kid is 2.' They just get lost in the mix," said Dr. Naidoo. "But in reality, it should be a journey for the child."

She also asked parents to look at sleep through a different lens: as a part of a child's hygiene. "Intervening in your kid's sleep habits is just as important as making sure they brush their teeth or showering when they're older . . . sleeping tendencies can ultimately translate from childhood to adulthood."

Flickr user Lucas Torresi

6. Sleep training doesn't pose any risks.

Believe it or not, experts have found that not sleep-training your baby properly may increase their risk of having issues down the line, including avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), or being superpicky eaters.

"Not only are we seeing more cases of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder we're also seeing more children who have sensory issues to things like certain fabrics. Futhermore, not responding to your child's cues early in life could lead to anxiety issues down the road."

Dr. Caldwell points to a study published in Pediatrics in 2016 to illustrate what happens when parents find a happy medium.

"In this study, both a graduated extinction and a bedtime fading program provided significant benefits without revealing an adverse stress response in the child or long-term effects on parent-child attachment," she said, emphasizing that: "This method is not the best for every child, or every family, so its effectiveness and effect on the family should be assessed throughout the process."

7. Sleep training doesn't always require babies to "cry it out."

Although no mother wants to hear her baby wailing, at its core, sleep training depends on parents letting their babies cry it out on some level.

"Once the caregiver is aware of the child's temperament and 'flow' it can be helpful to allow a child to cry for a finite amount of time," said Dr. Naidoo.

And while being consistent with how frequently you soothe your baby should be your number-one priority, moms shouldn't lose their cool about it.

"Creating boundaries which are in sync with your child is all you can do," advised Dr. Naidoo. "Be aware, experiment, and practice!"