Can you Co-Sleep and Sleep Train?

I’ll be the first to admit there really is nothing quite like snuggling up to your sleeping child – the chance to smell them, touch them and just generally be close to them can feel like an antidote to anything that’s wrong with the world.  After all, we love our little ones more than anything in the world, and frankly, we are their world, so the feeling’s more than mutual.

At least, that’s how it starts out anyway.  But certainly for us, in no time at all, sharing our bed with a wriggly worm who hadn’t worked out the etiquette involved in sleeping between two slumbering adults wasn’t really working.  Don’t even get me started on their ‘loving way’ of working out if we were awake (by jamming their finger on our eyelids and prying our eyes open, regardless of whether we were awake or not).

My husband would often insist that when one of our girls wasn’t well that they should sleep in with us so that we could keep an eye on them…but it was always short lived!  The excitement of being in Mummy and Daddy’s bed was always a bit too much. Even if they were really poorly, it would only ever last for an hour or two before someone ended up sleeping in the spare room (usually my husband, I might add!).

It works for some people

Having said all this, I know plenty of people who co-sleep and who swear by it. Some of them even have more than one kid sleeping in bed with them (although I always wonder just how big their bed is!). 

Power to them. If they enjoy it and they’re doing it safely, I say co-sleep your heart out (there’s some great information on The Lullaby Trust about co-sleeping if you wanted to check it out).

I’ve also spoken to parents who still want to go ahead with co-sleeping, but aren’t quite so keen on the foot in the face in the middle of the night or jab in the ribs first thing in the morning.  And they want to know if sleep training will help the nocturnal acrobatics or near constant requests to nurse throughout the night (which for the record, your 18 month old doesn’t need to do).

In an ideal world…

I wish I had a more positive answer for those parents, because, as I say, I get it, I really do. Wouldn’t it be amazing for all concerned to be able to savour those special sleepy moments rather than one of us (AKA you!) being jolted awake and missing out on the sleep that you need because of your bed mate.  It certainly would be magical!

Unfortunately, it’s not really all that likely for a couple of reasons. 

One, little ones, especially toddlers are often very animated sleepers. Fact. I’ve often been tempted to record my girls using a time lapse camera over night, just to see the extent to which they move, although I think I already know the answer!  I’m not sure how, but apparently their impression of a drunken octopus means they do anything other than lying still, usually with their feet where their head should be a lot of the time.

Two, your little one is your number one fan. So it’s no wonder when they wake up in the night and see you, their most favourite person in the whole world, laid right next to them (and not just that, not distracted by any of the usual gubbins we can so easily get distracted by), well, they just can’t help themselves! And of course, they haven’t quite grasped the societal norms of gently whispering to wake us, instead they use their own style…which can be far less pleasant! It’s not polite, but man it’s effective! 

So can sleep training help? The short answer, alas, is no. Essentially, teaching your little one the skills they need to sleep really works on helping them fall asleep (including getting back to sleep when they wake in the night) on their own. That’s a slight simplification, but at its core, that’s what we’re doing. We’re not hypnotising them or drugging them so they fall into a deep sleep and stay there until the morning (as tempting as it might be on occasions).

Of course, you might see some success in their sleep habits as a result of sleep training them if they have the skills to get themselves off to sleep again even if you’re laid right next to them.  But children, like adults, will always opt for the easier option which may well be waking you to help them.  If they have those same skills but are in their own bed in their own room without any distractions, the easiest option then is to do it themselves. 

If you’re still not convinced, primarily because you are going to miss those precious snuggly moments in bed with them, then let me offer you a compromise (which I managed to win my husband around with!).  Try setting aside some time in the mornings (maybe 15-20 minutes) once the kids have woken up (and are well rested!) and bring them into your bed then.  That’s the perfect opportunity for cuddles, reading, playing, wrestling, whatever the heart desires. In my mind, it’s the best of both worlds.  Not only is the only battle for the duvet between me and my husband without a third wheel weighing in, it means we can still enjoy the bits we love the most about them coming into bed with us.

If you’ve had a go at co-sleeping but are thinking maybe now is the time to change (for whatever reason), but your little one has other ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ve worked with families to get them through this exact scenario with tremendous success and I can help yours too. 

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