Can You Co-Sleep and Sleep Train?

I get it. I really do. After all, I’m a mother myself.

The absolutely primal and uncontrollable impulse to stay close to your baby is so deeply rooted in our DNA that it’s almost frightening sometimes. I’m sure evolutionary defensive instincts are what’s at play in this phenomenon, but it feels more like love to me. I just love this little human to the point where I want to be in contact with them 24/7, 365.

And hey, the baby doesn’t seem to mind, and there’s just something so beautiful, so maternal, about sleeping next to your baby, that it almost seems crazy not to.

Or at least that’s how some of us felt up until the first week or two of co-sleeping. Then it was more like, “Listen, I love you, you love me, that’s established. But I can’t sleep next to someone who hasn’t yet figured out the etiquette involved in sleeping next to another person. And jamming your thumb in my eye at 3:30 A.M. is just simply outside of the lines.”

I have plenty of friends who co-sleep and who swear by it. Some of them even have more than one kid sleeping in bed with them.

Power to them. If they enjoy it and they’re doing it safely, I say co-sleep your heart out.

But I’ve spoken to more than a few parents who are big on co-sleeping but are still being woken up by feet in their face or thumbs in their eyes several times a night and want to know if sleep training will get their little ones to stop squirming or waking up fifteen times a night to nurse. Which, for the record, your eighteen-month-old does not need to do.

I really wish I had a more satisfying answer for those parents, because like I say, I completely sympathize. I understand wanting those two best-case-scenarios to live in harmony. Sleep next to your baby but have them not wake you up repeatedly through the night. That would be magical, no question.

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

One, toddlers are often very animated sleepers. It’s just a fact. They twist and turn and readjust themselves a thousand times a night and will often end up completely on the other side of a queen-sized bed with their feet towards the headboard.

Two, your baby thinks you’re just the greatest. When they wake up in the night and see you lying next to them, they get excited. They want you to interact with them so they try to engage with you, and since they’re still not aware of societal norms, they don’t know enough to lay a hand on your shoulder and quietly whisper, “Are you awake?” They do it by, say, jamming their finger in your ear or slapping you on the forehead. It’s not polite, but man it’s effective!

So why can’t sleep training alleviate this? Simply put, because it’s not a sedative. Sleep training is all about teaching your baby the skills to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake up in the night. That’s a slight simplification, but at its core, that’s what we’re doing. We’re not doing anything that will get your baby to fall into stage 3 sleep and stay there for a solid 11 hours. That’s a job for Ambien, and there are obvious reasons why we’re not going down that road.

So while it’s possible that you could see some success in your child’s sleep habits by teaching them independent sleep skills, you’re not likely to see the same kind of results you will if you get them sleeping in their own bed, in their own room, without any distractions.

For those of you who are leery about giving up those magical cuddles in your bed, I have a suggestion that has helped my own family and many of those that I’ve worked with. Set aside fifteen or twenty minutes every morning, after your kids are out of bed and well-rested, and bring them into your bed. Cuddle them, play with them, sing some songs, play-wrestle, whatever their hearts desire. You can both still enjoy the closeness and familial bond that comes with sharing a bed without creating any associations that might mess with their ability to get to sleep at night, and without waking each other up.

If you’ve already been co-sleeping for quite a while and have decided it’s time to reclaim your bedroom, 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.

Sleep well,