sleep training 202: the worst thing about sleep training

If we were to have a "worst thing about sleep training contest" I imagine it would have to take place in an octagon so that every worst thing could have its own corner. I imagine it would look less like a boxing match and more like the balletic knife-dancing rumble of West Side Story right before (SPOILER ALERT) Bernardo takes one to the kidney.

And I imagine the damn thing would end in a tie every time. Because every worst thing about sleep training is equally the worst.

I could think of 6 right off the bat and I haven't even sleep-trained anybody in months.


1. The worst part about sleep training is THE TARGET ON YOUR BACK.

Other parents, babylove_46 on BabyCenter, your in-laws, your doctor, your know-it-all friend - everyone you see, everyone who works at Starbucks, everyone who has ever written a book, EVERYONE, just EVERYONE will have a strong opinion about sleep training. And not one of those people will think you're doing it right. 

It's too early for sleep training!

You shouldn't go to them when they cry. They're just manipulating you.

So you just let the baby scream for hours? I could never do that. I read that it's basically child abuse.

So you are dragging out the whole process by gradually helping less and less? God, that sounds horrible. Nut up and just do it already.

I sleep trained my son when he was a week old and he only cried for 10 minutes one time and then he never cried again. That was... oh... twenty-eight years ago. But I have a very accurate memory.

You know, the French just pause. 

Wow guys, thanks for your widely varied and totally fucking useless advice. FASCINATINGLY, the only thing every other person in the world can agree on is that I am terrible. We should see if we can negotiate some kind of Middle East peace treaty based on everyone signing a paper that says "Sure we can split the holy land because Katie is the worst. She's basically the human equivalent of a testicular yeast infection."

Hey Katie
You should start smoking
That's how much we like you
We want you
to start

2. The worst part about sleep training is that there is NO GUARANTEE IT WILL WORK.

Me: OK, but if I listen to the baby cry for a week, she'll sleep then, right?

Expert: Maybe!

Me: What?

Expert: Probably! Or... if it's a 50-50 shot can you still say probably?

Me: Uh... no. That seems deceptive.

Expert: OK. Then I go back to maybe. Strong maybe.

Me: Strong maybe as in a really, really big maybe?

Expert: Now you're getting it.

You sleep train and it sucks but then it's over and the baby is sleeping. YES!

Oh wait, then the baby gets sick and then you have to sleep train again.

Then the baby gets schlepped across time zones to a funny-smelling place that he's told is called "Grandma's House," where everything he knows about sleeping goes the way of the black rhinoceros just in time for Mommy and Daddy to have to try to remember something - anything - about a lot of extended family members so they can make small talk at Dora's bat mitzvah.

And then you go home and you have to sleep train again.

And then the baby turns 1 and has a sleep regression and you have to sleep train again.

Do you remember in Unbroken when Zamperini is shot down in the Pacific and floats adrift, fighting off sharks, starving to death and losing his mind, and then he gets rescued BY THE JAPANESE who intern him in a POW camp where he is starved some more and tortured by a sadistic prison guard?

I would never say that having to repeat sleep training is like that brave man's prolonged, hideous ordeal. But if you were to say it, I would totally agree with you. Just not in writing.


3. The worst part about sleep training is the FEAR THAT YOU ARE HURTING YOUR CHILD.

Make no mistake, we are all totally guessing when we start to sleep train. There's nobody there to tell us if this is regular sleep training crying or profound psychic trauma crying.

When we were sleep training Buster, I had this recurring fantasy that I would be called to testify in front of a jury. The prosecutor would play a tape of the baby crying. The jurors' eyes would fill. One woman would weep quietly into her hands. A blue collar steel worker would punch the jury box in rage.

Prosecutor: Are you telling me that you sat and listened to that sound and you didn't believe that something was wrong?

Me: I... I... I didn't know...

Prosecutor: You mean you didn't buy a video monitor so you could check on the safety of your child while putting him through this harrowing abandonment?

Me: N-no... I mean... they're really expensive, and--


Me: What? Me? No! Well... sometimes... if it's a big birthday month...

Prosecutor: Let's return to the plaintive wails of the tiny babe who trusts you completely.

Me: Okay...

Prosecutor: You didn't have a strong biological reaction to the distressed screams of your helpless baby?

Me: I did. Of course I did, but--

Prosecutor: BUT? But what? Did you take the time to learn about the byproducts of leaving your baby to cry, untended, uncomforted, for long periods of time?

Me: Well, I--

Prosecutor: ANXIETY. ATTACHMENT DISORDERS. PROLONGED BED WETTING. I'm reading now from a blog post I found on the internet that has been shared over 14,000 times. NERVOUS TICS. BODY ODOR. RED HAIR. WANTING TO MAJOR IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC.

Me: I... I didn't know...

Prosecutor:  But you knew when your baby cried that something was wong. Didn't you. DIDN'T YOU!

Me: I didn't...

Prosecutor: Why didn't you listen to your strong, maternal instincts like any decent mother would, and go into the room to check on your baby?

Me (pathetically): The book said not to.

Prosecutor (to the jury): THE BOOK. SAID. NOT TO.

Blue Collar Juror: SHE'S A MONSTER!

Judge: Order in the court!

Jury Foreman: GUILTY!

But on the other hand...

Prosecutor: Are you a mother?

Me: What? I... I mean, yes, I am a mother.

Prosecutor: And you would agree with the statement that mothers know what is best for their children at all times?

Me: I don't think I would agree with that--

Prosecutor: I AM READING NOW FROM A WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE ABOUT SLEEP TRAINING AND THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY, that clearly states, "chronic sleep deprivation is the worst kind of child abuse there is. If a "mother," or "so-called mother" doesn't let her child learn how to sleep independently from the very first night of that child's life, even if that sleep training includes a number of tearful nights, then that "mother" is dooming her child to a life of obesity, attention deficit disorder, poor lifelong sleep, and facial asymmetry."

Me: That... doesn't sound like a real--

Prosecutor: SO YOU'RE TELLING ME that you thought it was more important to interfere with the totally normalnaturaleducational, critically important process of learning how to sleep. Just because, what, you couldn't handle a little fussing?

Me: He wasn't just fussing a little. He was really seriously crying.

Prosecutor: Like WAAAH WAAAH WAAAH!

Me: Yes! Like that! Exactly like that!

Prosecutor: I was just doing an impression of you.

Blue Collar Worker: ZING!

Jury Foreman: GUILTY!


4. The worst part about sleep training is WHISPER FIGHTING WITH YOUR SPOUSE.

Keep one of these on the bedside table
It's what the pros do

We've all been there at 2:14 am, right? The baby wakes up and starts to cry. After about ten minutes, this conversation happens in the dark while you both lie completely still and stare at the illuminated numbers of the clock:

Me: Fuck.
Him: Yeah.
Me: What time did he end up going down?
Him: I think it was like 10:30.
Me: Fuck.
Him: Yeah.
Me: That's not long enough.
Him: Yeah.

(silence but for the baby's screams and the pounding of blood in your head)

Him: When did you say you were going to nurse him?
Me: Not before 3 am.
Him: It doesn't sound like he's calming down.

(screaming dies down for a second. We both relax a tiny bit, but we know it's not over. Not even close.)

Him: Poor little guy.
Me: Do you think I should go nurse him?
Him: You just said you shouldn't go in until 3.
Me: Yeah, but if he's in distress...
Him: No, he's just having a hard time.
Me: Do you think he needs help?
Him: No, I think it's fine. He just quieted down again--

(baby starts crying again, louder and with more intensity)

Me: I have to go and check on him.
Him: But the plan was to not go in until the cry was urgent, or until 3 am.
Me: Doesn't it sound urgent to you? He's sobbing!
Him: He sounds tired to me.
Me: Well, you don't know. What if he pooped? What if his leg is stuck?
Him: On what?
Me: In the crib!
Him: I think his cry would sound way worse if he were pooping or in pain.
Me: I think that this is exactly the cry that sounds like he's in pooping or in pain.
Him: Well, if you think you should go check on him, then go check on him.
Me: ... ... But you don't think I should.
Him: I don't know.
Me: I don't know either.
Him: Well, you're the one who came up with the plan.
Me: I know, but what if the plan is wrong?
Him: IS the plan wrong?
Me: I don't know! Maybe! Doesn't it feel wrong to you?
Him: Of course it feels wrong to sit here and listen to him cry, but isn't it worse to be inconsistent?
Me: I think it's worse to stick to a bad plan if the plan isn't working.
Him: I don't think we know if the plan is working yet. We just started 6 hours ago.
Me: I'm going in.
Him: Fine. Fine. Fine.
Him: Nothing. It's just... clearly we have no idea what we're doing.
Me: You mean I have no idea what I'm doing.
Him: That's not what I said.

(fifteen minutes later, returns to bed)

Him: Well?
Me: Oh he had definitely pooped.
Him: Shit.
Me: Like, epically.
Him: Really?
Me: We're going to have to shampoo his eyelashes tomorrow.
Him: Fuck.
Me: Yeah.


5. The worst part about sleep training is a TOTAL LACK OF FAITH IN YOUR JUDGMENT AND INSTINCTS.

Let's not forget, you're really, really tired. Like, forgot what month it is tired. I once dated a form "January" in July. The pediatric nurse brought me a glass of water and started asking me questions from a form she pulled from a basket on the top shelf, labeled HOME SAFETY.

I was so tired
I thought this
was such a good picture
Even after I took it
and looked at it
I thought
what a good picture

So when sleep training feels wrong, you have to ask yourself if it feels that way because you're exhausted and irrational, or if it feels that way because this isn't right for you and your family. But even if you manage to reach the definitive conclusion that it only feels wrong because you're bone-weary and hanging on by a thread, it still feels wrong.


6. The worst part about sleep training is the BULLSHIT PROMISES THAT SLEEP BOOKS MAKE.

Are you exhausted? Frayed? Fighting with your husband? Losing control? Unable to remember what month it is? Hanging on by a thread?

Oh my God yes.

All you have to do is follow the simple instructions in this book and everything that is wrong will be right... in only one week!

Wow, really? That seems like a straightforward and easily-kept promise. And how much is the book? $25? That's a VERY reasonable price for my peace of mind and a good night's sleep!

Great! Now that you've bought my book, you should know that 95% of the families who follow my technique have their kids sleeping through the night, every night, within a month.

95%, huh? That's a very suspicious rate of success. Those are the kinds of numbers I don't usually trust in toothpaste commercials. But I really, really want to believe you, sleep person. So okay. Let's do this.

Now remember, some kids take a little longer to adopt the sleep training techniques that have worked for 95% of the families who have followed my technique exactly. Don't worry! Your kid is probably just extra spirited. 

Spirited. Right.

Being inconsistent will only frustrate and confuse your baby, and teach him that all he has to do is bay bloodcurdling screams into the sky for a really long time in order to get what he wants. Commit to the training 100%!

Oh I am committed. It just really doesn't seem like it's working.

Don't worry!

You keep saying that.

Don't worry! It gets worse before it gets better!

Yeah, I'm there. It's definitely much, much worse. Maybe we should just return this book and go back to what we were doing before--

-- WAIT! For a very small number of families, their children don't respond to this technique.

OK, what should we do?

Call your doctor.


I'm no pediatric abnormal psychologist, but--

WHAT? You're saying that there's something wrong with my child just because your bullshit technique isn't working?

Well, it's either that or you're not doing it right.

I DID IT RIGHT. I read your book fourteen times and I did every thing you said to do.

Obviously you did not because if you did you would be one of the 95% of families who successfully sleep through the night every night after reading this book and adopting the technique that has helped 95% of the families who have successfully adopted the technique outlined in the following chapters that maybe you should read again before you try to sleep train your UNTRAINABLE 5% of the population crazy baby.

I thought you said he was spirited.

I was being nice. He's an asshole.

NO YOU ARE. You're the asshole. How does it feel to take money from desperate people? How does it feel to be a professional bullshit salesman?

Better than it feels to pay for bullshit.


So how about you? What's your worst thing about sleep training? Share with the class!


  1. Why has no one commented on this yet? Over the last month I have read EVERYTHING ON THE ENTIRE INTERNET about babies and sleep and this is the absolute best! The whisper argument is hilarious! I

    1. Thank you so much! This is one of my favorite posts too :) There's something about sleep training that just pulls the gallows humor out of you...