Thursday, 18 October 2007

Book: Sleep Right Sleep Tight

Lowdown: The user manual for the “controlled crying” methodology.
One of the immediate and worst problems we have been facing since becoming parents is the lack of sleep that is involved with having a baby in the house and the lack of any scheduling abilities when it comes to planning your sleep. As we are obviously not the first set of parents to encounter this problem, advice can be found all over the place on how to address it. Sleep Right Sleep Tight is one of those sources of advice, written by Melbourne’s own Tweddle.
The book is basically a user manual for parents on how to implement the controlled crying methodology in order to teach their baby to be able to settle themselves to sleep. Once thus able, the baby is not only much easier to settle, they can also settle themselves to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night without requiring parental help. Obviously, the greatest problem with this methodology is that it relies on the baby learning to do so the hard way – hence the name usually associated with this methodology, “controlled crying”. Being that we are living in the age of spin and euphemisms, the book refers to the methodology as “controlled comforting”, but make no mistake about it – controlled crying it is.
The book is divided into three parts: babies up to 6 months old, babies 6-12 months old, and children 1-3 years old. Having read the book I can tell you that the differences between the age groups are slight; the book therefore ends up being quite the repetitive read. Actually, this makes sense, given that the methodology is expected to work through repetition teaching the baby how to settle. Essentially, the method is all to do with settling the baby while providing as little a presence as possible so that the baby learns to go to sleep by itself; the differences stem from the babies growing ability to realize that when a parent is not there for them to see it does not mean that the parent does not exist. According to the book, babies up to 6 months old totally lack this capacity, and therefore they need to be continually comforted by the parent in ongoing iterations until they show signs of being ready to fall asleep, at which point the parent should clear the area and let them settle themselves (repeating the procedure if it fails). After 6 months controlled crying actually starts: the parent should leave the room for a couple of minutes after each 10 minutes or so of comforting, slowly increasing the away period with each iteration; and after 1 year, the away period becomes more like 10 minutes while the comforting period is more like 2 minutes.
Style wise, I have found the book to be very effective. Unlike most other parental resources SRST does its best to avoid any misinterpretations and to provide the clearest instructions possible for implementing the methodology. The result is that it’s clear but it also as exciting a read as a computer user manual; I guess such a book was never meant to be entertaining and that the authors have had to contend with aiming towards the dumbest parent around (I admit it: it worked on me).
Now, the million dollar question is whether the method works or not. Well, we have been implementing it to one extent or another, and it does seem to have a positive effect on sleeping habits; Dylan can, often enough, settle himself. But as with all methodologies spelt out in computer code like fashion, they have a hard time being implemented in real life because real life is not like a book: exact time control is hard to maintain, emotions are hard to control, and fatigue dumbs you down when the baby wakes up crying like a siren in the middle of the night. You have to be a robot to be able to execute it all by the book, but at least the book recognizes that.
Overall: Coming from a mighty Richard Dawkins book to a book like Sleep Right Sleep Tight is as anticlimactic exercise as one can have. Sleep Right Sleep Tight is not a book to enjoy reading but rather a book to make practical use of, and therefore I cannot rate it as a creation in literature nor in science. Given that I am no expert in baby sleep either, I cannot rate it on the merits of its methodology either. Therefore, I will resign to just saying I recommend this book for providing a view on how to handle baby settling issues; most parents I know have encountered severe problems in that area, and SRST seems like a good resource to reference.


Anonymous said...

It is a methodology that works. When having to return to work, I was able to get some sleep and so was baby Jack. It was for me, a life saver!

Moshe Reuveni said...

In retrospect (bear in mind I wrote this review years ago), I can say: same here.