The strong opinions on both sides of sleep training leave parents unsure about the idea of “crying it out”
Waking up in the middle of the night is a wonderful bonding experience between a parent and child. There are little distractions in the darkness and it gives the two plenty of one on one bonding time. Though magical, the sleepless nights can take a toll on parents, especially those leaving for work in the morning. For years the idea of sleep training has been debated. There are often very strong opinions on both sides of the debate.
Sleep training is the practice of training your child to fall asleep without help from a parent and waking up in the middle of the night and needing a parent to comfort them back to sleep. There are a few different methods and those who choose to participate in sleep training finds and adjusts to one method that works best for them.
Through the years there have been many studies fighting both sides of the controversial issue of sleep training. Some parents say that it instills a fear of abandonment and causes a disconnected relationship between a parent and child. Others say it has no long term effect, and that sleep training is in fact good for the parent and child’s mental health because they are getting their required hours of sleep each night.
The Australia Pediatrics wrote an article in the October 2012 issue of American Academy of Pediatrics discussing a sleep study following 225 children from infancy through age 6 to study their sleeping pattern and the effects of sleep training. The concern was that sleep training would affect their mental health, stress and relationship with their parents. Parents who were having trouble getting their child to fall asleep on their own by 7 months old were eligible for the study. Half of the parents were offered “controlled comforting” which is weaning process. You lay the child down awake and let them fall asleep on their own. You go back in to check on them in increasing intervals. For example, you would go in and check after 10 minutes, then you wait 15 minutes, then you wait 20 minutes, and continue until the child falls asleep. This allows the child to learn to self-settle. The other half of the parents were offered the “camping out” method. The parents lie the child down in their crib but stay in the room. This teaches the child to independently fall asleep. The parent then slowly removes their presence. The sleep and mental health improvements were evident as late as age 2. At the age of 6 this faded and children who were offered the sleep programs as babies were similar to children in the control groups of the study. The same applied to the mothers involved in the study. Authors concluded that sleep training is safe to use, there were no long term effects.
According to an article found on babycenter.com, reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board, there is another “tear free” form of sleep training. In this method you enter their room as soon as the child start crying and follow a nightly routine. Using sounds, light, and comforting techniques in the same pattern to remind the child it is time to be sleeping. This technique differs from many other techniques and often requires a longer adjustment period.
Pediatrician William Sears, author of The Baby Sleep Book warns parents to be wary of one-size-fits-all sleep training techniques. He encourages parents to wait until their child is ready and to be patient. Each technique does not work for each child. He encourages parents to create positive sleeping habits, whatever they might be. http://www.askdrsears.com
“One night, I was rocking my 4-month-old son to help him fall asleep. Newly un-swaddled, he had his hands free and was rubbing his face and wriggling around. Lately, I’d found myself working harder and harder to get him to sleep, which seemed odd, since wasn’t sleep supposed to get better, not worse?
That’s when I realized: I am getting in his way.
Here I was working hard to “make” him sleep — but wait, sleep is a natural, basic biological function. I realized — with his wriggling and face rubbing — he was trying to self-soothe and sleep, only he didn’t have the space to practice, because I was busy doing it for him.”
Heather Turgeon, The Happy Sleeper
Sleeping is natural, babies want to sleep but we unknowingly interfere with their natural ability to do so. Giving children the space and freedom to learn how to put themselves to sleep could benefit their future sleeping habits. At a young age infants start to comfort themselves, they pick their favorite pacifier, blanket, or white sound noise. Paying attention to these details allows us to help them, help themselves.
Just like the technique of sleep training may vary from one child to the next, so will a time to start. Some research says you can start as early as 3 months old (Parents.com, Charles Schaefer, Ph.D., author of Winning Bedtime Battles: Getting Your Child to Sleep, 1998). This is ultimately up to the parents to decide. While at three months old a child should be sleeping an average of 10 hours a night, some parents prefer to wait until they are 6-9 months old to start sleep training so they are up to at least 11 hours a night.
Sleep training is often controversial because a parent’s natural instinct is to help an upset child. Parents are programed to run to the needs of a crying baby and knowingly allowing them to “cry it out” feels like neglect. It is actually quite the opposite, letting go slightly and guiding them in the correct direction helps children learn and grow.