Sleep training or the way I approach it is sleep coaching, is a very hotly debated topic. Advocates and opponents have set up camp on opposing sides with what looks like, no middle ground. I truly believe there is a middle ground and my mission is to prove that.
Advocates of sleep training propose that it does not harm the child and has great benefits for the child and their families. However, the opponents state that ‘cry it out’ is cruel and creates lasting problems. Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation out there, no wonder parents don’t know what is right and what is wrong. It’s unfortunate because there is so much knowledge about sleep in children based on scientific studies.
This post it going to sort out the myths and the facts based on scientific knowledge.
Fact: Multiple studies show that there are no negative consequences in parent-child bond due to sleep coaching. In fact, some studies actually show an improvement in security between parent and child following sleep training.
I would like to note that in my practice the ‘crying’ mentioned above is not from them ‘crying it out’ but from allowing a small amount of crying to establish what they are truly trying to communicate. I like to advise parents that ‘crying is ok’ crying is the only way of communication in babies and that are a range of different cries, which we can learn from to respond in the best way possible.
Fact: Sleep coaching does not mean giving up the activities you love to do with your child. You can continue to do any and all of these activities as part of the nighttime routine. Sleep coaching simply involves avoiding or moving these activities, just at the time of transition from wake to sleep depending on the age and development of the child.
Fact: It is completely fine to sleep in the same room as the child. Being close to your child may be more convenient for breastfeeding and provide you with reassurance that your child is well. If you want to keep your infant in the same room, the infant should have her own sleep location that is separate from the parents, such as a cot or bassinet. Co-sleeping with an infant can be done, as long as safety guidelines are fully adhered to.
If co-sleeping I will always point parents to The Lullaby Trust, as they have a great section on co-sleeping and how to do it safely.
Fact: Although adults do tend to sleep better once the child is sleeping better, it is not for the parent. It is for the child! When a child needs caregiver intervention to fall back asleep each night, this can be frustrating for them. Imagine waking up multiple times each night and having to cry in order to get put back to sleep. This is not easy on the child. Learning how to self-soothe is an important skill for infants to avoid crying nightly and means they can sleep peacefully and only wake when needed.
Fact: No human being actually stays asleep the entire night. We have multiple arousals every hour in which we might fidget or turn over. This movement is actually protective for us. Infants are no different. Even after sleep coaching, children will wake up multiple times each night, and may roll over, move briefly, or make vocalizations. The key is that after sleep coaching, they will be able to put themselves back to sleep after these short
This provides reassurance that when they wake up and don’t self-settle, you know this could mean they are hungry (depending on age) which removes the guess work or that something is possibly upsetting them, and you will then be able to help them accordingly.
Fact: While it is true that most children will eventually stop needing the caregiver’s help to fall asleep, the timing varies greatly. It is not unusual for 5 and 6-year-olds to still wake up multiple times and want to be fed or rocked to get back to sleep. I know of teenagers that still insist on sleeping next to parents to fall asleep. Will the child outgrow it? Yes, eventually.
I am here to help your children achieve more hours and better-quality sleep from as young age as possible, and this is completely for their benefit. Studies have shown the negative effects that sleep deprivation can have on children ‘Inadequate sleep contributes to attention problems, hyperactivity, bullying and aggressive behavior, mood swings, and along with poor diet and struggling at school.'
Fact: Most of the debate around sleep training stems from the process of allowing an infant to ‘cry it out’. There are multiple studies showing that letting a child ‘cry it out’ can create long term neurological effects on the child when full extinction is used. Full extinction is laying your baby down and not returning until morning.
I do not advocate this at all and would never advise this to any parent. However, this doesn’t mean you should be afraid of your child crying a little bit as this is their way of communicating with you, so it’s learning what they need and want and responding to this accordingly whilst sleep coaching. There are so many other sleep coaching techniques that don’t involve simply leaving an infant in the cot to cry endlessly. I would love for you to explore your options before avoiding sleep coaching.