The Science Behind Sleep TrainingDec 09, 2020
“Is sleep training safe?”
I get this question all the time from parents, in my office, in emails, in Facebook comments, and even in text messages. As a pediatrician and a father, my answer is always a resounding “yes.”
I’ve reviewed dozens of current, evidence-based studies on the topic of sleep training, worked with hundreds of parents on this issue, and have personally used sleep strategies on all five of my children with awesome results. Bottom line: pretty much EVERY sleep-training plan when followed consistently is safe and effective.
However, before I dive into the scientific studies on the safety of sleep training, I think I need to address the elephant in the room. Every parent — and child — needs sleep to be healthy, happy, and productive.
Let me repeat that: We all need sleep.
Well-rested parents can connect with their kids, check tasks off their to-do lists, and enjoy parenthood. They look forward to bedtime. They don’t dread it, push it off, or have heart palpitations about what bedtime will be like, or worry about how many times the baby will be up at night. Instead, these parents are excited about the evening routine: the cuddles, the feeding, and going down to bed. They have the peace of mind that:
- They’re doing what’s best for their child,
- They’ve got the confidence and the consistency of a great bedtime routine, and
- They’re getting the rest they need.
So if you need permission to get good sleep as a parent of a young child, keep reading and consider your permission granted. I'm here for you.
What the experts say about sleep-training plans
There’s plenty of research on sleep training. Just take a look at this 2012 study from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. Researchers kept track of more than 300 families for five years. They studied everything from the children’s emotional, behavioral, and psychosocial functioning to stress regulation. They also gathered information on the child-parent relationship, maternal mental health, and parenting styles. By age 6, they found no significant differences between the children who underwent sleep training and those who did not, in terms of emotional health, behavior, and or sleep problems.
Additionally, a 2006 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at the impact of poor sleep on families as a whole. The study found that bedtime problems or night wakings can shorten total sleep time, resulting in increased irritability, temper tantrums, and behavior problems in young children. Meanwhile, overtiredness can decrease total parent sleep time by over an hour and contribute to increased daytime sleepiness, decreased concentration at work, drowsiness while driving, and an overall negative mood. We’ve all been there, right? But it’s not a sustainable way of life.
Keeping that in mind, it’s not too surprising that another study concluded moms whose babies had poor sleep problems were more likely to report symptoms of depression. (Sorry, dads, we were left out of this study.)
So, the evidence is clear: sleep training under appropriate circumstances is safe and effective, and poor sleep problems in the baby place moms’ mental and emotional health at risk.
The good news is it’s never too late to start sleep training your little one. Once you start — typically around four months old — remember to stay the course. I know that “mom guilt” is a real issue here, so I invite you to join our community of parents who can support you in your sleep-training journey. Plus, I’ll be there with you, encouraging you every step of the way.
I’m passionate about teaching parents how to get the sleep they need and helping parents raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children.
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