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Is Sleep Training Harmful?

general infant newborns toddler Nov 15, 2021

    My name is Mica. I am a certified sleep consultant and founder of Rested Mama, Happy Baby. I help families on their journey to establish healthy sleep habits and get the whole family sleeping again!

   As parents, from the moment we welcome our child(ren) into the world, the flood of questions and guilt comes rushing.  When sleep is involved, it’s often the question, “Is Sleep Training Harmful?”  If you want the evidence-backed answer (spoiler alert), the answer is NO! In order to understand this, it’s important to understand what sleep training means.


What is Sleep Training?

   Sleep training is the use of specific methods used to guide children to fall asleep independently.  This means a child will be able to fall asleep on their own without the assistance of rocking, feeding, etc from a caregiver.   The American Academy of Pediatrics, actually recommends that children be put down for sleep completely awake and aware of their surroundings.  Now, what’s the point?  Let’s break this down even more…

   For most babies over 4 months of age, their sleep cycles start to look much like adults’, which includes spending more time in light stages of sleep than they did before.  This starts with deep sleep, and then goes into subsequent light stages of sleep.  Some children, in order to fall asleep, are rocked or nursed and will go into a deep sleep with that environment being the last thing they remember.  When they awake at the next sleep cycle, which is typically 2 hours later, they end up being startled, as they look for the last ‘thing’ that helped them fall asleep in the first place. 

   By putting your child to sleep completely awake, and having them fall asleep on their own, they are able to more successfully connect their sleep cycles without the startle knowing exactly where they were and what environment they were in when they fell asleep.   This is the value of sleep training!


   In fact, according to the Clevland Clinic on sleep training, ”it's been known to improve parental mood, improves an infant's sleep quality and increases the secure attachment between babies.”  


What does the evidence say about harm?

   At this point, it’s easy to see that there are benefits to sleep training and that it is in fact, effective, but what’s the catch?  In many forms and methods of sleep training, it involves crying, and the first question that arises is if the amount of crying associated with sleep training poses any long-term impacts on the baby or the relationship. 


   While there was much debate around the crying associated with sleep training in the past, there is finally a 5-year follow-up study completed on children who were sleep trained. This study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics states, Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.”


   While preparing for sleep training, it’s often misunderstood to think your child will cry hours and hours on end for weeks at a time, or through the whole night.  While it’s not impossible, it’s not common, and there is very short-term crying associated with sleep training and long-term gain in the form of developmental growth and sleep - for the whole family. 

   Especially, when done with planning and in a holistic approach, tears can be minimized which is what my programs aim to do!

   So what’s the verdict?  Should everyone sleep train?

    This is where the evidence stops and the decision starts with your family.  Sleep training is an effective tool of which I wholly believe benefits a family, but the decision is yours.  Not every family needs to sleep train, especially if sleep is not an issue!  Some children don’t develop strong sleep associations and are just fine with their own sleep habits.  You may be a parent who is perfectly okay being able to manage sleep for your little one and have little trouble rocking or feeding your child to sleep.   If that’s the case, sleep training may not be necessary. 

   But...maybe you are finding yourself fighting with sleep deprivation, your child is not sleeping independently and you are finding yourself spending more time and effort than you can possibly give to get them (and you) better sleep.  If that’s the case, sleep training absolutely is the answer.


   If it is, or you want to chat more to see what’s right for you, feel free to book a free consultation here.  I’m here for you, judgment-free, full of care, just looking to get exhausted parents some support.


 Learn more about how we work with families to help their babies sleep 10+ hours at night without Cry-it-out or Ferber.  Join our free webinar!


Exhaustion is Optional, 

Rested Mama, Happy Baby Founder

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