A Science Backed look at Crying and Sleep Training

You’ve reached your breaking point and you and your child are exhausted.  You are thinking about sleep training, but you are worried about the crying.  You are not alone in this concern as there is so much confusing and conflicting information out there about sleep training and the effects of crying.

I myself had the same concerns when I worked with our first child on sleep back in 2015.  He and I though were both so exhausted that I reached out for help. We knew what we needed to do, but choose to hire a Sleep Consultant so that we can do it right the first time.  I had never let our baby cry for more than a minute before working with him on his sleep and honestly the crying made me very nervous.  I didn’t want to do that “to him.”

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What I’ve learned in the process, through the Sleep Consultant Certification process and in the years since is that those few nights and days of crying are so very worth it.  I have watched my own children gain and maintain a healthy relationship with sleep along with hundreds of clients.  Done right, the crying won’t last long and the benefits will outweigh the struggle to get there.

Let me break down some facts for you:

Crying: what it means with stress and attachment

I can say these things, but it’s better to see the research behind it, right?  Here you will find a thorough, science backed article by Dr. Alice Callahan that discusses crying and stress as it pertains to sleep training.  She defines the different types of stress responses and proves that sleep training with a great plan can be equated to a Positive Stress Response.  In that, a positive stress is one that has a positive outcome.  When a child is learning a new skill and struggles in the process to learn that new skill especially when in a stable and loving environment, this is normal, this is ok, this is healthy!

Dr. Callahan notes; “Crying is a baby’s way of communicating, but it does not always communicate despair, and it is not always accompanied by a cortisol response. In fact, some studies suggest that crying may release tension and reduce the activity of the HPA axis and the cortisol response. Lovingly allowing a baby to practice coping with stress in the process of learning a new skill can be a healthy thing.”

Additionally, you may be curious about sleep training and the impact on attachment. A recent study conducted in England found “no associations between leaving infants to cry it out during the first 6 months and insecure or disorganized attachment at 18 months.” The study also noted “there is no empirical evidence that leaving infants to cry it out actually induces stress to the infant….It has been shown that short‐term stress is beneficial in terms of its positive impact on resiliency to stress in later life.”

This does not mean that “cry it out” is the only way.  In fact, it is not.  There are a handful of ways to approach helping your child to learn to sleep better.  All of them work, with a great plan!

Benefits of Healthy Sleep

Sleep training can help your child sleep

This may seem obvious, but sleep training with a great plan can help your child to sleep better at night and ease bedtime struggles.

One study noted: “An appropriate bedtime, nap schedule, and an effective bedtime routine should be included in any treatment. Behavioral interventions improves not only child sleep, but also overall child and parent functioning.”

Another study concluded: “This internet-based intervention (with and without routine) is beneficial in improving multiple aspects of infant and toddler sleep, especially wakefulness after sleep onset and sleep continuity, as well as improving maternal sleep and mood.”

A predictable and age appropriate sleep schedule can eliminate night wakings, early mornings and lengthen naps.

Improved maternal health

I think it might be fairly obvious to know that when we sleep, we all feel better.  Our kids feel better, but moms feel better too.  A recent study found “The sleep intervention in infancy resulted in sustained positive effects on maternal depression symptoms and found no evidence of longer-term adverse effects on either mothers’ parenting practices or children’s mental health.”

Another study from the Ontario College of Family Physicians stated “Sleep training improves infant sleep problems, with about 1 in 4 to 1 in 10 benefiting compared with no sleep training, with no adverse effects reported after 5 years. Maternal mood scales also statistically significantly improved; patients with the lowest baseline depression scores benefited the most.”

Improved mood

If our mental health as parents can be improved by our children sleeping well, we can fairly easily conclude that our children’s mental health and mood would improve also, right?  Well, here it is for you:

A 5 year longitudinal study in 2006 found “Mindell et al’s 2006 systematic review of behavioral interventions for child sleep problems found that 49 of 52 programs led to clinically significant reductions in bedtime resistance and night waking 3 to 6 months later. Secondary benefits included better parent sleep, mental health, and child-parent relationships.”  It goes on to conclude “The 6-year-old findings indicate that there were no marked long-term (at least to 5 years’ post-intervention) harms or benefits. We therefore conclude that parents can feel confident using, and health professionals can feel confident offering, behavioral techniques…for managing infant sleep.”

Another study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012 found “Our main findings were that (1) a cumulative extension of sleep duration of 27.36 minutes was associated with detectable improvement in Conners’ Global Index–derived emotional lability and restless-impulsive behavior scores of children in school and a significant reduction in reported daytime sleepiness; and (2) a cumulative restriction of sleep of 54.04 minutes was associated with detectable deterioration on such measures.”

There are many other longer term benefits.  Perhaps another post, for another date.  From a personal standpoint, I can tell you that watching my own kids over the past 5 years and watching our relationship grow.  They are ok – they are more than ok and they love me! ALSO, they have a great relationship with sleep – so can your child! It is just a matter of finding the right plan to help your child get there.  If you are unsure where to start, we are here to help.

Good Night Sleep Site Consultant
Good Night Sleep Site Consultant

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