Sleep Training 101

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You have a new baby! Life is wonderful until you realize you might never sleep again. This is when you will hear tons of advice about sleep training. Let’s discuss the basics so you are better prepared when the time comes to make that decision!

 

By Becky Horace

Sleep is elusive when you bring that first bundle of joy home. You hear everyone telling you that you will never sleep again but you don’t believe them. You think “not my baby, mine will be different.” News flash new parent, your kid is no different than everyone else’s when it comes to sleep or lack thereof. You might have it easy for the first three months without your child having colic just to discover your little angel all of a sudden can’t bear the thought of being without you and just needs you to rock them to sleep constantly. That’s the beauty of being a parent; you are experiencing something new and unexpected weekly! Just when you think you have it figured out the little love bug goes and changes on you! There is never a dull moment that is for sure. If you are new to this, let’s discuss the basics of sleep in kids and what science is saying about sleep training so you are well prepared to make decisions when the time comes.

 

Sleep Patterns

Contrary to what you might think a week into having a child, babies do sleep. They actually sleep a lot but it’s in short 2-3 hour increments. Since you are a new parent you are probably hyped up on your 3rd cup of coffee by 7am so you can actually function after a night of no sleep and due to the caffeine IV drip there is no way you can “nap when the baby naps”.

Several studies have been done to look at the sleep patterns of children. In the June 2012 issue of Sleep Medicine Review, there is a paper which reviewed many different studies to come up with the normal sleep patterns for infants and older children. They found through their research that infants sleep on average of 12.8 hours a day (range of 9.7-15.9) and toddler/preschoolers 11.9 hours per day (range 9.9-13.8). They also found that infants woke around 0-3.4 times per night and children aged 1-2 years old 0-2.5 times per night. For more information about the standard deviations and sleep patterns in older children you can click here for the article.

Another study about “sleep patterns for infants in their first year of life” can be found in the Disease in Childhood Journal. This study “of 132 infants aged 1 month to 1 year old found that infants who were breastfed or breast plus bottle fed were significantly more likely to wake at night throughout the first year.” To read more on this study you can click here.

Although you might be thinking you will never sleep again, you will. Typically by 3 months old your little one should have a sleeping routine down and a lot of babies have dropped the night feed. Around six months old, your little one is ready for sleep training but always talk with your pediatrician and do your own research before making any big changes.

Sleep Training

Sleep training is hard. Hard on the baby and the parents but if done properly in a way that everyone is comfortable and if you succeed it’s worth it to regain your sanity. Here are a couple of different approaches to sleep training:

Dr. Richard Ferber was an advocate for the cry it out method. Basically he believed it’s okay to let the baby cry for a little bit to learn how to self soothe. Obviously you don’t let the child cry for hours and hours or until they are so upset they are throwing up. The idea would be to put your child in the crib while he is still awake. If he cries you go back into the room after a short amount of time to comfort him and you can repeat this until they are asleep. If you opt for the cry it out method you aren’t to pick up and hold the baby to provide comfort.

Another option is the no tears method. It’s just what it says, no crying and it’s a more relaxed approach to doing bedtime. Dr. William Sears is a big fan of this method and believes “Sleeping, like eating, is not a state you can force a baby into. Best you can do is to create a secure environment that allows sleep to overtake your baby.

What does science say?

Sleep training is a pretty controversial topic when it comes to understanding the long term effects of what it does to a child later in life. In my research, there wasn’t an agreed upon outcome. Science is either totally against sleep training methods such as cry it out or they are 100% for it and believe no harm comes to the child in any way. I will share with you the two opposing opinions I found and then you can decide for yourself which is the best option for your family.

In a study in Medical News Today, on infant sleep training methods found that “Controlled comforting” and “camping out”, examples of training methods for infant sleep training, are safe for babies, improve their sleep, and lower short-term symptoms of maternal depression, Australian researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics.” Scientists studied 225 kids from 0-6 years old to determine if there were any long term effects on their mental health. In conclusion, the author found “Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression.” You can read more on this study by clicking here.

Now we head over to Psychology Today, where they have compiled the “Best Review of Research” when it comes to sleep training and they are not very pleased with the science behind the results. They found studies that said they were using evidence that could be “measured, tested, verified and replicated” but the studies actually used subjective data which can be unreliable.

“Any research that concludes that it is safe and good for babies to be treated in these manners must be longitudinal and attendant to all possible negative outcomes for the child into adulthood. Because the research conducted is far from this standard and even with low standards is multiply flawed, it is unethical to recommend cry-it-out/unmodified extinction/total extinction sleep training to address sleep problems and night wakings.”

Psychology Today, in another article criticizing parenting magazine’s and blogs who basically said “go ahead and cry it out. Whatever you need to do to survive is fine” discussed how leaving children alone to cry is not normal development. It can cause distress, trauma, and can alter a child’s brain if they “suffer chronic anxiety.”

 

However you decide to sleep train your child please do your research beforehand and decide as a family what is best.

photo by sima dimitric CC BY 2.0

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