Today, I want to talk to you not only as a Baby Sleep Coach, but also as a mama. I believe that as parents in the 21st century, and thanks to the Internet and social media, we have a lot of access to a lot of parenting advice, and a lot of exposure to peer pressure. We are constantly judged, period. I see it all the time: advice on parenting styles, breastfeeding, nutrition, and you already know I’m going to say this, sleep. Parents often post articles on parenting groups, opening the can of worms of opinions and cat fights, and I often keep scrolling, as these are often mere opinion, and only serve the person posting said article to make them feel good about their particular choices. They always fail to share peer reviewed data that supports their claims.
Two days ago, someone posted an article titled “The Torture of Crying to Sleep”. When I read the title, I couldn’t just continue to scroll. I knew it was loaded with misinformation that not only normalizes sleep deprivation for parents, but also makes parents who have made the decision to teach their babies to sleep feel awful. So bad in fact, a few families who I have had the pleasure to work with, reached out to me after reading this article, worried that we had traumatized their little one. Even as their baby is always happy and sleeps through the night, even as they feel well rested, and even knowing that what we taught their babies are healthy habits that will stick with them for life.
Here are some quotes from said article: “The repercussions on physical and mental health, the excessive release of cortisol that damages the brain, the break with the caregiver and the impossibility of creating a secure attachment …”, of course the author did not provide a reliable source to such claims. “… his nervous system shuts down, releases neurotransmitters to help him cope with pain, and literally prepares to die.” Here, the author is comparing a lion to a baby, to make the false conclusion that sleep training teaches your baby to not cry when he needs help. Trust me when I say this: your baby will learn to know exactly what he needs, and if the problem is wanting to continue to sleep, he will put himself back to sleep, and ask for help when the issue is hunger, fear, or illness. I encourage parents to follow their instinct, and check on baby when they know something is out of the ordinary. “Your baby then gave up, lost hope in you, in life. At that moment this implicit memory is imprinted in our little ones: “The world is NOT a safe place. No matter what I do, they will let me die. My caregivers cannot take care of me, I am alone… ”” Sure, Jan. Again, no scientific support to her claims.
Even though she doesn’t hold a pediatric sleep certification, and her accreditations, per her website (yes, of course I looked her up), are related to mindfulness, she continues to make claims about sleep. She claims that children are unable to connect sleep cycles until they turn 6 years old, that everyone has around 10 sleep cycles per night (false, the correct answer is 5 to 6, and consolidation of sleep can start as early as 7 weeks old), and here’s how she concludes her article: “GREAT CONCLUSION: Ferber Method; Estivill Method… punishment based on negligence, and masked under the scientific name “sleep training”. Don’t let them fool you.” Notice the irony of her calling the term “sleep training” a “scientific name”? And even though I don’t use extinction methods like the ones mentioned above, I don’t agree that they’re harmful to the child.
This article is just one of the many articles I have seen demonizing sleep training, but this one hit home, after seeing some of the families I’ve worked with feeling guilty after it. While articles like these are just opinion articles, people take them like it comes from an expert on the subject, and this is dangerous. Sleep is vital, so much as eating, and articles like these are putting parent’s and children’s wellness at risk. Getting enough sleep alleviates postpartum depression, boosts your immune system and decreases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The practice of writing articles like these is dangerous. Plain and simple.
Today, I will provide you with real facts, supported by reliable sources, about why sleeping well is so important, and how sleep training is not traumatic and doesn’t change your bond with your baby. Are you ready?
1. Sleep deprivation causes harm, to you and your child. Sleep deprivation impairs cognitive processes taking place in your brain. It interferes with learning, attention, problem solving and concentration, making it harder for you to learn. Additionally, to make up for lost sleep, your brain will skip phases of sleep that are important to store information in your memory. A 1996 study from the Department of Psychology at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois found that “overall sleep deprivation strongly impairs human functioning.” Yep, we have known this for decades, and this is not the only study that shows this. There are HUNDREDS of studies like this! And about how sleep deprivation affects children: This study from the University of Warwick found that depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and poor cognitive performance in children is affected by the amount of sleep they get. And again, we have known this for a while, and this is not the only study that has found this!
2. There is no evidence that sleep training is harmful to children; not physically, not emotionally. In fact, there is ample evidence that it is, in fact, beneficial. This study concluded that “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.” And if you are worried about elevated cortisol levels on your baby during sleep training, the same study also found that “despite assertions that extinction-based methods may result in elevated cortisol, emotional and behavioral problems, and insecure parent-infant attachment, our data did not support this hypothesis. Coupled with the findings from Price and colleagues,41 behavioral interventions appear to improve sleep without detrimental effects on the child or family. Further replication studies by independent groups are needed to confirm and raise confidence in these findings.” And here’s the irony: cortisol levels are constantly elevated when we don’t get enough sleep.
3. If you’re worried about the amount of stress that sleep training will give your child, worry no more. The kind of stress that sleep training will cause to your child is the same kind as say, 3 years from now, you tell your child to stop doing something, and she throws a tantrum. This is a very helpful source from Harvard University that the describes the different types of stress, with Toxic Stress being harmful. Note the source affirms that with Tolerable Stress, “if the activation is time-limited and buffered by relationships with adults who help the child adapt, the brain and other organs recover from what might otherwise be damaging effects.” The kind of stress triggered by sleep training, falls somewhere between Positive Stress and Tolerable Stress. And know that when I work with my clients, I use a gentle method for sleep training, as supposed to extinction and cry-it-out methods, where parents are always responding to the baby.
As parents, we bear an enormous responsibility. It’s not just about keeping our little ones alive, warm, fed and happy. We’re all looking to raise exceptional human beings. We’re responsible for the quality of our kids’ lives long after they’ve left the nest, and many of the decisions we make today are going to determine who they are 20, 30, even 50 years from now. And to me, this includes providing them with the amount of sleep that they need. It’s why I have dedicated my career as a Sleep Coach to educating parents in Philadelphia, Colombia, nationwide and worldwide about sleep, and have helped over 600 families regain restful nights and enjoy parenthood.