For Crying out Loud: All You Need to Know about Sleep Training

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Brenda tucks her six-month-old into the crib, turns down the light, and takes care not to make any sudden noises on her way out of the nursery. Once in her room, she proceeds to make her bed for the night, and is almost immediately interrupted with the muffled cries of her baby. She decides to wait it out, but the baby does not seem too keen on stopping anyway. So, she throws her sleep training methods out the window, and rushes into the nursery to take the crying baby in her arms.

Many first-time parents are faced with this challenging situation when they are trying to sleep train their kids. Waking up in the middle of the night to a bawling baby or staying up late just to put them to sleep is the reason why so many parents are bleary-eyed at work the next day.

Sleep training is nothing close to a manual for parenthood. It does not have pages of clear instructions that parents must go by. Instead, it is confusing at its best.

Read on to know all about the myths about sleep training, and the real picture behind them all.

Sleep Training Myths: Busted
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  • Myth: You should let your baby cry for just the "right amount" of time for proper sleep training.

Real story: There is no secret formula that works magic on your baby's sleeping schedule. There is no right amount of time either. It usually changes with the baby's temperament and the family atmosphere.

None of the studies on sleep training suggests that there is a right amount of time for checking up on the baby. They do not show positive links to checking up and effectiveness of the training either. It really depends on how well you can go with the flow.

Mix and match different sleep training techniques to set up the bedtime routine for your child. You should be looking for that moment when your child can fall asleep independently without parental supervision. That is when you know you have reached the goal.

Checking in frequently may help some children to fall asleep sooner than others. Some may even learn to fall asleep by themselves with the least interference from parents as well. There is no how-to guide on parenting in real life, so you just have to figure out what clicks for your baby and the family by yourself.

  • Myth: Sleep training successfully leads to uninterrupted nights of sleep for every baby

Real story: Most sleep training techniques usually help parents for a while. However, it is unlikely that they will stick long enough to have months of uninterrupted and peaceful sleep all the time. Sleep training methods are no miracle, especially when it comes to yielding long-term results.

Sleep training studies are not enough in number to clearly indicate if long-term changes in sleep patterns can be brought about through the method. Studies still cannot predict how long the effects will last.

Earlier sleep training studies concluded that breakthrough crying at night is not uncommon for sleep-trained babies. They also revealed that babies quite often require retraining after a few months.

Most sleep training studies don't measure the sleep timings of the babies. Instead, they are reliant on parents' feedback on sleep measurement, which often leads to skewed results because of biases. For example, in this study, parents reported sleep problems disappearing by about 30% in their one-year-old kids. But the same kids needed to be retrained by the time they reached two years of age.

Another study suggests that sleep training helped babies sleep peacefully for a few months. The two approaches to sleep training in the study conducted on 43 infants showed significant improvement for a few months. However, such a small sample size is not enough to predict the long-standing effects of existing sleep training methods.

Hence, it is best not to expect a miracle a few months after you start sleep training your baby. Instead, be prepared to retrain your baby when the time comes.

  • Myth: Sleep training and "crying it out" are synonymous and interchangeable

Real story: Contrary to what many parents may believe, "crying it out" is not the only approach to sleep training. Researchers have come up with newer and gentler approaches to sleep training that are just as effective.

The Ferber method is popularly known as the "crying it out" method. However, studies show that gentler approaches like camping out (where the parent sleeps next to the baby's crib) are effective as well.

Child psychologists, like Jodi Mindell of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has helped hundreds of parents put their babies to sleep. Her studies and publications on the same reveal that gentle interventions helped reduce sleep problems in kids by 30%.

Modern-day science refers to sleep training as a blanket term for a plethora of approaches that you could take up with your kid, depending on its temperament and sleeping patterns so far. There is no study to suggest which method is the most effective of them all. So, it is best to learn your way around the child, and adjust to a method that both the parent and the child are comfortable with.

  • Myth: Sleep training could result in long-term harm for your baby

Real story: Dr. Harriet Hiscock of the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne is one of the pioneers in sleep training studies. She has conducted long-term studies on more than 200 families to find out the effects of sleep training on child behavior, parent-child relationship, and other factors.

Some parents worry that sleep training (or the lack of it) may be harmful to their kids in the long run. Hiscock's study comes as a welcome relief from the parenting blogs online that mostly talk about gentler approaches, like the camping out method. Hiscock says there's more to sleep training than shutting the door on your kids and leaving them to fend for the night.

In the study, families were taught either a gentle sleep training method or prescribed regular pediatric care. When checking up on the families five years later, Hiscock says she could not find any remarkable differences between the two sets of families.

The study thus proved that there is no perceivable link between sleep training (or the lack of it) for the development of emotional health of the child or the relationship with their parents. Long-term effects of the method could not be found among any of the families, or the children's sleep patterns or conduct. Hiscock thus concludes that parents should not feel overtly pressurized to sleep train their kids.

  • Myth: If you do not hear crying noises, you may not be doing sleep training right

Real story: Having to listen to hours of crying is optional, as researchers suggest. Camping out and parental education are most effective at resolving sleep issues, as most studies suggest. In fact, sleep training with gentler approaches decreased sleep problems among 49 out of 52 studies in recent times.

While most parents believe the "crying out" method is best, there is no evidence to back that up. Sure, you can look for the most effective method, but that does not necessarily have to result in ruining nights of sleep over a bawling baby.

Sleep training is, and always will be, a personalized method. Parents need to figure out what works best for their child and stick to it. However, pushing too hard will get you nowhere as studies also suggest that sleep training might work at all on about 20% of babies due to medical issues like reflux and separation anxiety.


Summing it up

Here's hoping this post could answer all of those queries successfully. With each baby comes a bunch of surprises. Whether it is your first stint at parenthood or you are a seasoned parent already, put your newfound knowledge on sleep training to test. Find out what works for both you and your child. That way, you will be a step closer to becoming a super-parent. Good luck!