Sleep-Training Strategies Found to Be Effective, Not Harmful

Sleep-training techniques that fall into the controversial “cry-it-out” category are actually effective and do not cause psychological harm if conducted in a controlled, consistent way, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found.  Time.com has more:

The study looked at two sleep-training methods known as controlled comforting and camping out, both of which let babies cry it out for short amounts of time. Controlled comforting requires the parent to respond to their child’s cries at increasingly longer intervals to try to encourage the baby to settle down on her own. In camping out, the parent sits in a chair next to the child as he learns to fall asleep; slowly, over time, parents move the chair farther and farther away, until they are out of the room and the infant falls asleep alone.

While neither strategy is as extreme as letting babies cry all night by themselves, they have been criticized over concerns that they may cause long-term emotional or psychological harm in babies, interfere with their ability to manage stress or cripple their relationship with their parents.

The new study by Australian researchers involved 326 children who had parent-reported sleep problems at 7 months. Half of the babies were put in the sleep-training group, in which parents learned helpful bedtime routines as well as the controlled-comforting or camping-out technique (parents could choose which strategy they wanted to use), and half were put in a control group that did not use sleep-training. The researchers followed up with the participants and their parents five years later. (By the study’s end, about 30% of families had dropped out.)

By age 6, the researchers found no significant differences between the kids in either group in terms of emotional health, behavior or sleep problems. In fact, slightly more children in the control group had emotional or behavioral problems than in the sleep-trained group.

Researchers also found no differences in mothers’ levels of depression or anxiety, or in the strength of parent-child bonds between families who had used sleep-training and those who hadn’t.

Image: Crying baby in crib, via Shutterstock

 

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  1. by Shannon Hughes

    On September 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Just a reminder that these techniques are not appropriate for newborns under 3 months old. Young infants need to be comforted quickly in order to form a secure bond with parents and to feel loved and safe.

  2. by Melanie

    On September 11, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    This article is misleading! The study explained that being present while your infant cries (camping out) and controlled comforting (attending to the child every few minutes) is not harmful. It NEVER advocated, nor substantiated letting them cry it out without attention. Several studies have been conducted that have shown cry it out to be detrimental not only to the child’s attachment with the parent(s), but also to healthy brain development. Also, it should be noted that no infant under 4 months should ever be allowed to cry without quick and consistent response from a loving caregiver, lest it will negatively impact the development of a healthy attachment. Even proponents of cry it out levy that caveat.

  3. by Erin

    On September 12, 2012 at 5:51 am

    I agree with both Shannon and Melanie. Always tend to a newborn and young infant, you can do them no harm this way. I found this via Facebook post from Parents Magazine, “Letting Baby cry it out for short amounts of time can be an effective sleep-training technique, according to a new study.” Extremely misleading. We did what they are calling camping out though it was not called that when we did it (this being all of 2 years ago). It takes time but our daughter, now 4.5, sleeps peacefully through the night and never has sleep trouble.

  4. by SummerRay

    On September 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Any one else find it telling that the baby is in a drop side crib? No one thought those we dangerous either…

  5. by Sevinç

    On September 14, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Post test of 6 years old age is the latency period if development according to psychodynamic theory. Child’s conflicts are mostly repressed thus is not easily appeared in this period. Measures of health in this study is not capable of showing deep emotional impacts of these sleep strategies. Thus research is not fully valid to show that these strategies are effective and not harmful. Drop out is also a question mark!

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