Sleep Training Gets a Bad Reputation

Having children isn’t for the faint of heart as many of you know either through first or second hand experience. One of the most challenging aspects of parenting in the early months (or years) is undertaking the education and upbringing of a small human while being chronically deprived of sleep by that very same small human who is also sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation is hard for parents, but that’s parenting right? C’est la vie. Actually, sleep deprived mothers have a higher incidence of post-partum depression, as well as a greater incidence of car wrecks. Both of these conditions can unfortunately be fatal to both parent and child.  Beyond an increased risk of death, sleep issues in children can cause other long-term issues. There are studies that show that sleep deprived children are more likely to be diagnosed with behavioral problems1. It is also associated with cognitive issues such as increased issues at school and problems with memory2,3. It has even been associated with an increased risk of obesity4.

So, if we can agree that sleep is important, then why are many parents hesitant to sleep train their children? Because usually any type of sleep training is accompanied by some amount of crying and the sound of your child crying for any length of time is one of the most awful, heartbreaking sounds in the world. There is also quite a bit of misinterpreting of studies leading parents to believe that they are harming their children, the most notable of which was by the famous Dr. Sears. Let me first say that I am a huge fan of Dr. Sears, however in this area, the authors of the studies themselves came out in a TIME magazine article to say that he misused their data5. Their study collected data from a group of neglected and abused children, not children from a stable home environment and loving caregivers who were sleep training their infants for a few nights.

As a new parent myself you may have guessed that I also am struggling with my little one’s sleep (or lack thereof) and have been experimenting with various approaches and have yet to try the infamous Cry It Out method, but have read (in fitful snatches of time) Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems and Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child for the past few months. My husband and I have been using Dr. Weissbluth’s strategy for nap schedules for the past month or so as well as his recommendation’s for the first few months, such as not letting your infant stay up for more than 2 hours without a nap. I have also been perusing this helpful website:  Now we have come to the point where we will need to use some form of the Cry It Out method for our sanity. I will have to let you know how this goes afterwards.

Dr. Jamie Brinkley, ND

  1. Lavigne JV, Arend R, Rosenbaum D et al. 1999. Sleep and behavior problems among preschoolers. Journal of Dev Behav Pediatr. 20: 164-169.
  2. Hairston IS, Little, MTM, Scanlon MD, Barakat MT, Palmer TD, Sapolsky RM, and Heller, HC. 2005. Sleep restriction suppresses neurogenesis induced by hippocampus-dependent learning. J Neurophyiol 94: 4224-4233.
  3. Fallone G, Acebo C, Seifer R and Carskadon M. 2005. Experimental restriction of sleep opportunity in children: effects on teacher ratings. Sleep 28 (12):1561-1567.
  4. Lumeng JC, Somashekar D, Appulgliese D, Kaciroti N, Corwyn RF, and Bradley RH. 2007. Shorter sleep duration is associated with increased risk for being overweight at ages 9 to 12 years. Pediatrics 120: 1020-1020.