Week by Week

Is Sleep Training Harmful?

By Medically reviewed by Dr. Duyen Le

Numerous new parents find it desperate to wake up every couple of hours each night to soothe their crying baby. Other couples, meanwhile, choose to let their baby cry until they’re tired and go to sleep. However, does this sleep training bring about decent nights of sleep for both parents and baby, or it’s just a threat damaging the relationship between you and your beloved child.

While some experts say sleep training is effective, others believe that it’s a neglectful act. Still, others think that it depends on the baby.

What is sleep training?

A sleep training is when parents let the child cry out until they are tired. Then they would self-soothe and go to sleep on their own, with better sleep quality. According to Jill Spivack Pediatric sleep specialist, baby from 4 to 6 months old should go under a sleep training. To do it, parents need to form a fixed bedtime routine for their baby. In addition, the bedroom has to be quiet and dark. The baby is put to the bedroom once showing sleepy signs. There are babies who are used to being sung, nursed or rocked. They will get so fussy that they cry a lot if those caring are stopped.

It is recommended that besides letting the baby cry then stop by themselves, parents should give the baby some brief checks some time during the night. This is called controlled crying technique.

Will crying it out harm my baby?

Doctor Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says that up to now when looking into short-term outcomes, there are no studies with results showing the harmfulness of sleep training on the baby. In fact, short-term outcomes of sleep training are that the baby can get various benefits from it.

However, long-term outcomes are another story. There is an idea from Michael Commons, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University that forcing too early independence increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. As the babies’ brain is still in developing period, early tough practices may leave unwanted lasting impacts later in life.

A study from the University of North Texas reveals that babies after sleep training do suffer from high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, the crying now alters to stress. Nevertheless, this result is not absolutely convincing since they just take the cases of a few nights. In addition, other factors can jump in, interfering with the conclusion. For example, if the child wakes up so many times at night that he does not get enough sleep, it’s also lead to stress.

What if my baby fails to learn to sleep?

If after a certain period of sleep training and your children still have trouble with sleeping, it’s not much a problem. A study published in the “Journal of Pediatrics” noted that 84 percent of kids with trouble sleeping still have no improvement until three years later.

I feel guilty, should I keep on doing this?

Pantley believes parents should. When a baby experiences unhappiness, fear, discomfort, loneliness or pain, they cry to express it. A mother who whose baby undergoing sleep training can’t help but find it a torture task. It usually results in the mother’s crying as a respond.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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