Lots of “experts” say that using extinction aka cry it out (CIO) to sleep train your chld will destroy your bond with your child, and possibly even destroy your child’s faith in humanity.
These experts range from the opinionated woman at the grocery store to Dr Sears to your best friend/sister/aunt/daycare provider. Dr. Gabor Mate, “renowned for his expertise on trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development,” says so.
During the course of my child sleep certification program, I had to write a paper on the risks and benefits of sleep training. In order to do so, I found an anti-sleep training article written by none other than Dr. Sears, founder of the Attachment Parenting movement, himself. If you aren’t familiar with his work, Dr Sears encourages bedsharing and babywearing pretty much constantly during a child’s early years.
I systematically went through Sears’ list of references that he used to “prove” that sleep training is harmful. And here’s what I found.
There was not a single article there that looked at children who were being sleep trained.
His article referenced 21-day old rat pups separated from their mothers or children in long-term stressful situations, like living with domestic violence or homelessness.
Sears was trying to extrapolate from that not-particularly-relevant data to “prove” his point.
Meanwhile, studies have been done on actual children being sleep trained. And not a single one showed any permanent damage to children.
The conclusion of a meta-analysis (comparing results between studies) of 52 studies done by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that "94% of sleep interventions were effective with 80% of infants showing improvements in sleep for 36 months."
Negative side effects of sleep training were was not found in any of the studies and in fact, “infants who participated in sleep interventions were found to be more secure, more attached, more predictable, less irritable and to cry and fuss less following treatment [sleep training].”
In other words, sleep training was not found to be harmful and in fact, babies who were sleep trained were found to be more securely attached and less fussy than babies who were not! Also, 80% of babies showed a positive effect on their sleep for thirty-six months. That's a pretty long benefit for a few nights of crying!
Anecdotally, I fully support this conclusion. I have not worked with a single family over the course of two years who said, at the end of their two weeks of coaching, that their child was harmed in any way by sleep training.
In fact, nearly every family has remarked that their baby or child was actually happier after sleep training.
It makes total sense.
With a securely attached and healthy child, the parent remains attuned to the needs of the child during the day. So their connection is continually reinforced during the day despite crying at night. And the child finds, yes, by crying herself to sleep, that she is capable of independent sleep. Which means the child feels pride in herself and ends up getting a lot more high-quality sleep. And a well-rested child is a happy child.
(I do not recommend less-than-gradual methods for a newborn in the first 6-12 weeks of life, a foster child or newly adopted child, or any child who has recently experienced trauma. These children can still be sleep trained in most cases, but they need their adult to be much more involved.)
If you have been hesitant to sleep train your child, fear not. Your child, assuming he is not in the situation of the paragraph above, knows that he is fiercely loved. Continue loving him and being responsive to him during the day and get him the rest that his body desperately needs (even if he doesn’t know that) during the night.
But you don't have to go it alone. Sleep training can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Set up a free discovery call and we can discuss if having a sleep coach would help your family get the sleep you deserve. I'll also give you solid advice for free to start addressing your situation, whether you decide to work together or not.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.