A study published in today’s edition of the journal Pediatrics found that letting children cry for short periods of time during sleep training does not cause lasting psychological problems or damage the parent-child relationship.
The study looked at the effects of two different sleep training methods: “controlled comforting”, in which the parents comfort the child after waiting progressively longer periods of time, and “camping out”, in which the parent stays in the room with the child but moves farther and farther away over the course of three weeks. Not included in the study was the practice of “crying it out”, where the child is allowed to cry until they fall asleep without any interaction with the parent.
In the study, 326 Australian children identified as having sleep problems at 7-months-old were split into two groups: one was the sleep training group, in which parents could choose whether to use “controlled comforting” or “camping out” after receiving training on both, and a control group that did not use any formal sleep training techniques. The first, early finding was that sleep training did work with the children in the test group, who went to bed more easily and slept longer at night as a result. The researchers then followed up with the children at the age of 6, and found no significant differences between the children in either group. In fact, the chldren who were not sleep-trained were slightly more likely to have emotional or behavioral problems.
“While stressful for the infant, it almost certainly falls under the ‘positive stress’ heading,” said Rahil D. Briggs, director of the Healthy Steps program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Positive stress creates growth in the child, in the form of coping skills and frustration tolerance that serve to be critically important throughout the life span.”
It is not clear if the parents in the control group attempted any form of sleep training on their own.