Can Sleep Training Harm Your Kids?

Do you ever read about sleep training online? Just kidding, obviously you do because you’re here. If this isn’t your first time, you’ve probably come across a lot of conflicting information. And opinions. Many opinions. 

There are people like me who post about the benefits of sleep training. Then there are people who suggest that sleep training is cold, unnatural, or even neglectful. In my experience as both a sleep consultant and a mom, kids who are sleep trained (in a healthy way) are well-rested, happy, and healthy. And the parents I’ve worked with are caring, nurturing, and connected with their kids. 

So where does the negativity about sleep training come from?

There are articles online that warn parents against sleep training and claim that it can be harmful. To back up those claims, the authors of those articles will sometimes cite one or multiple studies. Here’s the thing. If you actually read those studies, or just the abstracts (basically the introduction), you find that the studies don’t apply to the article in the way it was suggested they would. 

For example (and this is a real example from an article online), the person who wrote the article claimed that leaving a baby to cry during sleep training might damage the baby’s brain leading to things like a weakened immune system, a lower IQ, increased likelihood of developing ADHD, and antisocial behaviour (potentially even violence). 

WOW. If I read that, I would be terrified of sleep training. 

To legitimize these claims about sleep training, this person cited a study. Do you know what the study was about? Children who had been exposed to physical or emotional violence in the home or community. 

This is pretty obvious but I’m going to bold it for the readers who might be skimming. Also, because stuff like this riles me up:

Sleep training is nothing like inflicting violence on a child. 

This is not a one-off bad citation. Authors of a study had to come out in the media several years ago to say that their study had been misrepresented in another article exactly like the one I just described. 

Okay, enough of that. Let’s look at the other side. 

Are there any studies that examine the effects of sleep training?

Yes. And there’s a study that studied the studies. Try saying that three times fast. 

Since this distinguished group of professors and specialists already did the job of reviewing every sleep training study they could find (that met a certain standard) and evaluated all of the results for us, I’m just going to give a quick summary of what they found. 

A total of 52 studies were evaluated and they included more than 2,500 children ranging in age from 0 to 4 years and 11 months. The little ones in the studies were diverse and control groups were used.  

The findings were that 94% (49 out of 52 studies) reported improvements in the children’s sleep and no negative consequences. The other 6% (3 out of 52 studies) found no improvements but no negative consequences either. Basically, they found that sleep training didn’t make a difference. 

Zero studies found any detrimental effects on children or their families after sleep training. 

On top of the improvements in sleep, these studies found there were positive effects on children’s temperaments and positive consequences for parents such as less marital tension and reduced stress or likelihood for depression. 

Listen, I understand the irony of me writing a post about sleep training and telling you not to believe everything you read about sleep training. But don’t take my word for it! If you’re unsure and want to learn more and make up your own mind, look at studies that are cited. Speak to parents you trust who’ve done it. 

I’m not here to convince you to sleep train your kids. But I am here to tell you that if you want to sleep train your kids, you’re not going to hurt them by doing so, as long as it’s done the right way. 

If you need help finding a way that is loving, healthy, and right for you and your child, reach out. You can book a free call or send me a message and I can even send you links to some studies so that you can be the one who decides if sleep training is good for kids. 

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Rachel Ross

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