Sleep Training: What Science Can (And Can’t) Tell Us
Welcome to parenthood! For many of us, parenthood is like being air-dropped into a foreign land, where protohumans rule and communication is performed through cryptic screams and colorful fluids.
Throughout human history, children were typically raised in large, extended families, filled with aunts, uncles, grannies, grandpas and siblings. Adding another baby to the mix didn’t really make a big dent.
There are too few arms for rocking, too few chests for sleeping and too few hours in the day to stream The Great British Bake Off. At some point, many parents need the baby to sleep — alone and quietly — for a few hours.
And so, out of self preservation, many of us turn to the common, albeit controversial, practice of sleep training, in hopes of coaxing the baby to sleep by herself. Some parents swear by it.
So what does the science say? Here we try to separate fiction from fact — and offer a few reassuring tips for wary parents. Let’s start with the basics.
Myth: Sleep training is synonymous with the ‘cry-it-out’ method.
Fact: Researchers today are investigating a wide range of gentler sleep training approaches that can help.
The mommy blogs, parenting books often mix up sleep training with “cry it out,” says Jodi Mindell, a psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who has helped thousands of babies and parents get more sleep over the past 20 years. In fact, most the time, it’s not that.
“I think unfortunately sleep training has gotten a really bad rap because it’s been equated with this moniker, called ‘cry it out,’ ” Mindell says.
Cry-it-outis an old way of thinking, says Mindell, who authored one of the most frequently cited studies on sleep training (and the popular book Sleeping Through The Night).
It includes much gentler methods than cry-it-out or the so-called Ferber method. For example, some sleep training starts off by having the parent sleep next to the baby’s crib (a method called camping out) or simply involves educating parents about baby sleep.
“All these methods are lumped together in the scientific literature as ‘sleep training,’ ” Mindell says.
In several studies, parents are taught a very gentle approach to sleep training. They are told to place the baby in the crib, and then soothe him — by patting or rubbing his back — until he stops crying.