While some parents may not believe in the practice of sleep training, pointing to increased cortisol levels when babies are upset, the long-term benefits from sleep training for the baby and the whole family are undeniable. The short-term stress of sleep training sets the stage for years of calm, healthy parenting.
First, let’s address the role of cortisol in sleep training. Until babies are three or four months old, their cortisol levels peak every twelve hours, unlike those of older children and adults, who are on a 24-hour cycle with a peak in the morning and a decrease at night. This means that babies experience more fluctuations in cortisol naturally, which is part of the reason they have trouble falling into a schedule in those early months.
Cortisol is a hormone and it does increase when people are under stress or sense fear. In babies, cortisol can be part of the process in early sleep training, but as they develop the ability to self-soothe, the cortisol response decreases and eventually is replaced by a calm transition to sleep. On the other hand, in sleep-deprived babies and children who have not been sleep-trained, this cortisol response can become part of the evening routine for long periods of time. This creates lasting patterns of emotional distress and sleep deprivation.
Now let’s look at some of the evidence to support sleep training. Parents of young children can get hung up on sleep, and with good reason. Sleep deprivation can lead to an unhappy household, but here are five benefits to successful sleep training that will serve your family well for years to come:
Sleep begets sleep.
Healthy night sleep leads to healthy nap habits, and naps are invaluable to child development. Morning naps are cognitively restorative, and afternoon naps are physically restorative.
Sleep impacts health, behavior and learning.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, trouble focusing, and reduced academic success.
Parents need sleep, too.
A mother who does not get adequate sleep is at a greater risk for post-partum depression and anxiety, making it harder for her to care for and comfort her baby.
Sleep problems don’t stay in the bedroom.
A lack of sleep can impact everyone in the household, and can cause problems in relationships and at work. Parents are more able to support each other and develop their careers and other interests when they are getting enough sleep.
A well-rested parent is a present parent.
We have all been hearing about how phones and computers can negatively impact sleep patterns, making it harder to be fully focused and present during waking hours. Sleep disruptions in children can cause the same issues. Adequate sleep increases focus, decision-making and communication skills.
Now, how can you prevent or help resolve sleep issues? Follow these simple steps toward creating a positive sleep environment for everyone in the family:
- Keep the temperature set between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A comfortably cool room makes it easier to breath clearly and prevents sleep disruption.
- Get a noise machine. White noise can block out indoor and outdoor sounds, preventing night waking.
- Keep the room dark. Light can lead to wakefulness, so the darker the room, the better!
- No screen time near bedtime. The artificial light from screens makes it harder to transition to sleep. Bedtime books are best, for everyone from newborns to adults!
Sleep, like many aspects of child-rearing, requires effort upfront to establish good habits that last. It is one of the first things parents monitor in their children from the very first days, and as it greatly impacts parents as well, it can be wrought with emotion. Simple sleep training methods can ease the transition from the sleepless newborn nights to a well-rested family with a happy, healthy, thriving child.
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Angela Walsh is a Family Sleep Institute, Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and the founder of Babes in Sleepland. She helps sleep deprived babies, children and families, get back on track and get the sleep they need and desire. To learn more about Angela and how she can help you, visit her website: babesinsleepland.com. Also get sleep tips, the latest research on baby and child products, and be part of her weekly Q and A at her Facebook page: Babes in Sleepland and follow her on Twitter