Some people do not support sleep training because they believe it’s stressful for babies. They cite a rise in the cortisol levels of the child, as proof of their beliefs. In actuality, however, using proven sleep-training methods creates less stress on babies and families.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands. It’s a hormone that responds to our fight or flight instinct by raising blood pressure and blood sugar, as sudden bursts of energy are needed. In adults, cortisol levels rise in the morning and decrease at night. In newborn babies, cortisol levels peak every 12 hours and are not related to night or day; thus one reason why babies experience day/night confusion when it comes to sleep. Once a baby reaches the age of 3 or 4 months, the pattern of cortisol production resembles an adult’s patterns; rising in the morning and falling at night.
One of the main goals of sleep training is teaching a baby how to self soothe so that they don’t experience disruptive night wakings and the constant need for help falling asleep. So while it is true that a baby’s cortisol level can rise during this process, it is also true that cortisol levels rise when babies are sleep deprived. In fact, they are much more likely to have chronically high levels of cortisol when they don’t sleep properly and don’t experience the restorative sleep they need. In turn, this sets up a vicious cycle where sleep becomes even more elusive.
The long-term benefits of a child being able to get the consolidated sleep he or she needs at night and a nap time, cannot be overstated. As a child sleep consultant, I know that morning and afternoon naps serve two different purposes, outside of the obvious need for rest. Morning naps are cognitively restorative, and afternoon naps are physically restorative. In addition, more and more studies point to sleep deprivation as being a contributing factor of :
- childhood diabetes
- inability to focus
- over diagnosis and incorrect diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactive disorder
- lower reading and math scores.
There are also negative effects on the rest of the family, in particular mom, who is at a higher risk for post-partum depression when she is not getting the rest she needs, along with the impact sleep deprivation has on marriages and in the workplace. It also needs to be pointed out that a baby who is cared for by a chronically depressed mother can experience a rise in cortisol levels due to the mom’s inability to show concern and sensitivity.
There will always be those who feel sleep training is so stressful for the child that in the long run, it can cause psychological, emotional and mental harm. However, a study from Pediatrics in 2012, strongly supports sleep training as a healthy part of development. This study showed that babies who were sleep trained using either the Ferber method or the camping-out method, did not have an increased risk of emotional, psychological, or behavioral disorders at age six. In fact, babies who were in the control group and not sleep trained, actually had a higher rate of behavior disorders. Furthermore, mothers of infants who were not sleep trained had a higher rate of depression.
When it comes to sleep training, more than likely there will be crying, and yes a rise in cortisol. But what needs to be considered is the benefit a child, (and consequently an entire family) derives from experiencing consolidated, unbroken sleep. They are generally happier, calmer, and experience a greater ability to learn. When sleep training takes place in a home where the child feels secure, cared for, and loved, and the parents are working to achieve the best outcome for everyone’s benefit, then it’s a win-win situation, and cortisol the stress hormone, can be kept at an appropriate and healthy level.
If you want to pre-empt sleep problems, start by making sure your baby sleeps in a room that is:
a) Cool: The optimal temperature is 68-70 degrees.
b) Quiet: A white noise machine is perfect at blocking out indoor and outdoor noise. Avoid using mobiles or song machines as they are over stimulating.
c) Dark: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the darkest, you want 10!
Once your baby reaches the age of four months, you can begin to put him or her on a nap schedule:
The morning nap will begin between 8:15 and 9 am.
The afternoon nap will begin between 11:30am-1pm.
If your baby is under the age of eight months, there will probably be the need for a half hour nap later in the afternoon.
As the mom of four grown children, I can tell you firsthand how stressful parenthood can be. I can also tell you that if you can avoid, or overcome sleep issues, you will minimize many of the challenges, while increasing much of the joy, of being a parent.
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.
Tell me about your experience with sleep training.