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Understanding Crying and Sleep Training: What Science Reveals

Updated: Mar 5

crying and sleep science

Are you at your wit's end, grappling with exhaustion alongside your child? The thought of embarking on sleep training is daunting, especially considering the potential for crying. Rest assured, you're not alone in navigating this maze of conflicting advice on the topic.

I, too, once shared your apprehensions when tackling sleep issues with my first child back in 2015. Both he and I were exhausted beyond measure, prompting me to seek assistance. While we knew what needed to be done, we opted to enlist the expertise of a Sleep Consultant to ensure we got it right the first time.

Prior to this, I had never allowed my baby to cry for more than a minute, and the prospect of doing so left me anxious. However, what I've since discovered through certification as a Sleep Consultant and subsequent years of experience is that those brief episodes of crying yield invaluable rewards.

Witnessing my own children, as well as countless clients, establish and maintain a healthy relationship with sleep reaffirms this conviction. When executed correctly, the crying phase is fleeting, with the benefits far outweighing the initial struggle.

Understanding Crying: Stress and Attachment Insights Backed by Science

While I can offer personal insights, delving into the research provides a more comprehensive understanding. Dr. Alice Callahan's well researched article delves into the intricacies of crying and stress in the context of sleep training. She explains the various stress responses, affirming that a well-planned sleep training regimen can elicit a Positive Stress Response—a stress with favorable outcomes.

When a child grapples with mastering a new skill, experiencing transient stress within a stable, nurturing environment is not only normal but beneficial. Dr. Callahan emphasizes that crying serves as a form of communication, not always indicative of despair and often not accompanied by a cortisol response. In fact, certain studies suggest that crying may alleviate tension and reduce cortisol activity. Facilitating a baby's exposure to manageable stress while acquiring new skills fosters healthy coping mechanisms.

Furthermore, concerns regarding sleep training's impact on attachment are addressed by recent research. A study conducted in England found no correlation between allowing infants to cry it out within the first six months and insecure or disorganized attachment at 18 months. The study also refutes claims of induced stress, asserting the beneficial effects of short-term stress on resilience in later life. It's important to note that "cry it out" isn't the sole approach; various methods exist, each effective with proper planning.

The Benefits of Healthy Sleep

Enhanced Child Sleep:

A well-devised sleep training regimen can significantly improve your child's sleep quality and alleviate bedtime struggles. Studies emphasize the importance of establishing a consistent bedtime, nap schedule, and bedtime routine, which not only enhance child sleep but also overall family functioning.

Maternal Well-being:

Improved maternal mental health is a notable outcome of effective sleep training interventions. Studies reveal sustained reductions in maternal depression symptoms without adverse effects on parenting practices or children's mental health in the long term.

Mood Enhancement:

The positive impact of improved sleep on parental mental health extends to children, fostering better mood and behavior. Longitudinal studies underscore the effectiveness of behavioral interventions in reducing bedtime resistance and night waking, leading to better parent-child relationships.

Long-term Benefits:

Cumulative extensions in sleep duration correlate with improved emotional regulation and reduced daytime sleepiness in children, highlighting the enduring benefits of sound sleep practices.

In Conclusion

Observing my own children's growth and our strengthened bond over the past nine years reaffirms the efficacy of sound sleep training practices. Your child can thrive, developing a healthy relationship with sleep with the right guidance. If you're unsure where to begin, we're here to assist you on this journey toward restful nights and rejuvenated days.

Wishing you rest,

Sleep consultant

Jennie Clarke

Certified Child Sleep Consultant

*based in Orlando but works remotely with families

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