Sleep training covers a wide spectrum, from co-sleeping and not believing in it to full on shut the door and cry it out! Discussions bring mixed emotions and are always guaranteed to start a “lively” debate (especially on parenting forums). Ultimately it is a person choice and one that has different means for each family. Many of the objections to sleep training are based on misunderstandings of common sleep training myths (see our other blog) as the research shows that sleep training does not cause any detrimental effects to a child. That doesn’t mean everyone should do it or that it is appropriate for every child, but it should be an informed decision for each parent.
At I.S.C, we are passionate about high quality training and staying up to date with the latest research. Our methods are research based and we believe in giving parents informed choices. Although the sleep training methods have not changed, new research is constantly being carried out on the benefits of good quality sleep and how sleep (or lack of) impacts a family. A recent study published looks at the impact of sleep training and attachment between parent and child. This is one of the biggest concerns of many parents contemplating sleep training. We know it is going to involve tears and it can feel counter intuitive so surely that will affect the bond?
The research behind this comes from several studies, the most recent (Lionetti et al 2015) showed children in orphanages are less likely to show secure attachments with parent (primary caregiver) figures. However, this is an extreme example and is not a fair comparison with a child in a loving home environment.
A study in 2016 looked at families with babies aged between 6-16 months. They found that 12 months after sleep training, there were no differences in rates of secure or insecure attachment with those that had been sleep trained and those that hadn’t (Gradisar et al,. 2016). Thinking critically about this research, it only evaluated the families at one timepoint, so we don’t know if there was any fluctuation in the attachment levels before and after sleep training.
Last year as part of her PhD, Dr Gokce Akdogan looked at child-parent attachment before and after families received sleep training. These families were compared to families who chose not to sleep train. Dr Akdogan found that most families had a secure child-parent attachment before sleep training. For the families that completed the sleep training, not only did everyone’s sleep improve but, the attachment levels were not affected, in fact the scores were often better. The families that did not sleep train had little change in their attachment levels. The changes that were noticed were in the opposite direction, moving towards the insecure end of the child-parent spectrum.
The theory behind this is based around part of the attachment theory. The sleep training methods used were being responsive to the child but changing the pattern of behaviour. The parent would of still checked on the child or stayed with the child but ignored the unwanted behaviour. Attachment theory shows that as a child develops, they will gradually feel confident to move away from their parent but still check back in. This is doing the reverse; the parent gradually comes away from the child but will still check in to reassure.
This doesn’t mean everyone should go out and sleep train, but it is important in giving parents balance and informed choices. It does show that there are positive benefits to sleep training and understanding that you can be responsive to your child’s needs whilst encouraging the importance of sleep. If you would like to find out any more of have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We are always happy to share current research and help parents to make a decision that is right for their family.