This study follows up on research carried out in 2007 that found that infants, as well as their parents, benefited when the child was taught to settle down on his/her own after using a series of behavioral techniques.
However, many doctors and parents wondered whether these techniques might harm the child's emotional development, and their subsequent abilities to deal with stress. People also wanted to be sure that the techniques did not interfere with child-parent relationships.
Lead researchers, Anna M.H. Price, BA(Hons), PhD, said:
"We wanted to find out if the benefits were really long lasting and if there were any long term effects."
Anna M.H. Price, BA(Hons), PhD, and team tracked 225 children from birth up to six years of age to find out whether a sleep program might have any long-term effects on them and their mother's mental health, their stress levels, and child-parent relationship.
Establishing a routine at bedtimes can help instill healthy sleeping patterns.
- Controlled comforting - children's cries were responded to at increased time intervals. The aim was to give the child the opportunity to settle down on their own.
- Camping out - the parent sits while they learn to fall asleep on their own. Gradually, the parents remove themselves from the baby's room.
By the age of six, there was no significant difference in the mental and behavioral health, sleep quality, stress and child-parent relationship between the babies in the sleep program group and the "controls" (those not offered a sleep program).
They had similar findings regarding the mother's mental health and parenting style.
The authors concluded:
"Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression."
When can a parent start infant sleep training?Infant sleep training, also known as baby sleep training, refers to several techniques parents use to improve their baby's sleep patterns. The ultimate aim is to get the baby to sleep and stay asleep through the night.
Most infants develop a regular sleep pattern rapidly and easily. However, a sizeable minority find it hard to settle down, while others may have difficulty in getting straight back to sleep after they wake up during the night. These children need help in developing proper sleeping routines.
A newborn should not be subjected to any kind of sleep schedule or training program, experts say. The infant, who sleeps a few hours at a time, will need to be fed every few hours, throughout the 24-hour cycle. Doctors, psychologists and pediatricians say that parents should respond promptly to a newborn's cries, to feed and comfort him immediately, and to try to sleep when he does so that parental sleep deprivation is kept to a minimum.
When the child is about six weeks old, their biological rhythms may be reinforced by establishing a regular bedtime and waking up routine.
A three-month old baby spends more of the daytime awake and nighttime hours asleep, compared to an infant during his first month of life. Experts say that parents should consider their own sleep patterns as their child's develops and changes.
By the age of 3 months, babies should have a regular sleep/wake pattern and not be feeding in the middle of the night. Most babies are ready for sleep training by the age of six months. By this age they should be able to sleep 8 to 12 hours non-stop.
It is important to establish that the baby has no medical condition that might affect their sleep.
Which techniques should a parent use to establish good sleeping patterns? Experts say that "consistency" is crucial for any sleep program technique. A review of 52 sleep studies found that consistency mattered much more than which program to use.
Written by Christian Nordqvist