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Paging Dr. Roban: Sleep Training and CIO – Is it Right for My Family?


It’s sleep week here at the Rosie Pope blog!  You heard my thoughts earlier this week; now we’ll hear from Dr. Whitney Roban, Ph.D., of Sleep-Eez Kids.  Dr. Roban is one of my distinguished MomPrep experts, not to mention a mom who has been there herself.  Dr. Roban has weighed in before in this space on an introduction to sleep training.  Today, I’ve asked Dr. Roban to weigh in on a topic that lit up my Twitter feed recently: cry it out (CIO).  Read on, and let me know what YOU think about CIO in the comments.  xxRosie


In my pediatric sleep consulting practice, I often come across moms who are unsure about embarking on the journey often called “sleep training.”  These moms express their strong desire for sleep for themselves and their children, but they are undecided upon which route, if any, to take in order to have a well rested family.  Sleep training, specifically the “cry it out” method, is one of the most controversial parenting topics.  The good news is that there is so much information available about sleep training, however, that is the bad news as well.  Moms are being inundated with information, much of it contradictory.   In their quest to get educated about their children’s sleep, moms are actually just getting more confused about how to proceed with sleep training and more unsure if sleep training is even right for their family.  As a clinical psychologist, an expert in the field of pediatric sleep, and as a mother who successfully sleep trained her sons many years ago, I hope to shed some light on this topic and help mothers in their quest for the elusive full night of sleep!

The first thing I often hear from moms is how they “want” their kids to sleep, this statement is usually filled with much mommy guilt.  I reassure moms that this desire for sleep is not just a “want” but a “need”.  We are all human beings with the basic biological needs to breathe, eat, and SLEEP!  Of course we all “want” ourselves and our children to be well rested, but we also all physically need to sleep in order to function on a daily basis.  Some moms have the misunderstanding that once we become parents we will never sleep again and it is part of our job as parents to be up all night with our children.  Of course, when our children are newborns this is to be true.  However, as our children get older it is more beneficial to everyone in the family to get a good night’s sleep.  Given the right sleep environment, all healthy children can be good, if not great, sleepers.

There are two common misconceptions about sleep training that I believe are important to clarify.  The first misconception is that “my child is just not a good sleeper”.  It is true that some children are naturally better sleepers than others.  However, all healthy children can develop good sleep habits.  In order for this to happen, however, it is up to the parents to be consistent and follow an age appropriate sleep schedule for the child.  Most sleep training fails because the parents were inconsistent and/or the child was not on a developmentally appropriate sleep schedule.  It is not beneficial to label your child a “poor sleeper” and give up on a well rested family.  The short term efforts to raise a great sleeper have long lasting positive effects on the whole family.

The second misconception is that sleep training is all about the “cry-it-out”.  It is not the crying (the quality nor the quantity) that teaches children to fall asleep and stay asleep.  It is the learned behavior of falling asleep unassisted.  The crying is the by product of learning to self soothe.  Furthermore, there are other central components to healthy sleep that must be part of a sleep training program in order to have success. They are a consistent and appropriate 24 hour sleep schedule (including naps), an early bedtime, and consistent bedtime and nap routines.  Even if you never officially sleep train your child, it is important to include these components in your child’s daily sleep.

Another common issue that arises for moms in the decision to sleep train is the question of doing emotional harm to their child if they use a cry-it-out method of sleep training.  The research these moms are referring to, which studied the overall daily crying response in children, did not look at the cry response in solely sleep training settings.  Children that are allowed to learn how to become independent sleepers and have the byproduct of a finite amount of protest crying for a couple of nights cannot be compared to the infinite crying of children who are neglected throughout the day and night.  There were so many extraneous variables that came into play in those research studies that it renders the results inconclusive.  Furthermore, the parents I have worked with are, in fact, the exact opposite of neglectful parents.  They understand the benefits and necessity of sleep for their children and will do whatever it takes to have a happy and healthy family.  I strongly advise moms to focus on the solid research about the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on both children and adults’ mood, temperament, behavior, cognitive development and performance in both school and work settings.  Healthy sleep has been shown to have positive effects on physical, cognitive, behavioral and psychological growth and development.  I highly doubt I will ever come across a study that shows the positive effects of sleep deprivation!

Just like many other controversial topics, the strong opponents are always the most vocal.  With so many outlets today for people to express their extreme views and judge others who do not agree, it would be hard to find a mother who doesn’t question her parenting choice in one domain or another.  Although I am a proponent of sleep training, I do not judge other moms who make different choices.  If you choose to co-sleep and that works for your family, then that is the right choice for you.  Parenting is not a one size fits all philosophy.  Every mom should make their parenting choices based on what is right for their particular family and we should all support one another.  It does not provide any benefit to yourself or others to judge based on a particular parenting choice.    Although our parenting journeys may find us taking different roads, we all have the same end goal – a happy and healthy family.   No matter what roads we take, I hope we all reach our goal!




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3 Responses

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