Studies have shown that infant sleep training methods known as “controlled comforting” and “camping out” improve infant sleep and reduce maternal depression in the short term. Some parents and health professionals want to know whether the benefits of the sleep techniques are longer lasting.
A new study out of Australia, “Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial,” in the October 2012 Pediatrics (published online Sept. 10), followed 225 children from infancy through age 6 to track whether a behavioral sleep program had long-lasting effects on children’s mental health, stress levels, the child-parent relationship, or maternal mental health. Parents who reported sleep problems in their 7-month-old infant were eligible for the study. Half were offered a sleep program which involved using positive bedtime routines plus one of two behavioral techniques: “controlled comforting,” in which parents respond to their infant’s cry at increasing time intervals to allow the child to self-settle; and “camping out,” in which parents sit with the child as the child learns to independently fall asleep, slowly removing their presence from the child’s room.
The improvements to children’s and mothers’ sleep and mothers’ mental health were still evident as late as age 2, then faded by age 6. At this later age, children who had been offered the sleep program as babies were similar to the control group in their mental and behavioral health, sleep quality, stress and relationship with their parents. The same applied to mothers’ mental health and parenting style.
The authors conclude that the sleep techniques are cost-effective and safe to use. Parents and health professionals can feel confident using behavioral techniques for managing infant sleep.