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What Research Says About Sleep Training: Diving Deep with an Evidence-Based Sleep Consultant Course

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

This is one of the most common (and important) questions we get as sleep consultants. It is also one we address specifically, module after module, in our evidence-based sleep consultant course.

We want our sleep consultants’ knowledge to be rooted in science and based on facts, so every topic in every module of our evidence-based sleep consultant course points back to the research. Don’t just take our word for it…we give you the proof and what the research actually says about sleep training, plus help you learn for yourself how to read research in a way that can help you form your own educated opinion on any particular study you come across!

We also address topics of conversation relating to the research behind sleep training in our private student and graduate Facebook group - we give you the support you need to build and run your own evidence-based sleep consulting business. In fact, anytime new research comes out, you can bet that we add it to our evidence-based sleep consultant course if necessary, and post the link in our Facebook group for our students and graduates to keep up to date with what the most current research is showing - as we like to say, “Just add it to the pile of research!”

You might be wondering…why does it even matter that sleep consultants are able to read research and have access to evidence-based facts?

If you scroll social media for any amount of time, you’re likely to see a lot of conflicting information on every aspect of parenthood. Sleep, especially.

Whether people claim that sleep training can damage the parent-child attachment or that children simply pass out because of the stress of sleep training, it can be confusing to parents when they are navigating this area of parenting.

At The Collective for Family Rest and Wellness, our top priority is sharing evidence-based facts so that families can make informed decisions. We want our graduates to feel confident when they share information with families, so we ensure that they are able to distinguish quality research from…not-so-great research.

Today we’d like to dive into a prime example of some research that, well, could - and likely is - taken for the complete opposite of what was actually found in the study.

This is why we teach our students to dig deeper into the research because when we know better we can do better!

Sharing this evidence-based knowledge with families allows them to make the best decisions for themselves when it comes to sleep training…or not sleep training.

What evidence-based sleep consultants talk about behind-the-scenes.

One of our 2022 graduates had a rather cruel interaction and negative experience with a mom after one of her discovery calls.

We know there are anti-sleep training parents out there. We know sleep training isn’t for everyone, but it is for some. Those are the people we are here for.

After looking through this list of “evidence” that sleep training is harmful, the consultant was confused by this article in particular. And rightly so - the title, “Nighttime Maternal Responsiveness and Infant Attachment at One Year” makes it seem like the researchers were trying to find that attachment was affected in a negative way.

But, when we dug a little deeper, what did we actually find??

After digging into this particular study…

First, the study made comparisons between securely and insecurely attached infants who never woke or never signaled distress while sleeping.

Their findings: There were no significant differences.

In other words, "good sleepers" (i.e., infants who do not disturb their parents during the night either because they never wake or they never make their awakenings known to their parents by fussing or crying) are not significantly more likely to be securely attached than insecurely attached. Second, comparisons were made between mothers in secure and insecure dyads who generally did not respond to their infants' signaled awakenings. There were no significant differences, although mothers in secure dyads were more likely to use the "no response" pattern of interaction than mothers in insecure dyads.

It was hypothesized that secure infants would be more likely than insecure infants to signal their awakenings clearly. There were no significant differences in the percentage of infants who signaled clearly as a function of attachment.

Basically, they were able to say there was one weak correlation (more likely to pick the baby up) with secure attachment. However, we all know that sleep training or independence does not preclude picking our kids up at any point.

Beyond that, no differences. And looking at larger and more reliable meta-analyses, there is actually a correlation between a parents picking up their child very quickly and insecure-avoidant attachment.

What can a reasonable parent conclude from this study about sleep training?

After digging further, this study is actually one that may fuel your belief in responsive sleep training and pausing to understand your baby’s signals at wake-ups.

The power to detect differences was weak in this study. It is plausible that differences would have reached significance with a larger sample size.

However, it is also possible that the expected association between attachment and clear signaling does not exist.

I love this particular study - you can always tell when the researchers really, really wanted something to pan out but it just didn’t.

I’m sure you’re curious about what our reasonable, evidence-based sleep consultants had to say to their colleague about this study?? Grab your popcorn and pull up a comfy seat!

You can see here that our students and graduates have the knowledge base to really dig into this study and find out for themselves the conclusions that we’ve drawn. I’d also like to point out that when looking at studies like this, it’s important to compare them to other studies relating to the topic as well, so you can compare conclusions from different researchers in the same field.

Which brings us to the question…how do we know if a study is high-quality?

How do you know if a study is high-quality?

Research is a vital part of any academic or professional career. It's also important to ensure that the research you are conducting is of good quality. Here are some tips on how to recognize high-quality research for yourself:

Use only research that is peer-reviewed by an expert in the field.

You should always use research that is peer-reviewed. Peer review is a process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field. The primary function of peer review is to maintain a minimum standard of quality and validity in research and to prove it has been conducted according to proper standards.

Why is this important? It helps ensure that your research will be sound enough for you to draw conclusions from it. In the case of this particular study we were looking at, it's pretty evident that the person who initially shared the article with our graduate did NOT actually read the study itself.

Peer review also helps to prevent fraud and misconduct in research. As a result, you can be confident that published research is reliable.

Use several sources when studying a topic.

To be certain that you’re getting quality research and avoiding bad data, you should use several sources when studying a topic. This might sound obvious, but there are many ways to do this. For example:

  • Look for different perspectives. The more perspectives you can find, the more likely it is that your research will be accurate. If someone is claiming to have found a cure for cancer, don’t just read their study—find other sources from different people who have also been researching this topic and see what they have to say about it. You could even go so far as to contact those researchers directly and ask them questions about their own studies!

  • Look for different types of sources of information (or “sources” or “resources”). There are many kinds of resources available online—and some might not be trustworthy! So don't just look at one kind; look at several different types of resources before making any decisions about what data looks credible or not credible!

Look for research that has many participants.

One of the best ways to know if research is high-quality is to look at how many participants were involved. The more people who participated, the more confident you can be in their results. As a general rule of thumb, it's best if there are at least 100 participants in one study. The more the better. And the greater variety of contextual factors in the group, the better.

If you're looking at a study that only has 10 participants, you should be very skeptical of its results. It's likely that these results don't apply to most people—they only apply to the 10 participants in the experiment.

Look for research using a randomized controlled trial in which some participants receive treatment and others don't.

There are a few things you should look for when evaluating whether a study is good or not. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) is one of the best ways to determine if something works well. RCTs are studies in which participants are randomly assigned to different groups, and some participants receive treatment while others do not. The goal of these types of studies is to see if your results can be replicated by others who aren't necessarily connected with the researchers conducting your study; they use a control group as well as an experimental group that receives either treatment or no treatment at all.

Double-blind studies are another way to test if something works well; this means that neither the researcher nor the participant knows who has received what treatment until after all data has been collected and analyzed together by both parties separately before being presented together for review again (to ensure accuracy).

Read about the researchers' backgrounds and look for any possible biases from the source of funding or from other situations.

Once you've read a study, take some time to look into the researchers' backgrounds. You can do this by searching for their names online and looking at their LinkedIn profiles or searching through journal articles written by them. Another way to do it is to look at the source of funding for their work—if an individual or organization has strong ties with pharmaceutical companies, then you may want to be skeptical of any research that comes from them because they may have an incentive not only in the results but also in how they choose which studies get published.

Finally, keep an eye out for any other possible conflicts of interest or biases. While these things aren't necessarily deal breakers when it comes to evaluating research quality (though they could be), they're important considerations when figuring out whether or not someone's conclusions are trustworthy enough for your purposes.

In the parenting world, the idea of “developmental leaps” is a big fad, and many parents live and die by whether or not their baby is in the middle of a stormy period. The Wonder Weeks app is the be-all-end-all and ultimate scapegoat for labeling (or giving an excuse?) why their baby is fussy. “Oh, he’s in the middle of a leap,” or, “She’s got another stormy week coming up.” But when you look at the research that is out there regarding developmental leaps, you’ll actually find that there are only two people (husband and wife) who found that these periods of fussiness happen around the same times for every baby. When someone attempted to replicate the study they could not, and the original researcher tried to invalidate the other study’s conclusions because they didn’t align with his.

I bet you’ll never guess who wrote the book ($14.29) and owns the Wonder Weeks app ($4.99)??

This is an idea, a theory, and not rooted in peer-reviewed research. In fact, the researcher-doctor-author eventually lost his role in academia because of the way everything was conducted.

Are you deleting the app from your phone as we speak?!

In no way are we saying that babies do not experience fussiness that correlates to their development - common sense would certainly lead us to believe otherwise. BUT, the idea that it happens on a very specific timeline that is the same for all babies simply does not align with quality child development research that is already out there. Babies develop on a continuum over a wide range of months.

Check the date of publication, since knowledge continues to grow and information becomes outdated over time.

The date of publication is a good starting point for quality control. Most research is constantly being updated and new information can change the way we think about a topic.

In the case of using behavioral sleep interventions in studies, researchers keep finding the same results, so there's not a ton of "new" research being put out there. The date of publication is important because it tells you when the researchers published their paper or book—and it's important to know if that was yesterday or 100 years ago.

Want to see some of the most recent (quality) research from the past year regarding three different sleep training methods?? Check this out.

TLDR; here’s a quick overview of the study and its findings:

  • Over 2,000 US families participated over the course of 12 months

  • 64% utilize one of three sleep training methods to teach their babies how to self-regulate

  • A leading sleep expert said (about the study) while leaving a baby to cry was often considered controversial, the study found it was safe and there were no short-term or long-term consequences as a result

Watch what qualified experts say about the research results.

Now, let's talk about what you should look for in research. First, watch what qualified experts say about the results of research that's done by other researchers. If you see reputable experts in your field or another field supporting a particular result or finding from a new study, chances are good that it's probably true. This is why it's important to get information on quality from multiple sources: if one source says "this is good" and another says "this isn't so good," then you can weigh those statements against each other and come up with an overall opinion based on consensus opinion—or at least a more informed opinion than if you had just listened to one person talking on TV or read one article online!

Be cautious when reading research because not all research is done well and some may be biased.

It's true - not all research is done well, and it's important to be cautious when reading or citing research. A lot of studies are biased in some way—and since we don't usually know what the researcher's biases were, it's hard for us to tell whether or not we can trust that study.

When you sign up for our evidence-based sleep consultant course, not only do you get access to all the lessons and research to help you learn everything you need to know to help families, but you also get to surround yourself with others who are just as passionate about sleep as you are (and they’ve also got your back!). We love our army of evidence-based sleep consultants!

Are you a sleep nerd who loves research too?

You would fit right in with all the other students and graduates at the Collective for Family Rest and Wellness!

After starting and running our own sleep consulting businesses for a combined decade, we realized there were a lot of gaps in our own training that we had to fill in ourselves over the years, and as we gained more experience working with clients.

You’re likely doing your own research (see what we did there?!) about the different sleep consultant certification programs that are out there, and you’ve stumbled across this article. We’re so glad you did because you just found the program that we created to fill in all the gaps. We’ve created an evidence-based sleep consultant course that is the most comprehensive program out there.

And here’s the kicker: Just like we’ve taught you how to do some quality research today in this post, we want you to go out and do your own research as you’re looking into all the sleep consultant certification programs that are out there. We want you to form your own educated opinions about the programs out there and make the best choice for you.

Maybe it’s us, and maybe it’s not. But you won’t make the best choice for yourself without doing the research. Look at:

  • the history of the founders

  • the evidence (proof, testimonials)

  • the list of topics covered in the program

  • what families are saying about these sleep consultants

  • what the sleep consultants are saying about the programs or certifications they’ve taken

If you're interested in becoming a certified sleep consultant or adding on some extra credentials to your practice, we invite you to check out our website to learn more about our programs.

Further Reading (and some of our favorite studies)

This study found that exclusively breastfeeding mothers average less sleep than their counterparts. In our Integrative Feeding Specialist course we teach creative ways to help parents share the load so that parents can get adequate sleep while also prioritizing their feeding goals! This course was designed especially for sleep consultants who want to bridge the gap between feeding and sleep in a healthy and holistic way, busting the myth that babies need to be weaned in order to sleep train. Adding this credential to your sleep certification will definitely set you apart from others in this rapidly growing field, and the best part is, there is no other course like this one in the market!

Did you know that mild benign fussing can help stimulate the capabilities of an infant to self-settle? In other words, simply pausing for a bit before you tend to your newborn will actually help them in the long run! We explicitly teach how to do this in our Sleep Consultant Academy and in our Certified Newborn Sleep Consultant course. This course will give you the extra knowledge and an added boost of confidence you need to help those teeny tiny babes and new mamas adjust to life outside the womb and during the fourth trimester. This course is a great option for those who just don’t feel confident in their previous sleep training certification program’s newborn education, if you’re also a postpartum doula or newborn care specialist, or even if you’re about to welcome your next baby and want to brush up on some education yourself!

There is so much misinformation on the internet, many people are led to believe that there are studies that show attachment suffers when sleep training is used to help a family sleep better. Did you know that there are currently no studies concluding any insecure attachment correlation to sleep training? Did you know that there’s a study that actually correlates improved sleep through sleep training to more SECURE attachment behaviors during the day? If the thought of working with young children makes you cringe, you probably just need a little more know-how in this area! We’ve got you covered with our Certified Toddler and Preschooler Sleep Consultant course. As they’re still rapidly developing and now starting to soak in the world around them, quality sleep is more important than ever before. Add this credential to your repertoire or niche down in this area with confidence.

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