Sleep Training and Co-Sleeping: A Controversy

Do you find yourself dreaming of the day when you’ll experience a good night’s sleep again?

Babies don’t make sleeping easy and many parents struggle to find a way to get their little one sleeping through the night so they can, in turn, have a restful slumber.

As important as you know sleep is to you, it’s important to your baby as well. Specifically, their critical brain-development periods are dependent on adequate sleep.

However, baby sleep solutions are not a science and there’s no “right” way to get your little one to sleep through the night – except for the way that works best for your family.

Still not sure what to do? Here is a breakdown of sleeping training and co-sleeping and considerations you should keep in mind with each:

What is Sleep Training?

Sleep training is the process of helping your infant learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep.

There are different approaches to sleep training and most methods fall under either “gentle sleep training” which involves soothing your baby when they cry or “extinction sleep training” where you let your baby cry it out.

Here is an overview of the most popular sleep-training methods:

  • No Tears. Also known as the “no-cry” method, this approach involves subtly shifting your baby’s sleep habits such as fading out sleep strategies like being rocked or switching out routines like reading a book instead of being nursed.

  • Cry It Out. This method is probably why sleep training is considered to be so controversial. It involves teaching your baby to soothe themselves by not interfering as they cry and try to fall asleep.

  • Weissbluth. This method involves establishing a bedtime routine, putting your baby to bed and not returning until morning.

  • Ferber. Also known as “timed-interval” sleep training, the Ferber method involves putting your baby down to sleep while they are crying but checking on them at different time intervals (every 5, 10, 15 minutes, etc.). Over time, you extend the time intervals until your baby is sleeping throughout the night.

  • Chair. The Chair Method involves sitting in a chair next to your baby’s crib and moving the chair further away from the crib each night while verbally soothing your little one when they cry.

  • Pick-Up-Put-Down. Like the Ferber Method, you put your child to bed and check on them at gradual intervals. However, in this method, you can pick your baby up and soothe and comfort them for a few minutes before putting them back down.

As you can see, there are a variety of sleep training methods which means you can easily choose an approach that works best for your baby, you and your family.

When most people think of sleep training they immediately picture the Cry-It-Out Method. Even though this popular method is effective, many experts advise against it.

Problems with the Cry-It-Out Method

Your baby’s brain develops quickly and, when your baby is greatly distressed, the hormone cortisol is released. In excess, this hormone damages neurons and can negatively affect important neural connections.

Also, the vagus nerve (a nerve that affects functioning in multiple systems such as digestion) can begin to function poorly after prolonged periods of stress in a baby’s life. This can eventually lead to issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Apart from the physical effects of the Cry-It-Out Method, there can be emotional consequences as well.

For one, babies don’t self-comfort in isolation. They depend on responsive care and this expectation for soothing is actually built into their ability to self-comfort.

When they are left alone to cry, their systems can react to the stress by shutting down emotions and trust.

This method of sleep training can also affect you as a parent. When you condition yourself to ignore your baby’s cries you may end up learning to ignore other signs of your little one’s need. This can lead to second-guessing your parental intuition.

So should you not sleep train at all? Absolutely not! Just be aware of the detriments of the Cry-It-Out method and explore other effective approaches (like the ones mentioned above).

What is Co-Sleeping?

On the opposite end of the sleep spectrum is co-sleeping. This means sleeping in close proximity to your child, either in the same bed or simply in the same room.

There are many different ways you can accommodate a co-sleeping situation:

  • Bed Sharing. This is when you sleep in the same bed with your child.

  • Sidecar Arrangement. There are special cribs you can buy that attach to the side of your bed, giving you easy access to your baby while still maintaining your own space.

  • Different Beds, Same Room. You can move your baby’s bassinet or crib into your room – for older children, you can set up a toddler’s bed as well.

  • Open Invitation. This is more appropriate for toddlers and older children but your child has their own room with the understanding that they are welcome to sleep in your bed under certain circumstances (such as a nightmare, for example).

While co-sleeping is not for everyone, it does have its advantages such as everyone getting more sleep, breastfeeding during the night is easier (and helps maintain your milk supply) and reduces the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.

When you do co-sleep with an infant, however, it’s imperative that you create a safe sleeping environment.

For instance, you should not allow your infant to sleep in the same bed as you until they are old enough to sit up and roll over on their own.

Problems With Co-Sleeping

The most common complaint about co-sleeping you’re likely to hear is that allowing your child to sleep in the same bed or room with you will create dependency issues and bad sleeping habits later in life.

You’ll find articles out there with advice from experts cautioning against co-sleeping and these issues.

However, the truth is that there are no scientific studies to show that there are any negative psycho-emotional consequences for children who co-sleep with their parents.

In fact, we are one of the few species (if not the only species) that does not normalize co-sleeping with our young.

There is no reason to believe that co-sleeping is detrimental to your baby’s development in any way – as long as it’s done safely and works for you and your family.

Which is Better?

Empirically, it seems that co-sleeping would be a better choice over sleep training when it comes to your baby’s psychological and emotional development.

However, the dynamic of your family’s health and stress levels are not entirely dependent on how and where your baby sleeps.

That is to say, if one sleep situation is more stressful than the other, it’s going to cause sleep issues for everyone – including your infant.

Like most parenting choices out there, it’s important to go with what works for you and your child. You know your little one better than anyone else, so only you can determine what sleeping situation is best for them.

And it can take some trial-and-error to figure that out!


When choosing a sleep solution for your little one, be sure to make responsible common-sense choices based on your intuition, research and understanding the facts about available sleep solutions.

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