Behavioural sleep techniques known as “controlled comforting” and “camping out” provide a cost-effective way to help infants sleep better, reduce mothers’ depression levels, and are safe to use in the long-term, according to new research by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
The world-first study by the Institute examined whether “controlled comforting” and “camping out” have long-term effects. The study followed 225 children from infancy through to six years to track whether a sleep program had 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 sleep 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 the parent sits with the child as they learn to independently fall asleep, slowly removing their presence from the child’s room.
The study, published online in Pediatrics found that the improvements to children’s and mothers’ sleep, and mothers’ mental health were still evident as late as 2 years, then faded by six years. 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.
Lead researcher Dr Anna Price said the study should help parents and health professionals feel confident about the effectiveness and safety of sleep interventions in infants aged six months and older, especially as a strategy to manage postnatal depression.
“Using sleep techniques like controlled comforting with babies from six months helps reduce both infant sleep problems and the maternal depression associated with the baby’s sleep problems, and these effects are still apparent up to 2 years of age,” Anna said.
“Parents can feel reassured that using sleep interventions like controlled comforting and camping out are effective and safe. Given that the techniques work for most families and are cost-effective, parents and health professionals can feel confident using these sleep techniques to manage infant sleep.”