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Holistic sleep support or Sleep Training? Whats better?!

The world of sleep can be a largely overwhelming place for new and seasoned parents alike!

So what exactly is holistic sleep support and how is it different from Sleep training?

Holistic sleep support generally refers to an approach to helping families with their child's sleep by looking at a big picture of family life. When I look at a child's sleep I consider:

  • Their age, developmental stage and what is considered normal according to evidence

  • The family context, including siblings, wider family, parental health, environment and community

  • Emotional and mental health, anxiety and stress

  • Nutrition, allergy, intolerance's, feeding problems and nutritional deficit

  • Health, including the interplay between stress, immune problems, nutrition and sleep

  • Exercise, sleep hygiene, and everyday activities

  • Sleep biology, cycles and circadian rhythms

  • Overtiredness

Whereas, sleep training is often regarded as the "main stream" approach and was popularised by people such as Dr Ferber and Gina Ford. This approach uses behavioral techniques with the aim to improve a child's sleep, these are often extinction, separation or cry based approaches.

I think its important to take a balanced perspective when it comes to assessing schools of thought. So lets break down the pros and cons to each so you can make up your mind as to what suits you best.

The Pros and Cons

​Holistic Sleep Support



Truly evaluates a range of considerations when it comes to sleep disruption.

Often don't identify a single cause for a behavior

​Promotes parenting self confidence.

Responsive techniques can take longer

Teaches parents how to manage sleep in a way that's best to their family

​Parents who are feeling really desperate may prefer a quick fix

Prioritises whats best for the family.

Can be seen a less 'socially accepted' approach

​It normalises all forms of sleep and applies the best mix of gentle behavioural techniques and support resources to help families.

​Older generations can often pressure parents away from this as it is different from their style.

Sleep Training/ Crying to sleep



Often quite quick

Many develompental and mental health experts believe crying to sleep damages the bond between parent and child

Parent or professional is more in control of when sleep occurs

​The child hasn't learnt to self soothe, its actually a state called 'learnt helplessness'.

The baby will eventually fall asleep or just stop crying

Some babies become so distressed they vomit or become dangerously overheated.

​Aligns with schedule based parenting

​It can be really challenging, for parenting self-efficacy, to listen to a baby in distress for any length of time

It can be easier to plan around naps when they are strictly in place

For some children it can be highly distressing and they will cry a lot longer than expected

Requires little intervention from carer

​After milestones, travel or developmental shifts often the process needs to be repeated

Basic techniques which only require consistency

It's impossible to guarantee that a child isn't, genuinely in need (for illness, hunger, fear or danger) if ignoring their cries

So whats my perspective?

I am in a fortunate position to know about both industries as I originally trained as a sleep trainer before deciding to expand my knowledge and shift more towards the holistic side of things.

For me personally, I aligned with the holistic approach as I felt it really met the needs of the whole family and took into consideration the many difficulties families face when it comes to sleep. I am a big advocate for both parental mental health AND child development and I feel that both should be considered whenever approaching a new parenting experience like sleep.

I encourage all families to find an approach that feels good and is empowering to them. No judgement from me!

I am very proud to have worked through the Open College Network Level 6 Holistic sleep qualification which is the most in depth course available. It is deeply research driven and incorporates many outstanding professionals sharing all they have on various issues from allergies and colic to speech and language development. (You can find out more about my qualifications here!)

A section of the course was dedicated to exploring this debate and much of the research available. And all we can say so far, is that there really isn’t any credible research that adequately and conclusively proves how we should handle perceived sleep problems. There is little research to indicate that cry based sleep training improves maternal wellbeing, and no evidence that cry it out doesn't damage attachment. Therefore, it seems pragmatic to suggest strategies that avoid unnecessary stress on baby and caregiver.

My approach to sleep struggles is always gentle, compassionate and non-judgmental, helping families to feel empowered by their sleep journey.

Feel free to reach out for any support!

Love & Sleepy Dust

Imogen x


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