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No matter where you fall on the sleep training spectrum, a kid who sleeps peacefully through the night can be a white whale for a lot of parents. Whether your kid is crying it out as you read this or you’ve already upgraded to a California king to accommodate your new roomie, research in the British Journal of Educational Psychology provides an important reminder: It’s the destination, not the journey. That’s because a kids who can manage their own sleep by the age of 5 appear to have a statistically significant advantage over their insomniac peers when they get to elementary school.
The study followed 2,880 Australian children from infancy until their immersion into school. Throughout their development, mothers were asked about their child’s sleep problems, emotional, and attentional self-regulation up until age 5. At that point, teachers were asked to report their social-emotional adjustment to school between the ages of 6 and 7. For the 69 percent of kids who showed a steady decline in sleep problems up until the age 5, they also consistently displayed average or higher emotional and attentional regulation scores as well. Conversely, the 31 percent of kids who had sleep problems increase over the same period showed more signs of hyperactivity, emotional problems, trouble self-regulating and poor social skills. And, yes, making any jokes about vegemite or penal colonies at this point will immediately out you as someone whose own kid isn’t exactly crushing the sleep game.
The researchers have no interest in wading into the debate over how to best sleep train a child, because they’re sane adults who don’t like being screamed at by internet commenters. But they do suspect that the kids who are better at self regulating in the classroom likely learned the skill, at least in part, by learning how to sleep. Dr. Kate Williams, a co-author on the study, goes so far as to recommend withdrawing practices like lying with your kid or letting them into your own bed before they get to school age. “It’s really important to give children a sense of skill, so they can do these things themselves,” she says. May the co-sleeping zealots have mercy on her soul.