The Holistic Science of Sleep

The Holistic Science of Sleep Method was developed by Mar Oscategui of the International Maternity and Parenting Institute. It is an evidence-based approach to family sleep challenges that integrates what research has revealed about how a person’s internal and external environment relate to sleep health.

Sleep training has a very controversial reputation because of the stress behavioral sleep training methods often introduce into families as a tradeoff for more consolidated hours of nighttime sleep. By behavioral sleep training, I mean traditional sleep training methods that instruct parents how to respond, or not respond, to their child’s cries at night. By consistently treating the child’s nighttime behavior in a certain way, parents hope to progressively eliminate a child’s nighttime requests for parental attention. But many children respond to these behavioral sleep training methods with emotional stress and tears, and because parents are bonded to their child this stress is also transferred to the parents. Research on whether prolonged unattended crying has long term impacts on a child or a family is conflicting, and the studies are universally poorly designed.

But what if I told you that you could improve your child’s sleep and your family’s sleep at night without all that stress? The Holistic Science of Sleep Method views crying as a symptom of another problem, and so addresses a sleep challenges not by trying to control crying, but rather by trying to figure out the root cause of the sleep challenge. By figuring out WHY the child is waking frequently, WHY the child can’t settle in the evening, or WHY the child cannot self-sooth, we can resolve the root cause of the sleep challenge. Sometimes the sleep challenge will then resolve on its own, or will resolve with gentle behavioral sleep methods. Unattended crying is never necessary.

Using the Holistic Science of Sleep Method, I address sleep from four perspectives: Physical needs, social factors, developmental factors, and sleep context and environment. Children and adults with sleep challenges have a misalignment in one of these four areas. Sleep is controlled by our neuroendocrine systems, the organ system that produces hormones and neurotransmitters. Our neuroendocrine systems are sensitive to physical and emotional stress, and to night/day cues in our environment. If our physical or emotional health is disrupted, or night/day cues are unclear, sleep will be affected. Additionally, We know babies and children are stressed by different kinds of things as they develop and mature. We also know a baby’s sleep biology and neurology changes as they mature. Taking developmental stage into consideration helps me pinpoint the cause and make appropriate recommendations for a child’s sleep challenge. Considering a child’s developmental stage is also critical for building reasonable goals and expectations.

The pace of modern life, and the rigidity of our modern work day, often pits parents against children at night, as everyone vies to meet their nighttime needs and wants. But a parent’s need for sleep need not come at any emotional cost to the child, or to themselves. The Holistic Science of Sleep Method is unique in that it integrates the needs of the entire family to find optimal nighttime solutions for everybody in the family.

Why do I say “family sleep?” Because within a family unit, every member’s sleep affects every other member in the family. This fact is glaringly apparent to the new parent. When a child is not sleeping well, parents are not sleeping well. If even one parent is not sleeping well, other members of the family are affected. Most obviously the other parent, as sleep deprivation negatively impacts the parent’s day to day dynamic. But children are affected as well in more subtle ways. When our children try our patience, do we deal with them more effectively when we are sleep deprived or when we are at the pinnacle of physical and emotional health? Because sleep deprivation so dramatically affects emotional, psychological, and physical health of an individual, it is most useful to discuss sleep as a family issue. Because resolving the sleep challenges of one member can improve the health of the family. Once we accept that sleep is a family issue, we can each accept our responsibility in prioritizing the sleep of our family members, to improve the health of the family unit as a whole.