Lassen, M.-S. & Bjørnfort, M.B. (2020)

Study of guidance and practice in Relation to child sleep and sleep training in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands

SummaryDetailed overview

The most important findings of the study

Parents are recommended harmfull Cry it out-sleep training by health visitors and other professionals​

Cry it out-sleep training entails putting children as young as 0 months to bed and leaving and/or ignoring them for different timed intervals - even if they cry, scream or otherwise signal a need for continued contact and care from their parents - with the purpose of teaching them to 'self-soothe' and fall asleep independently.

Parents are given outdated advice about childrens sleep, which are in stark contrast to existing knowledge

This applies to public recommendations and/or recommendations from health professional, including that of the Danish Board of Health, and entails, but is not limited to, knowledge about the biologically normal sleep of children, attachment theory, childrens cognitive and emotional development.

Leaders of the municipality health visitors are unaware of the recommendations being given to parents

The leaders of the health visitors from the municipalities are unaware of the recommendations being given by their employees. There is no knowledge, clarity or control of the recommendations and guidance offered to parents, despite the fact that leaders are responsible for ensuring this.

municipalities, Greenland and The Faroes
parents answered our sleep-questionaire
parents have been advised cry it out


The concept of ‘sleep training’ infants and young children to fall asleep without assistance and independently to stay asleep with few or no interruptions, has in the last few centuries been seen by many as a necessary and desirable part of a child’s development. Sleep training means that the child’s signaling behavior is either completely ignored, or that the caregivers show a minimized or delayed response to the child’s signals that they need care and help, for example through crying, calling or screaming.  Sleep training is therefore incompatible with the acknowledged importance of sensitive response. The research into the child’s overall development shows the importance of a child developing a secure attachment to his or her caregivers, and sensitive response is very important for this development. Sleep training can therefore risk damaging the attachment.

We have undertaken a study of the advice given to parents of young children in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, with the intention of getting a wide picture of sleep training in practice in these countries. We have had a special focus on the guidance that parents receive from professionals, especially health visitors (sundhedsplejersker) and on a wide range of literature on the subject, which is handed out and often also promoted to parents. Although a variety of sleep training methods exist, a common factor is that the child often has to be left alone in the bed, where parents do not respond to the child’s signals. The most far-reaching form of sleep training is one in which the parents have to stay outside the room where the child is, even if the child is upset or crying – this is called ‘cry it out’, abbreviated to CIO. We have a special focus on this type of sleep training in our study

The survey consists of several components: a request for access to documents sent to Denmark’s 98 municipalities and subsequent inquiries to some of those municipalities, a voluntary questionnaire with answers from 3,627 parents from Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands and a review of official guidelines and other written material that is recommended for parents. The survey primarily covers the years 2017-2019, although the questionnaire was also open to parents of children born earlier than 2017.

The people behind the study

Mia B. Bjørnfort

Breastfeeding and sleep counsellor

Mia is a trained breastfeeding peer counsellor from La Leche League International as well as (A danish breastfeeding NGO, accredited by IBCLE), and has specialized in and blogged about children's sleep for many years.
Mia has supported hundreds of families in infant feeding, sleep and other aspects of life as a new family.

Mette-Sophie Lassen

Master of Educational Research

Mette-Sophie has a degree in Pedagogy and Children’s Social Development, a pedagogical diploma degree in Project Management and Organizational Development and a master’s degree in Educational Research. She has also taken courses in Neuropedagogy (2 years) and Autism (1 year). In recent years, she has been working on the subject of child sleep.

Do you wish to use this study?

The full study and all graphic materials can be used freely with citation.

Pictures and graphic materials are to be used ‘as is’ and cannot be altered.
Requests for english versions of the graphic materials? Please send an email.

Please use the following information when citing this study:
Lassen, M.-S. & Bjørnfort, M.B. (2020). Study of guidance and practice in relation to child sleep and sleep training in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.


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