Have you ever noticed that you still may feel stressed, even two or three days after a big upset? You and your spouse have an argument, there’s a financial scare, or any other number of moderately big stressors. The issue may already be resolved, but for days, you may still experience headaches, sleepless nights, high reactiveness in seemingly unrelated situations, stomach upset, appetite loss or increase, or just a pervading sense of tension or nervousness, unrest. These are the lingering effects of cortisol on the brain.
Cortisol is suppose to be our friend. It’s a chemical flooded onto our brain tissue during times of high stress which causes every part of our functioning to be on unusually high alert, sometimes called the “fight or flight” reaction. It’s especially high during and after a particularly frightening circumstances, such as witnessing or being victim to a crime, natural disaster, or war. It’s suppose to be our friend because it helps us protect ourselves or seek refuge.
But, what happens when our brain is continually flooded with cortisol, on a regular basis? Well, we can’t go around with our fight or flight instinct “on” all of the time without dire results: high blood pressure, stroke, malfunctioning of all our organs. In short, a life of high stress and anxiety is what’s killing most Americans, if you look at the rates of death by high blood pressure and heart disease. Our bodies aren’t meant to be on perpetual high alert. Anxiety kills.
So….how does this play out in the body of a baby? Studies have shown that babies left alone to cry experience a flood of cortisol on their brains. These babies experience higher blood pressure than the average baby. In fact, although all babies and toddlers who attend daycare experience a slight rise in blood pressure upon leaving their parent, compared to at-home companions, they experience a lowering, or normalizing of blood pressure, upon returning home at the end of day,…except for babies who are left to cry alone as part of of their nightly routine. These babies not only experience higher blood pressure than other daycare babies, but their blood pressures also do not normalize upon returning home at end of day.
What’s going to happen to these little ones who experience a flooding of cortisol on their brains on a daily baisis? Studies indicate they will likely suffer more from digestion problems, anxiety issues, and will be more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, and other long term complications related to cronic anxiety as adults. Why do they eventually fall asleep? Because it’s their flight mechanism. Why do we want our children to learn to go to sleep via cortisol induced flight reflex? Because it will make them able to put themselves to sleep? At what cost?
Studies are proving everyday what mother’s instinct has shouted for years: babies and children need comfort while they are drifting off to dreamland. They need to feel that mother or father is near. They need to be rocked, held, touched. How sad if we lived in a world where lullabies never existed! How confusing to a child to be prepped for bed by comforting things, like baths, warm milk, song….only to be left completely alone in the end to “cry it out”!
Have you been told it “makes them stronger people”? But, maybe it doesn’t. Is it worth the health risks?
It you are are having trouble gentling your little one to sleep, seek the help of your local LLL chapter or leader, numerous mothering message boards, or a good attachment promoting, sleep-help book. One author that has been a great source of help to so many families is Elizabeth Pantley, author of “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” series of books.
Wherever you look, find a solution, don’t let them cry uncomforted, and trust your instincts. They’re God’s way of helping us keep our children safe.
My little ones are waking up, but I will be back soon to list some references for these studies for you. Many Blessings!