Babies Sleep Better With Controlled Crying, Study Suggests

While the desire to comfort your crying baby at bedtime may be tempting, it can actually be more beneficial to let them “cry it out”


Parents can feel very conflicted when it comes to bedtime and their little ones. On the one hand, you’d give almost anything to have a full night of sleep, if only the kids would actually rest soundly for that long. On the other hand, letting your children cry themselves to sleep leaves you shuddering. But getting up continuously through the night to soothe your upset baby isn’t exactly ideal. 

A study done by researchers at Flinders University in South Australia found that the method of letting your child cry themselves to sleep didn’t result in lasting emotional problems or stress for babies and actually decreased the amount of time it took for them to fall asleep. So while it’s totally normal to worry about the effects of letting them cry it out, you can now put those fears to bed.

Lead researcher Michael Gradisar explained that while it’s natural to want to soothe your crying infant at bedtime, avoiding that urge might prove more beneficial. “We ran the numbers and found that those children that experienced delayed sleep or were allowed to cry longer ended up falling asleep faster. They were not waking up so much in the night either,” said Gradisar.

The team of researchers worked with 43 couples with babies between 6 and 16 months old, who all had trouble falling asleep. The infants were put into three different groups: “a graduated extinction group where babies were initially allowed to cry for varied increments of time; a bedtime fading group where the bedtime was extended; and a control group.”

With the graduated extinction group, parents were asked to leave the room within a minute of putting their infant down for sleep and if their baby cried, they were to increase the amount of time they held off before going back to comfort their child.

The bedtime fading approach had parents putting their babies to sleep closer to the time he or she tended to actually fall asleep and the parent could stay in the room until the child nodded off.

The control group did participate in any sleep training and instead the received infant sleeping information. So these parents went about bedtime as they had been before, comforting their infant when they cried.

Salvia was taken from each of the infants in all the groups to measure their cortisol levels and the researches found over 12 months that there was no increase in chronic stress levels for any of the infants.

All of the children were initially taking 20 minutes to fall asleep, but after only one week, children in both the graduated extinction group and the bedtime fading group were falling asleep within 5–10 minutes and that maintained throughout the rest of the year. However, the control group still took 20 minutes to fall asleep.

If staying away completely while your baby cries it out still gives you the shudders, you may be more comfortable trying the bedtime fading approach, which can feel like a slightly more gentle option. Sleep training with your infant will not only be great for the little one, but you’ll also get some more of that snoozing time you’ve been dreaming of. 

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