Attention parents who are at your wit's end wanting your baby to sleep through the night! A new study published in the June 2016 issue of Pediatrics finds that, contrary to popular belief, letting your little one "cry it out," a behavioral method of sleep training otherwise known as graduated extinction, does not cause a baby stress.
Australian researchers looked at 43 infants ages six to 16 months in a study called "Behavioral Interventions for Infant Sleep Problems: A Randomized Controlled Trial." They tested out two common infant sleep training interventions that parents try when their babies aren't sleeping through the night by six months of age: graduated extinction and bedtime fading, which involves delaying an infant's bedtime gradually each night in the hopes he or she will get drowsier over time, and eventually conk out!
Interestingly, the babies whose parents used the graduated extinction method fell asleep an average of 13 minutes sooner and woke up much less often at night versus a control group. Sounds like a victory, right? Especially since the babies who cried themselves to sleep did not exhibit higher stress levels, which researchers tested via their salivary cortisol readings. Parents weren't more stressed out, either, and measurements of parent-child attachment didn't show signs of being adversely affected.
As a mom who had great success with the "cry it out" method, I am glad to learn about this study's findings. Indeed, my kids seem very well-adjusted, and quite honestly, have wonderful sleep habits overall. I feel that everyone in our house now gets a good night's sleep in large part due to establishing a strict bedtime, and expecting my children to sleep through the night when they were infants—yes, even if they cried!
But "crying it out" isn't for everyone, as the lead researcher of this study Michael Gradisar, Ph.D., director of the Flinders University Child & Adolescent Sleep Clinic in South Australia, acknowledges. He wants parents to know that the bedtime-fading group also fell asleep more quickly versus the control group, by 10 minutes—which in sleep-deprived parent world, can feel like an hour! Meanwhile, these babies did not wake up more versus the control group.
The takeaway: Babies need sleep, as do parents. Trying different techniques (or at least these two!) to achieve healthy sleep habits will not harm your baby for life!
What approach to getting a good night's sleep works best for you and your baby?
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.