Good News! The "Cry It Out" Method Isn't Harmful to Babies, Says New Study

Contrary to popular belief, implementing the "cry it out" method doesn't cause more stress for babies.

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.

Listening to your baby cry it out can be heartbreaking. Here are some tips to make sleep training easier on both you and your baby.

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.

Ilana Wiles shares her experience on sleep training her children.

1 Comment

  1. Actually, “on the contrary” you might as well just beat your kid to sleep because cry it out is just as damaging. There is overwhelming evidence that CIO is not an acceptable technique and I’ll speak from personal experience, 1 out of my 3 kids I used CIO and she stopped gaining weight & her head stopped growing for several months and I attributed it to decreased bm supply so I started supplementing. But I don’t think that was it because I have great supply. Now she’s 2 and her speech is awful compared to where her older sister was at at this age, she doesn’t speak sentences, & she is 10 times more unruly as her older sister was & no punishment phases her. If I had known what I know now I never would have let her cry. Just crying in general has detrimental psychological & physiological effects on babies. Eventually these babies will make up society as a whole and there’s a reason that there’s masses of people with clinical depression, anxiety (side effect of CIO) among many many other resulting factors of using this technique. There’s many other remedies easily found online. My best friends newborn didn’t sleep through the night for the first 11 days, always woke up 5 mins after she was put in her crib, I suggested what I personally do with my baby at night and it worked like a charm for her. Lay down sideways in bed with baby & let her nurse herself to sleep, make sure there’s a pillow on her side so she feels protected (by shoulders so head is clear) and then when she’s asleep sneak away & put another pillow on that side (away from head of course)... I co sleep because it makes my baby and me feel secure and safe. It’s the natural thing to do and a great bonding experience. There’s safe ways to do it. When baby’s are waking up from a content sleep in your arms from being laid in a crib it’s because they’re scared and want to feel your warmth and heartbeat, that’s where they’re naturally supposed to be, not isolated in a crib.

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