Last updated October 3rd, 2020
Cry it out method for sleep training is otherwise known as the extinction method. It is a sleep training technique that lets you put your baby to bed and allow him or her to “cry it out” until he or she falls asleep without your help. How is it done? What are its benefits? Does it have risks?
The cry it out method of sleep training that is practiced by many parents in the country. It allows babies to learn how to self-soothe faster and parents to catch up on lost sleep.
It won’t keep your baby from waking up in the middle of the night, but it will help him or her fall asleep without assistance or “self-soothe”. This is an important skill that older kids and adults have developed which allows us to fall asleep without someone holding, patting, or rocking us.
It is a controversial method that has its own list of risks and benefits outlined below:
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Benefits of cry it out method for sleep training
- Babies learn to self-soothe, which lessens the workload for parents in putting their child to bed. There will be no rocking or patting involved. All you will need to do is to put your baby down after their nighttime routine (bottle, brush, and bath).
- Parents will be more rested and have more time to finish up chores at night without the added stress of trying to put the baby to sleep.
- If it works, it works faster than other sleep training methods. Accordingly, much of the crying decreases dramatically after the third night and most babies will be able to self-soothe to sleep after a week or two.
Disadvantages of cry it out method for sleep training
- It could be stressful for the parents to hear their babies cry for prolonged periods during sleep training. Parents may have to listen to their babies cry for an hour before they can sleep. This may go against your natural maternal instincts to tend to your baby’s cries.
- A study revealed that infants’ stress hormones remained high even after they have fallen asleep after crying it out.
- Some babies can get so worked up with crying that they end up vomiting which is an added stress to parents who may worry about their baby’s wellbeing and have some extra mess to clean up at night.
- Babies are still not developed enough to recognize that they are just being put to bed and may think that their parents have abandoned them for good at night.
Alternatives to cry it out method for sleep training
The full-on extinction method may not work out for all families. Some babies get so worked up that their stress translates into physical effects such as vomiting. While some parents may feel that it is not fair or humane to just leave their baby in emotional distress every night.
However, if you still think that you need to do something to help your baby learn how to sleep on his or her own, there are gentler approaches you can try. The techniques mentioned below are modified versions of the cry it out method that makes it a lot easier for parents and babies to gradually ease into sleep training.
Ferber Method (Graduation Extinction)
This sleep training program was developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, former director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boson Children’s Hospital. This method is also known as gradual extinction or Ferberization.
The program allows parents to gently coax their baby to sleep on their own same as the original extinction method. However, parents can enter their child’s room to provide some comfort to their child in increasing length of intervals.
For example, after you put your baby down to sleep and walk out of their room, you may enter back in after five minutes if they start crying to comfort them. If they start crying again, you can enter after seven minutes, then after every ten minutes as needed until your child eventually falls asleep.
On the following days, the length of time between comforting increases . Babies eventually learn to self-soothe in this method of sleep training knowing that mom or dad did not abandon them for good. Since the time between visits increase, babies eventually get tired and decide that it’s not worth the effort of crying for mom or dad, knowing that you’re just there anyway.
This method is also easier on parents since they don’t feel as guilty leaving their child to cry alone at night, feeling abandoned. You still make your presence and protection felt by your child.
Camping Out Method
In the camping out method, parents put down the infant down on their crib at bedtime and “camp out” beside them until they fall asleep. You can either use a mattress or a chair, or you can opt to sit on the floor beside their crib.
In the first few nights, you can pat or stroke your baby until they fall asleep. Gradually reduce the number of pats and the frequency of patting with each night that passes until your baby no longer needs to be pattted to sleep. You can leave the room once you baby falls asleep.
In the following nights, you gradually detach yourself from them by increasing your distance by a foot or two each night from their bed towards the middle of the room and then the doorway, until you are out of the room.
The camping out method is perfect for older babies and kids who are anxious about sleeping on their own. It gradually introduces them to the feeling of sleeping by themselves while having mom or dad support them with their presence throughout the process until they can finally do it on their own.
How to safely and effectively carry out sleep training
If you’ve decided on a sleep training method, here are a few things you can keep in mind and practice to make things as safe and as easy as possible.
Make sure your baby is at the right age
Several sources point out that the “sweet spot” for sleep training is somewhere between 4 to 6 months. This is because it is the period where your baby is big enough to not need nighttime feeds. Younger babies may be prone to low blood sugar or dehydration if left without a midnight feed.
It is also the period where they usually have not yet developed strong sleep associations. This means that they still have not gotten so used to your rocking, patting, or feeding them to sleep and any habit that may have formed can still be easily broken.
Missing the sweet spot may make it a bit harder for your baby to transition to sleeping on her own because she’s gotten so used to your intervention. However, if you’ve tried within the given period and have maxed it out without success, it may mean that sleep training is just not right for you and your baby. She may become ready eventually in a few months.
Establish a consistent routine
A key point in sleep training success is consistency. Consistency is not only good for you but for your baby too. It will prevent giving your baby mixed signals as to what you are trying to do and will only confuse and stress them out.
One of the ways you can establish consistency is to develop a bedtime routine with a specific order. It does not have to be complicated at all. A nighttime bottle, brush, a bath, and some cuddles before putting them down is a simple but effective routine if followed consistently.
Be sensitive to your baby’s cues
Knowing when your little one is tired and ready for bed is a skill that you have to master in order to sleep train. At the same time, knowing if there is something really wrong which is causing your little one to cry at night is so important.
Making sure that your baby is not hungry, wet, sick, or in pain is one of the main things you need to tick off if you plan to let her cry it out. Otherwise, there may be an underlying medical condition that you will not be able to catch in time.
The cry it out sleep training method is a predominantly American practice as it was invented by American pediatrician Luther Emmet Holt in his book “The Care and Feeding of Children: A Catechism for the Use of Mothers and Children’s Nurses“
For most cultures around the world, sleep for babies is quite different. Family beds are completely normal, and children do not sleep in their own space for at least until they are four years old.
I am personally a proponent of co-sleeping as it is the cultural norm. However, for other parents who are desperate for some space and a solid six to eight hours straight of sleep at night, I understand why the Cry it Out method is a need.
Overall, whatever works for the wellbeing of everyone in your house, and for as long as your baby is safe and healthy, sleep training should be a completely personal choice between the family.