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The truth behind leaving babies to ‘cry it out’

Niamh Spence

Published 
| Last updated 

The truth behind leaving babies to ‘cry it out’

Featured Image Credit: Tetra Images/Aliaksei Lasevich/Alamy Stock Photo

Sleep training is something every parent has discussed when their baby struggles to get some shut eye.

Now, the truth behind the controversial 'cry it out' method has been revealed, with sleep researchers revealing whether or not it actually works.

Leaving a baby to 'cry it out' – or sleep training as it's also known – works off the idea that a baby will eventually learn to self soothe and put themselves to sleep. This can mean they don't need to be rocked or cuddled to sleep by a parent, and are more independent.

The 'cry it out' method has been a controversial topic in parenting for many years. Credit: Pixabay
The 'cry it out' method has been a controversial topic in parenting for many years. Credit: Pixabay
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However, the technique has been met with criticism, as some argue that it's distressing to babies and can affect their emotional development due to the stress hormone cortisol being released.

The debate of whether it's good or bad has been ongoing for many years, which can make it difficult for new parents to know whether it's the right or wrong technique to try.

A 2015 study of 235 families with six-to-eight-month-old babies by Canadian paediatric sleep researcher Wendy Hall revealed whether the 'cry it out' method actually works.

The experiment methods were two-fold, using sleep diaries the parents filled in as well as actigraphy, tracking sleep-wake patterns.

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A 2015 study revealed whether the sleep training method actually does or doesn't work. Credit: Pixabay
A 2015 study revealed whether the sleep training method actually does or doesn't work. Credit: Pixabay

At the end of the six week experiment, those parents trying the 'cry it out' method felt their babies were sleeping for longer and waking up less at night, which they recorded in their diaries. However, the sleep tracking data showed there was no change between those babies being sleep trained and the ones that weren't.

In other words, parents who sleep-trained their babies thought their babies were waking less but actually the infants were waking just as often, they just weren't waking up their parents.

Despite not unveiling whether sleep training did in fact turn babies into miracle sleepers, Hall still sees the experiment as a success. She explained: "What we were trying to do was help the parents to teach the kids to self-soothe.

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"So in effect, we weren't saying that they wouldn't wake.

"We were saying that they would wake, but they wouldn't have to signal their parents. They could go back down into the next sleep cycle."

The sleep training technique can mean a baby learns how to self soothe, but some argue it can be distressing. Credit: Pixabay
The sleep training technique can mean a baby learns how to self soothe, but some argue it can be distressing. Credit: Pixabay

However, the research experiment did find that sleep training had one positive benefit.

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Apparently, it improved the length of time babies would sleep for - which saw an improvement of 8.5 percent, with sleep-trained infants sleeping for 204 minutes compared to 188 minutes for the other babies who hadn't been left to cry or been sleep trained.

A knock on effect from the experiment also saw parents that were sleep training feel more rested, despite their babies not actually waking less. As a result of them not being woken by their infants, they felt refreshed and recharged. They reported having better moods, higher-quality sleep and less fatigue.

So while the scientific experiment found some benefits, the jury is still out on whether sleep training can truly help a tiny tot to sleep better or not.

Topics: Parenting, Health, Life

Niamh Spence
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