When people think of sleep training, they often assume Cry It Out is the only option because CIO has become synonymous with sleep training. It is controversial and wildly misunderstood and often executed improperly. For some families, it gives too much anxiety to hear the child cry and for others, it is easier to just close the door and not continually enter the room. Whatever works for your family is the right choice for you. I often hear these questions about sleep training and CIO so I hope to dispel some of the common concerns for you.
When do you advise parents to consider sleep training?
The short answer is whenever they are ready. If whatever you are doing is no longer working or no longer feels sustainable, and you are ready to commit to a plan, then it is time to sleep train. and it is life-changing. If that doesn't apply to you, then there is no need to sleep train. As for an age-appropriate time, it is recommended to begin sleep training around 4 months as this is the time that baby's circadian rhythm begins to develop and baby is now more alert and susceptible to environmental changes and stimuli. This is also when Baby will start to recognize a routine if you've been doing one. 4-6 months is the sweet spot but it's never too late. I work with children up to 6 years old. It's whenever the family is ready to make the change towards better sleep habits.
Is it dangerous to sleep train too early?
For the first 3 months, I teach 'sleep shaping' or 'sleep conditioning'. It is not sleep training but rather it is setting the building blocks and laying a healthy sleep foundation in 1st 16 weeks of life. With the proper foundation and support, newborns can learn to fall asleep independently but without SLEEP TRAINING. It's about creating healthy sleep habits, a proper sleep environment, and predictable routines so this is what they know and we don’t have to break these habits later.
Infants have two sleep cycles, Active and Quiet and slip directly into REM-like sleep (Active sleep) upon nodding off, so if you try to put them down now they will wake up, whereas everyone else experiences several sleep phases before entering REM. This change from 2 sleep cycles to 4-5 sleep cycles is often what people refer to as the 4 month sleep regression when what really is happening is a biological change in the sleep cycle. It is around this time that their circadian rhythm begins to develop and their sleep cycles mature, that sleep training is appropriate.
Sleep training, or sleep education as I prefer to call it, is simply teaching a child how to fall asleep, independently. It is about parents setting up ideal environments suitable for healthy sleep for their child; creating a routine, facilitating behavioral changes, establishing boundaries, and teaching the child to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.
Do I have to use Cry It Out to sleep train?
Nope! It is a method that works when executed properly. But it is definitely not for every family. I support families who choose to use this method. No judgment from me. There are several other methods and I help parents choose the right option for their family dynamics and parenting style. Depending on your child's age and temperament, there are several options we can look at. These are the 5 main methods, although for the older toddlers already in a bed there are more options like Kissing Game, Bedtime Passes, and more!
To best help your family and see what's the right choice for you and how I can help you reach your goals, schedule a free sleep assessment!
Is Cry It Out harmful?
Crying may cause parents anxiety but there is no evidence that CIO, or any form of sleep training is psychologically or physically damaging to babies and children nor is it damaging to the relationship between parent and child. CIO has no adverse effect on attachment and behavioral development. 'cry it out' has no long-term harmful impact.
There have been follow-up studies done, one such study by Price, Wake, Ukoumunne and Hiscock found that 5 years later, there was no evidence of emotional, or behavioral issues, or subsequent mental health or long-term harm.
It is important that any sleep training method be done in a safe sleep environment.
I pose this question, which has more crying? A) spending just a few nights with crying teaching your child to sleep independently (when done correctly CIO typically takes 3 days) or b) months and months of crying with sleepless nights because the child doesn't know how to self-soothe? A few nights are better for the child's development and everyone's long-term health.
The impact that sleep deprivation can have on parents and children is more harmful than crying. Poor or lack of sleep for parents impacts mood, is associated with maternal depression and PPD, and decreases your patience and ability to focus. The Myth Busters did a segment that driving drowsy is like driving drunk and jeopardizes the safety of your family and everyone on the road. Healthy, well-rested parents are better parents.
Sleep benefits all humans just like you need sleep, so does your baby. Restorative sleep is needed for health and development, which promotes healthy immune systems, metabolic health and digestion, emotional regulation, behavior regulation, attention, mood, the ability to store memories, comprehend or process what was learned during the day, physical growth, weight and improved mental health.
Can you explain how to use CIO so that it is most effective?
For the method to be effective, parents go through their bedtime routine, make sure all basic needs have been met, and if so, say goodnight and close the door. They do not return until morning. Many times I hear that parents have tried CIO but then admit to going in the room to soothe the child at some point overnight. That is not CIO. If parents have the bedtime too late, the child is not napping, or the parents are going in the room to soothe the child instead of truly leaving them until morning, then it is ineffective.
If parents do use Cry It Out, is there a "max" amount of time a baby can cry for?
This is where the misconception and misunderstandings about CIO comes from. To properly execute CIO, the parent says goodnight and doesn't return until the morning, assuming the child has not pooped, need to be fed, or vomited.
Can Cry It Out be used for naps or just bedtime sleep?
The most important thing for parents to know when sleep training is to be consistent. I recommend parents use whatever method they choose at both naps and bedtime to avoid confusing the child.
Okay, so is there a form of sleeping training you recommend the most?
It depends on the child's age and specific situation and family parenting style. No child is the same and sleep training is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If the child is still in a crib, I often like to do a version of Check and Console where you set the timer for a set time and check on and console the child. This method gives the child space and the opportunity try to fall asleep without parental disruption. It's similar to Ferber but you keep the timer at the same duration whereas Ferber does ( IMHO confusing) increasing intervals. If the child is already in a bed or we're trying to get the child out of the parent's bed and into their own, the Chair Method may be a good option. If the child refuses to stay in bed, there are several options that use positive rewards to incentivize the child to stay in bed. A lof sleep training is also behavior coaching and teaching the parents how to respond.
I hope this helped clarify what CIO truly is. If you still have questions about CIO I am happy to answer them for you. Just send me an email! Perhaps you're ready to make a change in your child's sleep situation but don't know where to start. Let's schedule a sleep assessment and together we can choose a sleep method that is right for your child.