Study Says it’s Okay to Let Babies Cry it Out


July 28th, 2016

Justin and Amber with their three children. (Courtesy Photo)

Justin and Amber Lacher with their three children. (Courtesy Photo)

A new study by researchers in Australia shows what happens when letting young children cry it out as they fall asleep. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott speaks to a clinician about the study and a couple who are raising three young kids to see if there are any ill effects associated with letting a baby ‘cry it out.’

Omaha, NE – Researchers from Flinders University in Australia wanted to find what, if any, undesirable effects were caused by letting kids cry themselves to sleep.

First, the study placed 43 parent-child sets into three randomized groups, each with its own method. One method, the ‘graduated extinction’ is sometimes referred to as ‘crying it out.’ Where the parents let the child cry until they fell asleep. The next group used bedtime fading, which is a process where parents slightly delay the child’s bedtime. The final group of parents only received information on sleeping and were told to use their normal routines.

Dr. Brett Kuhn is a professor of psychology for UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute. He has studied sleep in children for decades, authoring books and articles on the subject. He says it’s a simple equation.

“By twelve months of age, if a child is not sleeping through the night, somebody in the house is crying. If it’s not the child, then it’s the mom who’s not getting enough sleep.”

He says parents have been told not to let their kids cry it out – for a long time.

“The last ten or fifteen years, parents have been told they should not allow their child to cry themselves to sleep. Yet, all of the most effective interventions are comprised of some form of extinction or ‘ignoring,’ in order to teach the child to initiate sleep independently without parents help.”

The way researchers studied this process was by swabbing the cheek of the infant before bed and in the morning after sleeping. The cortisol swabs are then frozen, taken to a lab and analyzed. Dr. Kuhn says by using the hormone cortisol, researchers are using the best biological indicator of stress available. A hormonal increase in cortisol would represent a stressful situation.

The study showed parents who chose to let their baby cry it out did not have higher levels of cortisol. It also showed parents who used graduated extinction found their babies sleeping longer than infants in the other groups. It also showed both ‘crying it out’ and bedtime fading were found to be better than parents who continued prior routines. Dr. Kuhn says the study shows what he’s long believed, through years in the field.

“What this study adds to the literature – is it proves that there are no adverse effects to doing so.”

“It hits a certain point where it’s like – ‘okay, I can’t listen to that,’ I don’t think that’s healthy,” Amber Lacher said.

That’s Amber Lacher. She and Her husband Justin are raising three kids. The oldest is 10, the youngest is 14 months.

“With all three of them, we would run vacuums and they all went to bed with music, but number two she defies all sleeping studies and stories. She’s just is a lighter sleeper.

She says her biggest problem, when it comes to bedtime, has been her middle daughter.

“She’d cry and I’m just not willing to let her cry for that amount of time – she’s just too stubborn she would just not stop. She actually talked herself for forty five minutes one night and sort of falling back to sleep.”

She says she and Justin were surprised at how different each child was – even being raised by the same parents and the same way.

Oftentimes parents of newborn babies will struggle to get enough rest or even maintain a consistent sleep pattern. It’s been no different with Amber and Justin.

“I’ll let it go longer than Amber will, because we know that there’s you know there’s nothing wrong. She’s not hungry, she’s gone to the bathroom and she’s had a drink of water. So I’m more apt to like ‘Hey, it’s bedtime, you have to go to bed.’

Justin says as parents after a while, you start to know and understand your child’s cries, what they mean and, how to react. Amber says it doesn’t matter what study is released, she will raise her children how she sees fit.

“And at the end of the day you’re going to know what’s best for your kid and it is a little bit of trial and error and you just have to listen to your gut and if it doesn’t feel right to you to let your sit and scream, then don’t let them send scream.”

Dr. Kuhn says research shows bedtime fading is also beneficial to older children with developmental disabilities like autism.

So if the child falls asleep at 8:35, Dr. Kuhn says, then parents delay the bedtime until the time the child is more likely to all asleep. This increases what he calls the ‘homeostatic sleep drive’, helping the child fall asleep more quickly.

Dr. Kuhn says this adds to other studies and research which shows the same thing: nothing bad will come from allowing your child to gain self confidence in falling asleep on their own.


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