Once a new baby joins a family one of the first questions I am often asked is, “when will my baby sleep thru the night?”. SLEEP is one thing that all parents crave and for one reason or another many parents with infants over 6 months of age, complain that their baby is still not “sleeping through the night”. If your baby or child is not sleeping well, that typically means that parents are having disturbed sleep as well.
By 6 months of age a baby should be able to self soothe and fall asleep on their own and the majority of babies are sleeping 10-12 hours thru the night as well. After many years of practicing pediatrics and dealing with my own children’s sleep issues, I spend quite a bit of time with my patients discussing healthy sleep habits. Like most things, it is easier to start off with good habits and bedtime routines.
So….when parents come in at the 6 month visit and are concerned about their baby’s sleep and awakenings I typically discuss “letting their baby cry it out”. This advice is met with varying responses. Some parents are ready to get a good night’s sleep and will do “anything”, while others think I am “a mean doctor” and would “never let their baby cry”. Like most things it is not always black and white and that is why we have chocolate and vanilla. But, in my experience, the sooner you deal with sleep issues the faster they seem to resolve…
A recent article in Pediatrics should now reassure parents that they are not “harming their baby” by letting them “cry it out” which is called graduated extinction. The study done in Australia found that infants whose parents let them “cry it out” fell asleep 13 minutes sooner than a control group and woke up less often during the night, and had no significant differences in stress levels (based upon salivary cortisol levels). The study also found no long term effects on parent-child attachment. All good news for some sleepless parents who are considering this method to get their baby to sleep through the night.
The researchers also looked at another behavioral sleep training intervention called “bedtime fading” which some feel is a “gentler” method of sleep training. In this case a baby’s bedtime is delayed with the thought that a sleepier child will fall asleep faster and may not cry as long. This may be an easier method for some parents who continue to be anxious about “graduated extinction”. This too showed that infants fell asleep sooner than controls but they showed no change in the number of nighttime awakenings.
Bottom line, sleep is important for the entire family ….all ages. This article should hopefully go a long way in reassuring sleep deprived parents that a baby’s cries are not harmful and may actually get everyone to sleep faster, longer and more peacefully….you just have to believe the research and hang in there.