The Cry It Out Method: How It Works

Updated Jan 4th 2023 | timer 7  min read

Baby Cry it out method
Mandy Treeby

Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant

The Cry It Out Method (often referred to as extinction) is one of the most misunderstood sleep coaching methods – it’s also the most effective. Here I’ll explain what the cry it out method is, how to do the cry it out method, why cry it out is safe and how you can get started sleep training today.

If you’re looking to get support with sleep training and really don’t know where to start, take our free sleep assessment and download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers app. Get a personalized sleep plan along with step-by-step guidance (from yours truly) on how to improve your baby’s sleep and help them become strong independent sleepers.


IN THIS ARTICLE:


What is Cry It Out?

Before I describe the sleep training method Cry It Out, it’s first important to understand that the act of falling asleep is a learned skill. Just like learning to roll, crawl, grasp, walk and talk – your baby needs space and time to practise these important skills to master them – sleep is no different.

There is a common myth that sleep training is Cry It Out, however this is simply not the case. There are many ways to teach your baby to fall asleep and CIO or Cry It Out is just one approach.

Cry It Out is a colloquial term for a method of sleep training in which you give your baby everything they need (feeding, clean diaper, snuggles, dark sleep environment etc) and then after your bedtime routine, you place them in their crib (drowsy but awake) and give them the space and time to settle themselves to sleep.

Since this is often different to what they are used to (being fed to sleep, rocked to sleep etc) they may not like it at first – so it is likely met with crying and protesting. However, since it’s a non-parental involvement method, you leave them until they fall asleep – greeting them only the next morning.

This may sound harsh but Cry It Out is 100% safe – and very effective. In fact, it is most often the fastest way to teach your baby to become a strong independent sleeper.

Your baby already has self-soothing powers within them – they naturally know how to calm themselves and go back to sleep. The Cry It Out method helps them tap into that power faster than other sleep methods.

It’s also important to keep in mind that habit change is hard. No matter which sleep training method you choose, all will involve some level of crying and often the higher parental intervention methods serve to escalate crying as your baby doesn’t understand why you aren’t ‘doing what you used to do’ to help them get to sleep – even though you are there, and they can see you.

What Is the Best Cry It Out Age?

The best time to start sleep training your baby is around 4-months age adjusted, but it’s always best to get the all-clear from your pediatrician before starting.

It's absolutely ok to use the CIO (cry it out) method at from 4-months old, however some parents prefer to use an alternative method such as Ferber (timer method) or the chair method. Both of these methods are perceived as gentler and can be easier for the parent to deliver, however they are not always as easy for baby to understand. That said, Ferber/Timer and Chair sleep training methods can work well, especially for younger babies.

Most typically I recommend the CIO (Cry It Out) method for babies 8-months and older, for a few reasons:

  1. At 8-months your baby understands object permanence (the fact that you continue to exist even when they can’t see you) - this can make it hard for them to understand what’s happening when you come in and out of the room to reassure them and leave again and can serve to escalate the protesting.
  2. By 12-months+ many sleep habits and ‘wants’ become behavioural not to mention that your baby’s ability and stamina to protest increases with age too. Breaking sleep habits of a lifetime at this age is easier when delivered in a more black and white fashion.
  3. Parents are often so tired after suffering sleep deprivation for months and months on end, that they find it hard to consistently deliver other methods night after night, waking after waking - for the time needed to cement healthy sleep habits. The chair method can take 3-4 weeks, for example.

Does Cry It Out Hurt Babies?

No. Crying does not hurt babies at all. Crying is simply a baby’s go-to form of communication. Your baby cries when they’re tired, hungry, bored – when you move something they were looking at, when the cat sniffs them funny… You get the idea: Crying is how they communicate.

Luckily, your baby’s cries become more distinct as they grow and you yourself will be able to differentiate between their types of cries.

How Do I Do the Cry It Out Method?

To begin Cry It Out, follow these steps:

  1. Create a Sleep Nourishing Environment: We lay out the steps here, and the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ can walk you through the process, too, but generally you want three things in your baby’s room:
  • Darkness: Use blackout curtains to block all light – even a little sliver of sunlight or streetlamp can disrupt your baby’s sleep.
  • The Ideal Temperature: Babies sleep best in rooms that are 68-72° F, so set your thermostat to that range if possible.
  • Noise Machine: Keep the sound consistent and block out any unwanted noise (like barking dogs or traffic) with a white noise machine - this also mimics the sound of the womb and when used consistently can cue your baby it’s time for sleep.
  1. Create a Calm, Consistent Bedtime Routine: The set of actions you perform every night before bed, a calming bedtime routine soothes your baby before bed and creates a recognizable pattern that will start to cue them it’s time to sleep. Most importantly this routine gets them all the way to drowsy – but not yet asleep, and doesn’t include feeding (that should be separated from sleep completely).
  1. Put Your Baby Down Sleepy But Awake: The best bedtime for babies is around 7pm, earlier if naps don’t go well. If your baby’s wake windows are aligned with their sleep schedule, they will usually become more drowsy as the bedtime routine goes on. Regardless of when they become more drowsy, be sure to put your baby down before they’re completely asleep.
  1. Leave the Room: Give your baby the space and time to settle themselves to sleep. There are very few exceptions as to why you can enter the room (for example if your baby is in an unsafe position or has been sick), otherwise this method is all about letting your baby ‘do it themselves’. Once they fall asleep, if they wake in the middle of the night you still don’t enter the room. Your greenlight to go in is between 6-7am which is your baby’s ‘ok to wake time’.

How Long Does Cry It Out Take?

Typically, based on my experience and expert studies, when consistently delivered (meaning a parent does not enter the room after leaving their baby drowsy but awake) cry it out takes between 3-5 days to begin working and often can fully resolve sleep in 7-10 days. It’s the fastest and most consistently effective method for sleep coaching.

Does Cry It Out Hurt Babies?

No, cry it out does not hurt babies. Cry it out is safe and effective for sleep coaching.

Why Cry It Out is Best for Naps:

Regardless of which sleep training method you use at night, cry it out is the best bet for nap time this is because

  1. Naps are shorter and you therefore have less time to perform a longer sleep training process.
  2. Melatonin production during naps is lower, which means your baby’s sleep drive is lower than at bedtime, meaning they have more energy to protest. (Read more on the science behind sleep training)
  3. Your presence at nap time may stimulate your baby and counteract their ability to sleep.

How Long Does Sleep Training Take?

Most parents see improvements in just a few days with a simple schedule adjustment, but completely resolving overnight sleep and naps can take anything from 7 days to a month or more depending on the consistency of delivery, the personality of the baby and which sleep training method is being used.

Sleep Training is a holistic approach to your baby's sleep - this means fine tuning all the fundamentals of sleep including:

  • Making sure sleeps are happening when your baby is tired (biological timings)
  • Ensuring their sleep environment is conducive to sleep
  • Delivering sleep routines that cue baby it's time for sleep but don't put them fully to sleep

Once all of the above is in place you can use a consistent sleep training method (such as Cry It Out) to help teach your baby the act of falling asleep.

While your initial sleep training effort can work wonders for sleep at this moment in time, sleep training itself is a process that requires sporadic re-engagement as your baby grows. As your baby grows, so their sleep needs change – be it dropping naps, periodic “sleep regressions”, travel, teething etc – any or all of these may cause you to revisit sleep training.

FAQs:

How do you begin cry it out sleep training?

Before your first night of sleep training, you should make sure your baby’s bedroom is dark, the temperature is between 68-72° F, and there’s no outside noise to distract them. Next, go through your calming bedtime routine to settle your baby emotionally and physically. Finally, put your baby on their back in their crib and step away. If your baby cries, let them go until they fall asleep.

How long before I check on my baby during cry it out?

You will not physically check on your baby during cry it out unless they seem to be in danger, sick, or experiencing colic. We understand this can be hard – no one wants to listen to their baby cry – but cry it out is the fastest sleep training method, and we promise crying does not hurt your baby. To help ease your mind, we suggest watching through a baby monitor.

Is it alright if my baby is crying for an hour?

As long as your baby isn’t hungry, sick or injured, it’s fine to leave your baby to cry for an hour or more, this is an essential aspect of the Cry It Out sleep training method. While we understand it’s hard to hear your baby cry, rest assured that crying does not hurt your baby.

Will cry it out traumatize my baby?

No – there have been studies looking into this very issue and all of them agree: cry it out is perfectly safe, does not emotionally scar your baby and does not make your baby resent you.

Sources:

“Parental use of 'cry it out' in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 months,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
“Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial,” Pediatrics.
“Sleep and Early Brain Development,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.

Disclaimer:

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Back to Top