The Cry It Out Method: How It Works
Updated Jan 4th 2023 | 7 min read
Updated Jan 4th 2023 | 7 min read
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.
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IN THIS ARTICLE:
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.
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:
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.
To begin Cry It Out, follow these steps:
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.
No, cry it out does not hurt babies. Cry it out is safe and effective for sleep coaching.
Regardless of which sleep training method you use at night, cry it out is the best bet for nap time this is because
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Parental use of 'cry it out' in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18
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 .
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.