If you’re lucky, your kid will fall asleep when you want him to, won’t make a peep all night and will wake up just as your eyes are fluttering open. Of course, this is also a dream where there are rainbows with pots of gold at both ends and unicorns flying about. Because babies, well, they don’t abide by any rules. They just are.
A new study has found a way for babies to fall asleep sooner, but it’ll be controversial for some. If you set your babies down and let them cry themselves to sleep, they’ll go to sleep quicker and according to research, it doesn’t appear to have any harmful effects on the little ones.
The study — led by Michael Gradisar, an associate professor at Flinders University in Australia and director of the school’s Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic — tested two techniques with 43 infants between the ages of six and 16 months who had trouble falling asleep and were getting up often in the middle of the night.
First was graduated extinction (also known as the Ferber method), where the babies are left on their own for longer periods of time to cry it out before the parents came in and comforted them until they fell asleep.
The second is bedtime fading, in which the child’s bedtime is slowly moved later and later, in the hopes that he/she will become exhausted and fall asleep that much easier. Though, technically, isn’t that the hope of the first technique? Where they cry and cry and cry to the point where they’re just spent and eventually pass out? Potayto, potahto. Anyway…
Gradisar says both techniques are effective and “don’t necessarily lead to negative outcomes.” According to the research, published in the journal Pediatrics, babies fell asleep faster with both techniques. One of the goals of the study was to test claims that letting your baby cry it out is stressful for infants and “had the potential for damage,” Gradisar told CBC News. Stress level was determined by measuring levels of the hormone cortisol in the infants’ saliva, with researchers concluding they couldn’t detect immediate stress during the treatment. The study also checked out the infants 12 months later and didn’t find significant differences in parental attachment or behavioural problems.
It should be mentioned that this was a small study and since it counters previous studies, more in-depth research will probably be useful.
So while it’s a totally stressful thing for parents to go through, our crying babies should be just fine. The Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic does recommend that parents try bedtime fading first and only resort to letting them cry it out when they are 100 per cent committed and willing to set aside a few days to follow through. Will you feel guilty? Of course. But that’s just part of the deal when it comes to parenting.