Almost all parents have tried this at least once in their life, even though it made them feel guilty of even thinking about trying it.
Completely exhausted and holding a sleepless baby who won’t stop wailing, you’ve decided to put him down and let him cry until the child drifts off to sleep. But fear no longer, science is on your side, as a new study says you haven’t emotionally scarred your kid for life.
Conducted by researchers at Flinders University in Australia, the study analyzed the effects of the controversial sleep method of letting the baby cry it out and compared it with another commonly used sleep technique.
For the study, researchers followed 43 infants for a period between six months to 16 months. Results showed that infants who cried themselves to sleep for increasingly long periods of time – also known as “graduated extinction” – were no more stressed than babies who had their bedtime moved later so they will fall asleep more quickly.
Both sleep methods helped babies fall asleep more quickly than infants whose parents were in the control group and were told to keep with their nightly routine. The results were published in the journal Pediatrics.
“It looks like you’ve got two effective treatments that don’t necessarily lead to negative outcomes,” explained Michael Gradisar, an associate professor at Flinders University in Australia.
The study was meant to challenge a previous research which suggested that graduated extinction had stressful effects on babies. To measure their stress levels, researchers analyzed the stress hormone cortisol in the infants’ saliva – once in the morning, and once in the afternoon.
By using ankle monitors, the team was also able to track how many times the babies in each group were waking throughout the night. Results showed babies put to sleep with graduated extinction did not have higher levels of cortisol during the treatment.
In the one-year follow-up, these babies did not present significant signs of parental attachment or behavior issues. Even though both techniques helped babies sleep faster, babies in the graduated extinction group seemed to stay asleep longer and wake less during the night.
The takeaway, however, is that each parent should do what works best for them and their child. And don’t judge the exhausted parent who has let their baby cry it out.
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