A new study suggests that letting a baby cry himself to sleep might be beneficial for both him and his parents. The paper is published in the journal Pediatrics. Should parents let their babies cry themselves to sleep or should they attempt to calm them? This is definitely one of the hottest debates that has divided humans into two groups. Some argue babies should not be left on their own, and should, instead be comforted, because doing otherwise is cruel. Yet others say that leaving them to cry is actually for their own good. A new study happens to support the latter view. Furthermore, the findings also go so far as saying that the method might help the parents have a better night’s sleep.
Letting a baby cry until he falls asleep is a behavioural technique known as “graduated extinction”. Basically, parents adhering to this method ignore the cries of their babies while also keeping an eye of them at specific times defined by increasing intervals. This technique is thought to impact on the child such that he decreases his crying routine when realising that noone will come to take him in his arms, and it is thought that he will thus enjoy a better sleep.
Doesn’t this sound cruel to your ears? The researchers of the new study, hailing from Flinders University, beg to differ. According to them, graduated extinction might lead to longer sleep for both the baby and the parents.
One of the authors, Michael Gradisar, explains that their study might contribute to how parents will manage their own sleep behaviour, and that of their children, since sleep deprivation is linked with family distress and even maternal depression.
For the study, the parents of 14 infants used the graduated extinction method while another group of 14 babies were subjected to a ‘less harsh’ method whereby the child’s bedtime was delayed each night. This approach is called “bedtime fading”. The aim behind it is to make the baby drowsier so that he is more likely to get some sleep. The other babies were to act as controls, and no intervention was done for them. Also, all of the babies, otherwise, had trouble sleeping at night prior to the test.
The results show that the babies from the first group would fall asleep 13 minutes each night than those in the control group, and they would wake up less often during the night.
The babies of the second group fell asleep 10 minutes (on average) sooner than those from the control group, but, no difference was found in the frequency at which they would wake up in the night.
On the other hand, all the babies had similar levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and, therefore, similar stress levels. Furthermore, no major difference was found among the groups when it came to parental stress and mood, and in parent-child attachment; nor did the researchers find any difference in the emotional and behavioural aspects of the infant.
Parents are still concerned about the graduated extinction method though, write the authors. However, they point out that their findings show that the technique is not harmful. The researchers conclude that graduated extinction and bedtime facing might be beneficial for both the babies and the parents. However, they do add that more research has to be done before their results can be confirmed.