How long is too long for crying it out?

Quick Answers

There is no definitive answer for how long is too long to let a baby cry when sleep training using the crying it out method. Experts typically recommend waiting 5-10 minutes before going to comfort the baby for the first few nights, then gradually increasing the waiting period to 10-15 minutes if needed. Checking on the baby briefly after short intervals may be counterproductive. Most babies will fall asleep within 30-60 minutes. If crying persists beyond an hour the first few nights or shows no signs of improvement, a different approach may be better. Have realistic expectations, be consistent, consider the baby’s temperament, and try to stay patient through this challenging process.

What is crying it out?

Crying it out, also known as controlled crying or sleep training, involves putting your baby down awake in their crib at bedtime and allowing them to fall asleep on their own without physical comfort or assistance. The goal is to help your baby learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. This method often involves some crying, which is allowed during designated intervals, followed by brief check-ins and reassurances from parents without picking up or feeding the baby.

What are the typical steps?

Here are the usual steps for sleep training using the crying it out method:

  • Establish a calming and consistent bedtime routine ending with putting your baby in their crib awake.
  • Say goodnight and leave the room.
  • Wait a predetermined amount of time before checking on your baby (start with 5-10 minutes).
  • When checking, reassure your baby gently but avoid stimulating play or taking them out of the crib.
  • Increase the waiting intervals gradually as needed (up to 10-15 minutes).
  • Continue responding briefly at intervals until your baby falls asleep.
  • Be consistent and stick to your plan each night.

What age is best to start?

Most experts recommend waiting until your baby is at least 4-6 months old before starting a crying it out sleep training method. Here are some guidelines on age:

– 4-6 months: Early enough to prevent sleep problems. But some may still need night feedings.

– 6-9 months: Ideal “sweet spot” when babies are neurologically ready to self-soothe. Night feedings are less crucial.

– 9-12 months: More challenging due to separation anxiety and developing willpower. But establish self-soothing before toddlerhood.

– After 1 year: Harder to sleep train once toddler habits and delayed sleep phase kick in. Preventative training often easier.

Choose a time when your baby is healthy, developmentally ready, and your family schedule is relatively stable.

How do I know if my baby is ready?

Signs your baby may be ready for sleep training include:

– Falling asleep independently at bedtime but waking multiple times at night.

– No longer needing night feedings for nutrition (consuming 24+ ounces daily).

– Napping predictably with self-soothing at naptime.

– Increased separation anxiety signaling neurological development.

– Able to self-soothe for short intervals (sucking hand or pacifier).

– Recognizable sleep cues like eye rubbing and yawning.

If your baby is building these skills and meets the guideline age, crying it out could help connect sleep cycles. But pay attention to any signs of developmental unreadiness too.

What are the risks and concerns?

While crying it out can be effective, consider some potential downsides:

– Stress. Letting your baby cry can be extremely difficult for parents. Feelings of guilt, doubt, and helplessness are common.

– Disrupted trust. Some babies may resist soothing or appear wary of parents after crying it out. Rebuilding secure attachments is crucial.

– Nap resistance. Sleep training at night does not always carry over to daytime. Naps may need a different approach.

– Medical issues. Crying can aggravate reflux or breathing issues. Consult your pediatrician if health problems exist.

– Separation anxiety. Crying peaks around 6-9 months as stranger wariness develops. Training may briefly worsen separation protests.

– Parenting philosophy. The controlled crying aspect may seem incompatible with certain attachment parenting values and practices.

While use your judgement, understand the tradeoffs, and don’t feel pressured into any single approach. Your pediatrician can address any concerns about the risks.

What results can I expect?

Outcomes will vary but here are some general expectations if crying it out succeeds:

– Falling asleep faster. Bedtime struggles often decrease as babies learn to self-soothe to sleep.

– Longer stretches of continuous sleep. Sleep training helps consolidate night sleep patterns.

– Less night waking. Babies rely less on parental assistance to get back to sleep.

– Earlier morning wake ups. Sleep training aligns circadian rhythms resulting in earlier rise times.

– Short term increase in crying. Crying tends to escalate the first few nights but then improves.

– Variable daytime impact. Naps may or may not improve depending on your daytime approach.

– Developmental milestones. Self-soothing skills often translate into other arenas like play.

– Improved moods and behavior. Quality sleep impacts development, mood regulation, and behavior.

Remember results depend greatly on consistency, commitment, and your baby’s temperament. Be patient, responsive, and flexible through the ups and downs.

What are the guidelines around intervals?

There are no universal rules for how long to let your baby cry before checking on them when sleep training. But here are some common guidelines on intervals:

– Start shorter. Initially wait 5-10 minutes before responding, then stretch intervals to 10-15 minutes over the next few nights as needed.

– Extend gradually. Adding 5 minute increments each night (10 to 15 to 20 minutes etc.) may help gradually teach independent sleep.

– Typical limit: 10-15 minutes max. Most sleep consultants caution against leaving babies to cry for extended, excessive periods.

– Earlier bedtime. An earlier bedtime prevents baby from getting overly tired which can backfire.

– Modify if needed. Some babies may tolerate faster increments, while others need smaller steps based on temperament.

– Troubleshoot plateaus. If crying persists at the same level despite interval increases, you may need to change tactics.

– No intervals after night feedings. Respond promptly after night feeds to reinforce hunger not sleep issues.

Modify the plan based on patterns you observe and your instincts. Know that the initial stretch from 0 to 10 minutes is usually the biggest hurdle.

What techniques shorten the process?

Here are some tips that can help shorten the crying it out process:

– Maintain a calming bedtime routine – Bath, massage, lullaby, consistent schedule.

– Put baby down when drowsy but awake to practice falling asleep independently.

– Use “fuss it out” for 5-10 minutes of fussing before full blown crying sets in.

– Employ parental presence methods like camping out or sitting next to the crib.

– Play ambient white noise to muffle calls for attention.

– Use a pacifier to help soothe between check-ins, removing before sleep.

– Choose an early and consistent bedtime matched to natural sleepiness.

– Get outside more for daylight exposure to help circadian rhythms.

– Ensure baby gets enough daytime calories/intake to prevent night hunger.

– Make middle of the night checks brief, boring, and transactional.

Staying consistent is key. Use your instincts combined with these tips to decide what adaptations make sense for your unique baby.

How long until most babies fall asleep?

While each baby is different, on average, most infants successfully sleep train within 3-7 nights using the crying it out method. Here are some general guidelines:

– First 1-3 nights are toughest. Crying peaks and then improves with consistency.

– Initial crying may last 30-60 minutes but often settles faster.

– Sleep is usually achieved within 30-90 minutes at first.

– Total crying time reduces quickly within a week or two.

– Naps are often more stubborn and take longer to improve.

– Allow at least 2 weeks before assessing full results.

– Extend your timeline if needed based on temperament and cues.

If you’re committed to the process through ups and downs, most babies who are developmentally ready will learn to fall asleep independently within a month. But don’t compare your baby’s progress to others. Focus on consistency.

When should I consider stopping?

As a general rule, if consistent crying it out for 7-14 nights results in no improvement or worsening distress, it may be time to reassess. Consider stopping or switching methods if:

– Total crying time exceeds one hour on multiple nights.

– Your baby shows signs of intense distress like breath holding or hyperventilation.

– Crying reaches hysterical levels with no settling at intervals.

– Naps do not show improvement either.

– Your baby seems extremely overtired, stressed or confused.

– Medical issues like reflux or allergies remain untreated.

– Parents reach emotional breaking points from extreme sleep deprivation.

– Intuition tells you this method is incompatible with your baby’s needs.

Seek professional sleep guidance if you are committed but not seeing progress after 2-3 weeks. There are many approaches – be willing to change course if needed.

What are some alternatives?

If crying it out does not work for your family, consider these alternative sleep training methods instead:

Graduated Extinction: Also known as controlled crying. Let baby cry in short intervals of 2-5 minutes with parental check-ins.

Fading: Gradually move your presence away from the crib over successive nights.

Parental Presence: Sit in baby’s room as they fall asleep without physical contact.

Camping Out: Sleep next to baby’s crib for a sense of closeness at bedtime.

Pick Up/Put Down: Systematically pick baby up to calm crying then put back down awake to teach self-soothing.

No Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle techniques like white noise, swaddling, pacifiers and responsive settling.

Schedule Adjustments: Tweak waketimes or use an earlier bedtime rather than leaving baby to cry.

Mixed Methods: Combine approaches like graduated checks plus a later bedtime or camping out.

Work closely with your pediatrician to find an approach that aligns with your baby’s needs and your family values. Be flexible!

Does sleep training damage attachments?

This is a controversial question without definitive scientific consensus on either side. Some considerations on the attachment debate:

– Sensitive check-ins can provide reassurance when using crying it out. Brief intermittent contact may prevent detachment.

– Sleep trained babies usually remain responsive to parents overnight and reconnect quickly in the morning.

– Attachment derives more from consistent nurturing and responsiveness during waking hours.

– Allowing some fussing can teach resilience and self-soothing skills associated with secure exploration.

– Any sleep training should cease if baby shows lasting signs of resistance or distrust in parents.

– Precious sleep allows everyone to engage in more positive interactions during daylight.

There are always tradeoffs to weigh. Maintain reasonable limits, prioritize reconnection after sleep training, respond to baby’s cues, and make personalized choices that work for your family’s well-being.

Does it work for subsequent children?

Parents often wonder if they need to sleep train each additional child. Here are some insights on training with babies #2, #3 or more:

– It depends! Each baby has unique temperament and needs. Don’t assume all your children will be the same.

– Sleep associations reset after birth. So you often start from scratch even if firstborn was trained.

– Sleep training may go faster since you know what to expect. But unpredictability exists.

– Consider if current family realities allow focus on solo training. Toddlers can complicate consistency.

– Balance training multiple ages depending on your energy and resources. An all at once or staggered approach both work.

– Set reasonable goals based on your tools and time. Some fussing may be unavoidable with babies close in age.

– Seek help from your partner, friends and professionals as needed. You don’t have to do it all alone.

– Remember this stage won’t last forever! Call on your village and take it one day at a time.

Past success is no guarantee, but experience and community support will serve you well as you help each child develop healthy sleep habits in their own time and way. You’ve got this!


Crying it out can be a useful sleep training tool when applied thoughtfully and flexibly. Look for developmental readiness around 4-6 months and start conservatively with crying intervals of 5-10 minutes, extending gradually as needed. Most babies will successfully sleep train within 1-3 weeks. But each child has unique needs. Have realistic expectations, respond sensitively when checking, and don’t be afraid to change course if crying remains excessive or distressing over time. Sleep training should never harm attachment. With patience and consistency, both parents and babies reap the benefits of independent sleep. Trust your instincts and remember progress rarely follows a straight line. You know your child best.

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