October 5, 2016

Ask the Doctor – Should You Let Your Baby “Cry it Out” to Get to Sleep?

Shutterstock Baby Crying CribBy Lindsay F. Herbert, DO, Family Medicine
Mission Community Medicine Old Fort

Q: Should you let your baby “cry it out” to put him/herself to sleep?

A: There is no hard and fast rule here. It is all about what works for your family. Establishing a healthy sleep routine where your child can get themselves to sleep on their own – as in putting them to bed in an awake state and saying goodnight – will really pay off, but it can also be hard, especially if you’re doing it when they are well into their first year of life.

Before moving forward, I want to stress this does not apply to infants. Until about 6 months, infants may wake several times per night to eat. Certainly within the first few months, it is important that babies wake frequently to eat around every 2 to 3 hours.

There are many methods for “sleep training” and the goal is the same for all: to get your child to the point where they can get themselves to sleep on their own and if they wake during the night, to get themselves back to sleep. Listening to a child crying can be very difficult for parents. I would not recommend letting a child cry indefinitely. If you ever have a concern, by all means check on your kiddo! Always remember to practice safe sleep habits (not discussed in this post).

All children react differently and may “cry it out” for a period of several weeks before they establish a beautiful sleep routine, and some children may get the hang of a healthy sleep routine faster. There is a good amount of information that is easily found on “graduated” methods where you check on your child quietly at longer and longer intervals, or even spend time in the room with them as they are establishing their sleep routine.

The key to any sleep method you choose is consistency and routine.

Q: How much sleep does my child really need?

A: Sleep is KEY for growing brains! Children NEED sleep just like they need good nutrition. It helps them pay attention in school, play well with and learn from others, and early healthy sleep habits lead to adult healthy sleep habits.

Roughly speaking, toddlers and small children (18 months to 2 to 4 years) need 11 to 12 hours of sleep per night. That means their bedtimes need to be pretty early depending on when your household gets going in the morning. Smaller children within this group also need a 2 to 2.5 hour nap daily, on average. Ages 3 to 4 years need naps, too, but they may not be quite as long. School-aged children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. This recommendation continues through adolescence and even into high school years, with these ages needing a solid 9 to 10 hours of sleep to gain the most benefit.

Doing this successfully for the health of your child will be easier with a bedtime routine, especially for little ones. Find something that works for your family and encourage all family members and caregivers to stick to the plan.

Dr. Herbert and her colleagues see patients from the Mission Community Medicine Old Fort practice located at 32 East Main Street in Old Fort. They welcome patients of all ages. To schedule an appointment, call (828) 659-5741.