Study adds fodder to whether parents need to let their babies 'cry it out'
January 16, 2013By Maiken Scott
A new study from Temple University is adding fuel to the fire in an ongoing parenting debate — what to do when babies wake up crying in the middle of the night?
Let's make one thing clear - nobody sleeps through the night. No adults, no babies, we all wake up frequently, but how we, or more specifically how babies handle returning to sleep is at the heart of a fierce parenting debate that has been raging for ages.
Basically, there are two camps. The "comforters" and the "figure it out, kid" parents. They accuse each other of being "soft on crying" or "too tough on innocent babies."
The Temple study basically tracked sleep habits of infants from age six-months to three-years, but it has been interpreted as a sure-fire sign that parents should let their kids cry it out by many news reports. Not so fast says lead researcher Marsha Weinraub.
"What we were able to do was to describe different types of patterns that many children followed over time in terms of their sleep awakenings," explained Weinraub, a developmental psychologist.
Weinraub says the study found that by six months, the majority of infants soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake. One third doesn't, and that group then tends to take some time to get there, some until they're three years old. In this study, the babies who continue to cry upon waking up share certain characteristics said Weinraub.
"They were more likely to be generally fussy, or to have more difficult temperaments, more likely to have an illness at the time, such as respiratory or gastro-intestinal illness," she said. Weinraub added that the babies also were more likely to be male, and more likely to have mothers who during the day time were also more sensitive in general to them.
Weinraub says she believes that there may be a correlation between parents' response to babies' night-time crying and the amount of time it takes them to learn how to soothe themselves back to sleep. But she is not in the business of giving parenting advice.
"Parents who are more responsive to their children, parents who are nursing are more likely to respond to their children," she said. "So these children may take longer to learn how to return to sleep on their own, I said that, and that sparked 'let your child cry it out'"
Weinraub says eventually, babies learn how to soothe themselves back to sleep — but getting there can take a big toll on families.
Now she is studying whether early sleep habits affect self control and the ability to sleep as people age.