Cry It Out Sleep Training (CIO)

Before you begin down the path of Cry-it-Out (“CIO”), please read my post about Independent Sleep Practices and How to Sleep Train first. These are important starter posts to make sure this is the right step for you. 

If you are ready to begin CIO, dig in below. 

Cry-it-out (otherwise known as “CIO”) is the method of sleep training process that calls for the allowance of your baby to whine, fuss and shed some tears for a set period of time, gradually increasing the intervals of time before an interventions occur.

The goal of this sleep training process is to help teach children to self-soothe – allowing them to obtain the skills to fall asleep on their own, stay asleep, and go back to sleep when they stir/wake-up during the night. Supporters of the CIO method say that by about 6 months old, babies understand that crying and fussing can lead to be picked up, cuddled, rocked, or nursed — and who doesn’t want that? At this point, that isn’t a need, but a desire or habit. As long as you baby isn’t hungry, in pain or otherwise need physical or medical attention – they are likely just looking for a good snuggle or suckle. 

To begin CIO: 

  • Have a solid plan laid out: Know which method you are going use, understand the process and be on the same page as your spouse/partner.
  • Be consistent: Sleep training can take days (to weeks). It has to be reinforced, sometimes, over years. Being consistent is your golden ticket. 
  • Expect sleep loss: Ugh. If you weren’t losing sleep before, now you really might. Be prepared. Know that this short stint of sleep loss will be for the good of your future restful nights!
  • Expect it to be hard on you: Sleep training can be anxiety inducing and emotionally hard on parents. If one person feels less affected than the other, they might need to be “team lead” on the process. Remember, it’s probably much harder on you than your baby.
  • Make it a team effort: Sleep training can be really tough emotionally and physically. Making sure you have a support system in your spouse/partner or someone else you can text in the middle of the night when things get rough (like another mom friend going through the same!) is a good idea from the start. 

Cry-it-out doesn’t have to be as terrible as it sounds. For some people it is much easier than expected – lasting only a night to a few nights and even then, perhaps not being as drawn out those evening as it could be. For others it is harder than expected (er, like us!). “CIO” methods don’t mean you have to let your poor baby sob all night without some comfort – but you do have to have some stamina for the crying. That one was tough on me. I knew my baby was okay (and would be okay!) but the anxiety the crying induces in me is on the (super) high end of the scale. 

Getting Started:

  • Follow your baby’s standard evening routine, including a full feeding (it is helpful if that feeding is not the last thing on the routine list and leads to a sleeping baby, of course…). 
  • While he or she is still awake (but sleepy) put your baby in her crib.
  • Offer your child a gentle touch like a soft pat once they are in their crib to comfort them .
  • Softly tell your baby your goodnight slogan – “I love you, sweet dream” or what have you.
  • Leave the (dark) room quietly, without waiting for him/her to fall asleep. 
  • Now, you might hear some protesting, keep going on your way….
  • Let her/him cry for a full five minutes (yeah, that is going to seem like forever). 
  • Go back in and try to gently smooth your child while they lay in the crib. 
  • Only if you absolutely must, lift your baby to comfort them and put them back down awake within a few moments.
  • Sometimes it is more successful for the father to go into the room for these intervals since Mom is often associated with feedings and comfort.
  • Again, leave the room once your baby is laying on their backs in the crib, awake. Hopefully they are comforted, but you have to leave nonetheless.
  • Repeat this process .
  • Extend the time you leave him or her alone by about 3-5 minutes each time until he or she falls asleep. You are going to stretch the time that your baby spends on these alone interval both over the course of the night and the following nights. 

Let’s face it, you are bound to have a couple of rough nights (or even a week). Staying awake, repeating this process, listening to your baby cry – it’s all hard. Try to keep in mind, crying won’t hurt her in the long run. You’re doing your child a favor by helping them learn to go to sleep on her own and thus get better and more sleep. Hopefully, this also leads to more sleep for you in the long run! A more well rested parents equals better parenting. Am I right?

Rest assured, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study in 2012 in Pediatrics advocating sleep training as healthy and important when it comes to development. Their research suggested that babies sleep trained were not at a higher risk of emotional, behavioral or psychological problems by age 6.

Intervals suggestions:

  • Night 1: Leave for 3-5 minutes the first time, 6-8 minutes the second time, and 10 minutes for the third and all subsequent waiting periods.
  • Night 2: Leave for 5-7 minutes, then 10-12 minutes, then 12-15 minutes.
  • Ongoing: Make the intervals longer on each subsequent night.

Important reminder: There is nothing magical about these waiting periods. It’s not an exact science. You can choose any length of time you feel comfortable with – it could be more or a bit less – especially depending on your own child’s temperament, endurance, etc.

Lots of parents who try CIO find that their child’s crying reduced slowly over 2-4 nights. Crying may virtually disappear within the week. However, keep in mind that all children and families are not built alike. Some children take weeks. For others – this method won’t work. Like mine, frankly. We tried CIO over a month and a half and it just taught my son to cry longer (which I really, really don’t think is the case for most families!). We ended with the extinction method in the end. 

CIO works for a lot, a lot of kids. It is tough, it takes planning and patience but when it works, it works and everyone sleeps happier and more. Godspeed!