I get asked this question all of the time. Parents are understandably worried about how long their baby will cry during sleep training. It’s a terrible feeling when your child is crying even if you know it will help them sleep better long term.
No parent likes to hear his or her child cry. Some forms of sleep training (extinction or “cry it out (CIO)” strategies) may involve some crying. Parents often want to know how much crying to expect during this process. It is hard to answer this question with precision as it depends on the situation and the child. Some general rules of thumb:
- Older children may take longer to sleep train than younger children
- The second or third night may be the worst night (due to the “extinction burst”)
- Generally, the crying should be getting better by the end of the first week and is usually done by two weeks; if you do not notice improvement in this time frame it may be worth taking a break and revisiting this with your pediatrician.
- Most important: there is no evidence that crying during sleep training hurts children no matter what you read in the shadowy corners of the internet.
Fortunately, a 2018 study looked at real world sleep training and showed that crying peaked on the first day and resolved within a week. Unlike most other studies, there was no evidence of an extinction burst. Moreover, the parents were really happy with the resulting improvement in their child’s sleep.
I can tell you when I sleep trained my older boy at six months of age, he cried for TWO HOURS on the first night, then 20 minutes the next night, and we were done by night three. It sucked, but within a week he was sleeping through the night. What has your experience been?