With parents’ help, babies can learn to sleep like a baby

By Amy Wimmer Schwarb • Published: April 24th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Getting a baby to sleep through the night is a far cry from easy.

And on the battlefield of parenting, fewer lines are drawn as fiercely as the one between those who believe in responding instantly to an infant’s cries and those who advocate allowing a baby to cry without parental intervention.

A new study from Temple University won’t do much to soften those battle lines, but it will provide more arsenal for the cry-it-out camp.

Most babies, researchers found, can sleep through the night by age 6 months. Those who can’t were more likely to be boys and breastfed, and their playtime hours were affected, too: The babies tended to be more irritable and easily distracted than infants who slept through the night.

The mothers of these babies, meanwhile, were more likely to be depressed.

The findings left the psychologists behind the study with some big questions: Are depressed mothers more likely to have babies who have trouble sleeping, or does a persistently waking baby tend to lead to depression in moms?

Either way, researchers have a few suggestions for parents. First, put the baby to bed at a regular time every night. Second, allow them to fall asleep on their own, as opposed to nursing or cuddling them to sleep.

Finally — and this is the tough part, and the most controversial — don’t respond to every cry. Babies, like grownups, go through cycles in their sleep, and not every awakening requires parental intervention.

In other words, this research suggests, let a baby learn to comfort himself, for crying out loud.

And that just might help an infant move from crying like a baby … to sleeping like one.