After years of colicky debate over which method is best for getting babies to fall asleep by themselves, experts have a soothing new message: just about all the techniques work, so pick one you are comfortable with and stick with it.
Despite their apparent differences, most of the behavioral approaches reviewed in the October issue of the journal SLEEP were supported by evidence that they resulted in infants and toddlers learning to fall asleep independently at bedtime and when they woke during the night. Of the 52 studies examined in the review, 49 showed positive results, with 82 percent of the infants and young children in the studies benefiting significantly.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what method you choose, including the old “let them cry themselves to sleep” method, as long as you’re consistent the child will learn to fall asleep on her own. But some methods were still slightly better than others.
The strongest evidence was found for the toughest and the easiest approaches.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the easiest option is preventing sleep problems in the first place, through simple parent education, whether one-on-one training, group classes or booklets. Such programs typically encourage parents to have a peaceful, consistent evening routine in which children are placed in bed “drowsy but awake” to help them develop independent sleep skills. Three well-designed randomized trials have found that the babies of parents who had such training slept significantly better than those whose parents did not.
At the tough extreme is the cry-it-out method, formally known as “unmodified extinction,” in which parents are taught to put a child down for bed, close the door and ignore all crying unless the baby is in physical distress. Despite 23 studies showing its remarkable effectiveness, most parents find the technique too emotionally grueling, the task force found.