How Crying Can Lead to Babies Sleeping

How Crying Can Lead to Babies Sleeping

A lot of times parents don’t understand how crying can ever lead to their baby sleeping. They think that they will certainly exhaust themselves and fall asleep that way, eventually, but what are they really learning?

This article is NOT about cry it out. There is a LOT in between helping your baby back to sleep every two hours at night and letting them cry it out. This article is discussing how crying can lead to sleep and why crying might be a necessary step in your baby learning how to sleep, even if you are right next to your baby.

Imagine you are learning to ride a bike. Your parents have put training wheels on your bike to stop you from falling. But now it’s time for you to learn how to ride your bike on your own. Your parents tell you it’s time to take the training wheels off, but they’re still holding you as you pedal down the street. All of a sudden, they ask you, “Are you ready for me to let go?” and you say, “I think so.” and they let go and you are off riding your bike all on your own. You look back and see your parent has let go of the bike. You freak out, fall down, and scrape your knee.

It scared you to think that your parent was no longer holding on to you as you rode your bike. You fell down because you lost your focus and confidence. You are scared and you never want them to let go again. Maybe you’ll just never know how to ride a bike by yourself.

At this point, your parent has three choices:

a) Put the training wheels back on.

b) Keep holding on to your bike while you ride up and down the street.

c) Let go again and hope this time you learn to ride on your own.

Having the age and wisdom, your parents know that you CAN ride a bike and all you need is practice and confidence. If they choose the third option, they can find a gentler way to teach you how to ride a bike. But, one thing remains the same. It is very difficult to learn to ride a bike without some spills. We parents want to cushion your fall as much as possible.

When it comes to helping your baby sleep, you might use “training wheels.” Training wheels can come in the form of a pacifier, rocking your baby to sleep, feeding your baby to sleep or any other sleep crutch. One day you may realize that it’s your fault your baby won’t sleep and it’s time to take the training wheels off. You have decided that what your baby once NEEDED to sleep, now it’s simply a crutch, hindering him from actually learning how to sleep well on his own.

There are endless sleep training or coaching strategies (are you sleep training a tortoise or a hare?). One thing that remains the same with all of them… It is difficult to convince your baby that she can sleep on her own without some crying, just like it’s difficult to learn to ride a bike without some falling. Does that mean you send your child outside to ride a bike on her own or let her cry it out all alone in her crib in her room? Not necessarily. Some people abruptly “let go” of the bike without telling their child (“ripping off the band-aid”) and others hold on for years, and know that, eventually, she will learn to ride a bike. Everybody parents differently and you should have confidence that your way is the right way for YOUR family.

Crying is part of the way babies communicate. She may have trouble finding that confidence that she CAN do this. Stay with her to encourage and support her through the transition, if you wish, but don’t keep “holding on” to avoid her crying. We all need to fall down sometimes to learn how to get back up. It’s part of growing up. Only you can decide the “right” time for her to learn to sleep on her own. I promise you that most of the time the first few nights are the worst and things can get ten times better after that.

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42 thoughts on “How Crying Can Lead to Babies Sleeping”

  1. Hi there! I have a bit of a backward situation going on here. My baby (3.5mnths) sleeps very well at night after a 45min pre bedtime ritual. He only wakes once for a feed and then again at 6am which is perfect and he does all of this on his own in his crib.
    During the day however he is pretty much refusing to sleep if it’s not on me or my husband. He is only awake for 1.5hrs at a time and I check for early signs of fatique so I know he is not over tired when I try and get him to sleep but he cried for more than an hour when I tried to just lay him down to sleep so I have to bounce him to sleep then slllooooowwwlllyyyy put him down in the crib so he sleeps by himself. Longest stretch is 30min.
    What can I do to help him sleep better by himself during the day?

    • Hi @Katryn-
      Thank you so much for writing, and I am sorry that naps are such a struggle at this time! Great news to hear that nights are going so well, and you CAN get there with his naps too! While short naps are common at this age, and sometimes up through 5 months or so, you can definitely still work on putting your little guy down while still awake and work on helping him fall asleep on his own.
      Here is a link to our recommend schedule for a 4 month old. Offering sleep at good times often helps!:
      For most babies at this age, it’s best to keep awake time to 1-2 hours tops. This helps keeping them from getting overtired which can make it more difficult to get them to sleep and to keep them asleep (this may also help with nap lengths).
      I hope that this information helps, but if you find that it is not helping enough, please consider our Member’s Area.
      Our Members Area gives you access to all of our ebooks as well as all teleseminar recordings, case studies, and do-it-yourself tutorials, including a workbook to create your own sleep plan, and much much more. The members Area grows with your family, and many folks keep this subscription for years to get help in the toddler years and beyond.
      You can read more about the Member’s Area here:
      Good luck Katryn! Please contact us if you have any questions!

  2. We are trying to sleep train our 18 month old daughter who used to sleep through the night and now doesn’t. The issue we are having is that she calls Mama and Dada in between crying and it sounds like it’s affecting her throat. It’s night 4 and she will cry/call for us from 25 min to almost 2 hrs depending on the night. How long does CIO take and is she just to old for it? Also, should we take a break to soothe her throat? Help!

  3. Hey my name’s Steven I’m a 17 year old dad and I’m kinda new to all this my sons 7 months old and a few months back I was sent off to boot camp well when I came back my child’s mother was gone and I had to do it by myself tonight I was trying to put him to sleep and he just kept waking up so I sat outside my door for about 25 mins then after playing with him a lil and calming him down I decided id lay him back down wether he was awake or not and I took a shower when I got out I made him a bottle rocked him to sleep and laid him back down in his crib idk what led me to this site and idk if this will help anyone but honestly letting him cry and get him self wore out then putting him to sleep honestly has had the best results thank u for giving me tips and sharing your experiences. Have a nice day

    • @Steven – We’re so glad you found your way to our site, too. We’re always here to help whenever you need us. Keep up the good work in prioritizing your son’s sleep – it’s such a long-term reward for your entire family. Thank you for sharing, and please keep reading!

  4. Hi Emily, thank you for your advice & pointers. Since the last suggestion/comment you made we have lengthened our pre-bedtime wake time. Even though we tried that before in the past it seems to be working very well now! Not sure if now that she’s 6 months her brain has a matured a little more or if it’s just lengthening her wake time before bed but whatever it is she is now a breeze to put to bed! Thank you!

    • @ Gina – woohoo! How awesome; so glad that little tip is reaping rewards in your home 🙂 Don’t hesitate to chime in again if you have more questions! And happy sleeping to you and yours.

  5. Hi Emily, thank you for your reply! I read that article a few weeks ago, very informative. We put her down awake 99% of the time; the other times drowsy- meaning heavy eyes but still open. At this age (a week shy of 6 mo.), she oddly enough moved from 3 to 4 naps! She takes a 1 hour around 8, a 1.5-2hr around 10, 30-60min around 2, then another 30-60 around 4 . Like I said she falls asleep easily & quickly for naps. Bedtime, more often than not, is a totally different story. She fights & cries. Once she is asleep at night she is down for the night & doesn’t wake up until morning (aside from the normal brief movement during a switch in sleep cycles). My only concerns are why she is napping 4x now as she is getting older instead of moving towards 2 naps and why does bedtime become a battle while naps are a breeze?

    • @ Gina – Hmmm…I wonder if you’re just going through a growth spurt or something, with the extra 4th nap. There is a growth spurt around 6 months ( As for why bedtime is so different….hmmm…this is a tough one! Do you think it’s possible that she’s not tired enough for sleep at bedtime? If that were the case, you’d move bedtime or lengthen the bedtime routine, to give her time to get drowsy. Or do you think that she’s overly tired at bedtime? If that were the case, you’d move bedtime up and keep the routine short. Speaking of the bedtime routine, have you tried changing it? Mixing it up, doing things in a different order, etc.? That might be a good start.

      Best of luck to you, Gina! 🙂

  6. Can you help me to understand why my 5 1/2 month old resists bedtime? She goes down for naps without a peep (or on rare occasions a brief 1-2min whine or cry) . When it comes to bedtime she screams & screams (longer than 10minutes) either once we put her in her crib (drowsy or awake) or after she’s been in her crib for a few minutes. At both nap & bedtime we (either my husband or I) gently rock her & sing a lullaby until she gives us a couple yawns. She can generally stay awake for up to 90min, but can do 2 hours in the late afternoon. I’ve tried putting her down as early as 60min and as late as 2 hours after her last nap. I feel like we’ve tried many different tactics and I can’t say one thing works better than the other; I can’t fnd a theme in when she falls asleep faster & with less fuss…except when it’s me who puts her to bed; but even then I’m not sure that’s why she fusses less before nodding off. Help!

    • @ Gina – this could simply be due to the fact that nap time sleep is different for your baby than nighttime sleep….it’s handled by diff. parts of your baby’s brain. We have an article about this:

      It sounds like you’ve done your due diligence and worked to shorten and lengthen her awake time before bed, and that’s great! Tell me – does she wake often during the night? Does she wake early from naps? How are you putting her to bed – awake? Or do you put her down for naps asleep?

  7. I definitely want my 7 mo old daughter to develop healthy sleep habits. We are slowly and gradually trying to wean her off all of her ‘crutches’. So far just weaning her from her paci (gently closing her mouth when she roots for it-after nursing) and letting her fuss fr a little longer before whisking her out of her crib has led to two fewer wake ups per night…we will see how the rest goes.

    However, just from my own family’s experience, my two sisters, who had a very tough time with sleep as babies and needed lots and lots of soothing (which my mom did) now, in adulthood, are rock solid sleepers, and I, who slept beautifully as a baby with little ‘help’ now have many sleep problems, so I know its a VERY small sample, but I don’t know if there is necessarily a correlation.

    Thanks for your site, Nicole. You

  8. My 11 month old still wakes on average 4 times per night. It can take up to 2 hours to get him back to sleep. If you leave him in his cot he will cry for 2 hours and not sleep. So my only option is to hold him and rock him for hours sometimes.
    I now usually feed or rock him to sleep. After 4 months of letting him cry himself to sleep I’ve given up. It can take 10-40 mins of intense crying before he sleeps. I have found there is not much difference whether he puts himself to sleep or I do it for him. He will still wake up about 3 hours later and not be able to put himself back to sleep. So what is the point of letting my poor little one cry so much?
    After reading your article I am fearing that he will still have trouble when he is 2 years old. I have tried to “let him go” for months on end but no improvement. Is he one of the babies that will have sleeping problems regardless of the techniques you try? I just want 1 good nights sleep again.

    • I’m sorry you are going through this. Remember the days (and nights) are long, but the years are short. It won’t always be this way.

  9. As I was holding my 9 months old before putting him in his cot to sleep I was thinking about this issue: Why is he crying? I am still holding him! Part of our routine is looking at a book, singing 3 nursery rhymes, and then holding him for a few minutes until he just closes his eyes. He doesn’t cry when i put him in his crib, but in the moments preceeding it he tears at my heart! The phrase ‘resist the temptation to avoid all tears at all costs’ gave me a lot of encouragement. Thanks

  10. I have a 2 year old and a 9 month old. we dont put them to bed to cry them selves to sleep unless we know they are tired. i agree with letting them fuss to sleep if they are fighting sleep, but not if you just want them to go to sleep. you cant make them tired.

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