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Controlled crying - is this really the most effective way to sleep training

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

Most behavioral approaches applied to infant sleep problems, including controlled crying, derive from a learning theory-based process called extinction. In its pure or unmodified form, this involves removing all rewards, including attention, for a particular behavioral until it’s no longer in the child’s repertoire.

But controlled crying is at odds with research on infant development that shows the foundations for lifelong psychological health are laid down in infancy when distress is responded to promptly and reliably.

There are now several gentler approaches involving modified extinction. These can help resolve both infant sleep problems and maternal depression arising from chronic sleep deprivation.

Picture of mom and baby smiling at each other while sleeping healthy

leep disturbance in infants and young children is common; up to 40% of normally developing children experience difficulties in either initiating or maintaining sleep.

This proportion increases to 80% in children with medical conditions, such as developmental deficits or obstructive sleep apnea; those with psychological conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and depression; or behavior problems that often arise from poor parental management, such as inconsistent limit-setting and disorganized bedtime routines.

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