How to Cry it Out: The Bedtime Edition

How to Cry it Out: The Bedtime Edition

Well little baby, here we are. Mommy and Daddy have read every book, tried every technique, bought every sleep aid they could find. The months have slogged by and nobody is sleeping. Daddy is staring stoically out the window. Mommy is curled up on the couch wearing coffee-stained yoga pants and feeling like a giant failure. Everybody feels cranky and sad. And defeated. And the only way out of this pitt of sleep deprivation is to let you cry. They adore you beyond words, but baby, this is happening. It’s going to suck for a few days. But it really is for the best.

If you’ve come to the conclusion that cry it out is the answer(<- PLEASE read this first!) then you're going to need a CIO plan that is best suited to meet your CIO goals. And what are your CIO goals?

1) To break out of the desperate pattern of bedtime battles and frequent night wakings and get everybody sleeping a civilized amount during the night.
2) To achieve goal #1 with the minimal amount of crying.

The best way to meet your CIO goals is to embrace the 14 point CIO plan I’ve put together here.

How to do Cry it Out?

1) Buy a night vision monitor.

They’re expensive and not particularly reliable (you may have to buy a new one for each new baby). But I think it’s a worthy investment for piece of mind and would recommend purchasing one prior to CIO. It will give you a safe window onto your baby all night long.

2) Make naps happen

You want your baby well rested going into bedtime because tired babies sleep poorly. So you’re investing in day sleep to help minimize the amount of bedtime crying. Does your baby take great naps in the car? In your lap? While co-sleeping? Great! For the next few days do what you need to to get those naps to happen. By any means necessary.

3) Avoid cat naps.

Your goal is longer naps. So don’t drive to the grocery store at naptime because that 5-minute car nap is working against step #2 (above). For the next few days you are going to be the Nap Master, to the exclusion of all else.

4) Use a solid bedtime routine.

What is a SOLID bedtime routine?

  • Takes 20-30 minutes to complete.
  • Involves decreasing levels of activity and light. (No TV time, no dance parties, activities should be moving towards the bedroom).
  • Everybody should enjoy the activities.
  • Final activities take place in the location your child will be sleeping.
  • Ends BEFORE baby is asleep!

have you done your baby sleep homework?What are you trying to wean your baby off of? Rocking to sleep, co-sleeping, nursing to sleep, pacifier, etc? Whatever it is DO NOT include this as part of your bedtime routine! If it must be part of the routine (ex. food) then make sure there is at least a 20 minute gap between baby’s last meal and bedtime.

Sample Bedtime Routine – Bottle/Boob, Bath (no soap), Massage, Jammies, Book, Song, Bed.

5) Ensure that baby’s sleep location is ABSOLUTELY safe.

Dangling cords within reach of the crib? Unprotected outlets? The crib should be clear of any possible entrapment hazards (no stuffed animals, blankets or pillows!). The only thing in there, other than your baby, is potentially a small lovey. If your child is old enough enough to be out of a crib, put on your anal retentive hat and look at your child’s room. Does the furniture present tipover hazards? Are there toys which could break into sharp pieces? Choking hazards?

Special Case: What about Co-Sleeping?

Yes you can use CIO for a co-sleeping baby if you intend to continue co-sleeping. Most often this is used in the case where Mom wants to stop being used as a human pacifier but is happy to continue co-sleeping. This can be done but it’s challenging. You can’t leave an angry crying baby alone in an adult bed. Even if that “bed” is nothing more than a mattress on the floor. It is simply not safe and shouldn’t be done under ANY circumstance. So, where does that leave you?

If this is your goal, it leaves you IN the room with your angry crying baby. I realize this may sound like I’m joking but I assure you, I’m not. You put your child on your bed, preferably between you and the wall. Then you lie down on the bed facing away from your child. Then you bite your knuckles hard enough to keep from flipping over and nursing your crying child to sleep.

6) Use your words.

Your baby’s receptive language develops far earlier than their expressive language. This means they understand what you are saying long before they can speak themselves. “It’s time for you to sleep buddy. Mommy and Daddy love you. We’re right next door. We’ll see you with big hugs and kisses in the morning. But for now we’re going to leave so your body can get the sleep it needs to be strong and healthy. I love you little baby!” Use the same words every night as part of your bedtime routine.

7) Give baby as much soothing as possible!

For older babies (6+ months) your options are generally limited to loud white noise, block out blinds, and a small lovey. It’s sometimes helpful to have Mom stuff the lovey in her bra and wear it there all day so that it smells like Mom. If your baby is still swaddled that is also really helpful. DON’T use any sleep aids which will feed into your object permanence problem. So pacifiers, timed music, etc. are all forboden.

8) Leave the room.

There are some books that suggest that it is more gentle to stay in the room so that your loving presence can help provide helpful soothing. In my experience staying in the room has the opposite effect, making your baby more upset, “WHY AREN’T YOU PICKING ME UP! HELLO?!? I can SEE you sitting RIGHT THERE!” It also has the unintended consequence of potentially creating a new object permanence problem for you in that they will expect to see you sitting there when they wake up throughout the night. For these two reasons I suggest that once you put your baby down, you get out.

9) Mom or primary care giver should leave the house.

Decide which parent (if there are 2) is the most likely to turn into emotional jelly at the sound of their baby crying (generally this is Mom). The emotional jelly parent should get out of the house and leave things to their more stalwart counterpart. Lots of parents feel that they need to sit in the hallway, curled into a fetal position, crying tear-for-tear with their baby as some sort of penance for their failure to teach baby to fall asleep. Crying in the hallway serves no purpose other than to make you miserable. Worse, it creates the opportunity for the dark strains of guilt to muddle your thinking. “I feel horrible! Maybe I’ll just nurse him to sleep one last time?” Backsliding won’t solve any problems and even worse, guarantees you even more crying in the future. A good way to avoid backsliding is to simply leave it to your partner and get out.

10) Commit to Check and Console or Full Extinction.

Personally I recommend the Full Extinction or Weissbluth method. However as I was unable to find any research that backed up my theory that this method results in less crying, you’re welcome to consider both and determine which works best for you.

have you done your baby sleep homework? If you start the CIO process planning to Ferberize or check and console and THEN determine that your visits are making things worse, you CAN switch methods to the Weissbluth full extension method. However DO NOT switch from the Weissbluth full extension method TO Ferber or check and console as this generally leads to LOTS OF CRYING!

11) Cry it out does not mean night weaning.

IF your baby has been eating/nursing at night then you will need to feed/nurse your baby when they wake up. CIO is not a good way to cut out night feedings as hungry babies will cry A TON. If your baby had been eating at predictable times then feed your baby when they “regularly” would be eating. If your baby wakes up crying at a time other than when they would regularly eat, then I recommend you don’t go to them.

If your baby was previously sleeping glued to your boob (don’t laugh, this is a REALLY common problem) then sorting out what is a cry for attention vs. a cry for food will be challenging. You’ll need to listen to your baby and your gut and make the best determination you can. I would suggest you try to space out the feedings as best as you can. For example if you nursed your baby at 6:30 PM then I would be reluctant to offer more food before, say, 11:00 PM. If you nursed again at 11:00 PM, then potentially the next feeding could reasonably be expected to happen at 3:00 AM. However these are not hard and fast rules, listen to your gut. It’s almost always giving you good advice.

12) Put baby back down awake. Or don’t.

In my experience the key with sleep training is to put baby down awake at BEDTIME. If you feed your baby during the night AFTER that point, it is generally OK if they fall asleep in your arms and then go back into their bed. I have not found that it is critical to wake baby up enough to “put baby down awake” at 2:00 AM. However if they do not organically fall asleep during the feeding I would not encourage you to rock them to sleep in your arms intentionally and THEN put them down asleep.

13) When baby wakes up early?

CIO is very effective at bedtime because there are a number of biological factors that make it very difficult for your child to stay awake at that time. However if your baby wakes up very early in the morning (4:00 AM or 5:00 AM) letting them cry will almost never result in them falling back to sleep. If your baby wakes up very early and doesn’t seem to be falling back to sleep (it’s been longer than ~20 minutes) then it’s morning time for you. This is horrible but generally temporary. You may want to consider offering baby a quick snack, putting baby in the swing, or bringing baby back into your bed. Sometimes these options will buy everybody a few more hours or sleep. But crying is unlikely to do anything productive.


cry it out ferberizing weissbluth

If you’ve started down this path then in almost all cases the worst thing you can do is to cave in halfway through. Night #1 will be stressful for everybody. But what happens if you go to your baby to rock/nurse them after 45 minutes of crying? You’ve failed to let them figure out how to fall asleep without rocking or nursing. But you have taught them that if they cry for 45 minutes, you will come and rock or nurse the to sleep. Which means that the next time you have a go at cry it out (and trust me, there is ALMOST ALWAYS a next time) it will be longer and rougher than it is right now.

The truth is that there are a thousand frequently asked questions about CIO but I’ve narrowed it down to a few hot button questions which I’ve answered below:

Cry it Out FAQ


How long will the crying last?

I suppose “it depends” is not a particularly useful answer. If you follow all my advice then you’ll generally find that kids will cry ~1 hour at bedtime on night #1, ~20 minutes on night #2, and 10 minutes on night #3. They may continue to grumble at bedtime going forward but it will generally be only for a few minutes. Some babies will only cry at bedtime. Some will wake up periodically and cry for 20-30 minutes throughout the night. As long as you aren’t trying to night wean via CIO, the middle-of-the-night crying generally stops after night #1.


When will I be able to put my smiling baby down for sleep at bedtime?

When do you smile when scrubbing toilets? Never? Well there’s your answer. Most kids will not enjoy bedtime until they are old enough to have their OWN kids at which point it will quickly become the favorite part of their day.


Am I a bad parent?

I don’t know, are you? I don’t believe that CIO makes you a bad parent. I do believe that you have tried everything you can to avoid letting your baby cry. And that nothing worked. And nobody is sleeping. I also believe that your whole family will be happier and healthier when you are all able to get the sleep you need at night. Cry it out is a bummer and nobody likes to do it. But 3 nights of unhappy baby are a worthy tradeoff.


Can I use CIO for naps too?

That is a whole separate topic which I’ll write about in the future. I don’t recommend tackling naps until AFTER night sleep is well established. So for now, focus on getting night sleep sorted out and let things settle into a positive and predictable sleep routine before you start mucking about with naps.


Won’t they get confused if I keep (rocking, nursing, pacifier) for naps but not bedtime?

Different parts of the brain regulate day vs. night sleep so you aren’t mucking things up by rocking to sleep at naptime then using CIO at bedtime. Many people feel they need to tackle the whole day at once but I don’t recommend it. Sorting out naps tends to take a while and involve quite a bit of crying and not napping. Babies who don’t nap become overtired. Overtired babies cry at bedtime. A lot. So with the goal of minimizing crying you would work on having GREAT naps (by any means necessary) so your baby is well-rested coming into CIO bedtime. Once night sleep is well established sorting out naps becomes easier (because well-rested babies sleep better), which is why I recommend focusing on night sleep FIRST before moving on to nap battles.


If I can’t use CIO to night wean, how DO I get out of night feedings?

Once you are done with crying at bedtime and things have become a bit more predictable, you can use these gentle night weaning techniques to gradually get out of night feedings. The bad news is that depending on the age of your child and the # of feedings this may take 1-3 weeks. The good news is that it’s surprisingly effective and tear-free.


What if my baby throws up?

Some kids can get themselves so worked up they throw up. It sucks when this happens. You’ll need to quietly go to them, clean them up and get them fresh jammies/bedding, ideally with as little light and fuss as is possible. Put them back in their bed, use your words, and leave.

Anybody have any experience they would like to share? Words of wisdom, kind advice, and lessons learned are very welcome!

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  1. Great article summarizing the CIO theory. A few questions. My daughter is almost 8 months old. We tried Ferber once before but the intervals were making her more upset as we left and she would continue to poop herself from crying so hard.

    We’re trying again now using full extinction but the same thing happened. I don’t want to wake her when she’s finally fallen asleep but I can’t let her sleep in a dirty diaper. Please help. We are on night one and she only cried 20 minutes the first time. The next time she woke she was due to eat so I fed her and now this third time she cried for an hour. I’m ready to quit if it makes her so upset she’s pooping herself but I need to help her learn to sleep without nursing and/or rocking. :/

    • Hi Gail – my two cents on the poopy diaper is this: when your daughter is sleeping through the night (yay!!) how will you know if she’s pooped her diaper? Short answer: you won’t. And I assume you wouldn’t wake her to check. If she’s genuinely pooping herself because of how worked up she gets, remember that this is a temporary thing. If you want to help your daughter through this, get some really good diaper rash cream and slather it on. Good luck!

  2. Hello! I love reading your posts and the sense of humor you bring to this whole agonizing process; I re-read them every time I start to second-guess whether this is a good idea or not (which happens every night). We are on night five of CIO and still going strong at an 1-1.5 hours of crying. I am doing full extinction (though I have to admit I went in tonight and tried to pat her back (just ticked her off more), so maybe I should think of it as starting over?) and I really thought it would be better by now. My daughter is almost six months old, is it possible she is just too young? Each night after she cries herself to sleep she will sleep until 2 or 4am, which is MUCH longer than she was sleeping before I tried this, so I do feel like it’s doing something, I just don’t know how much longer I can listen to her cry for this long.

  3. my 10 month old can’t sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time. We did all the things that I’ve (loved doing, but) read are no-no’s as far as good sleep goes (co-sleeping, rocking to sleep, and nursing to sleep).
    It got to the point where we were rocking her to sleep for 20mins+, at night she is permanently attached to my boob while still waking up every 1.5/2 hours.
    We recently started crib/sleep training and are not having much success. Its day 5. Last night was prob the worst night yet and todays naps haven’t been going as smoothly.

    We have been doing a form of the no cry method – where we leave our hand on her belly till she falls to sleep. Things have gotten better in the since that she at least lets us put her in the crib without crying but we have to stay there till she falls to sleep and she is still not sleeping for all that long.
    We tried a form of CIO the first night (with 5, 15, 20 min check ins) BUT she just yells and stomps back and forth along the crib. It seemed like we were getting further with the no cry method but have now hit a wall.
    Any suggestions on what we need to do?? Mamma needs some sleep!

  4. Hi.
    I started sleep training my baby on Friday night, it is now Tuesday night. He has been sleeping through the night since Saturday night. He cried for 55 mins the first night and every night since he has cried for 45 minutes. I thought the xrying was suppose to go down each night. We do the same bedtime routine at the same time every night. He is not awake for more than 3 hours and he is in bed by 7. Also, he is 6.5 months. Is this normal?

  5. First of all, let me just say that I am in love with your site! I have read all the sleep books (literally like 10+) and have struggled with trying and failing at various strategies for 5 months. You completely speak to the frustration and chaos that my household has experienced over sleep since our little one came to town.

    Here is my question:

    Our in-laws are planning a trip to Italy and have bought plane tickets for my husband, myself and our baby in April (when he will be 11 mos). While a 7-day most-expenses-paid trip seems to good to pass up, I am actually really on the fence about accepting. Our little guy has never slept more than 4 hours in a row in his life and after taking a 5-day trip (to see grandparents) each month of his life so far, every time we have gotten his night wakings down to 3-4 per night at home, we have gone on another trip and gone back to nursing at every waking (and sometimes even co-sleeping) in order to maximize everyone’s sleep in the short term.

    We are currently really sleep training your way and it is going well. I expect by the end of the week, we will be down to 2 wakings/night and then I hope to gradually wean by decreasing time nursing from there.

    What do you know about active 11 month-old babies’ sleep/ability to adapt to time changes? If we do go, any tips on making the transition smooth and/or keeping to a more disciplined system? Does anyone else have experience traveling internationally with their little ones?

    Thanks so much for your time!

  6. I have been up for most of the night reading various sleep training methods I’m on the second night phew and I have to say that you have offered the best advice so far. I can see I have made a few mistakes 1) I still nurse my 9 mth old to sleep and 2) I was trying to take out the night feeding and now I know it should gradually happen. The good thing is she doesn’t cry that much but it breaks my heart because she just sits there forever and I have noticed that she is pooping as we’ll and I change her diaper. I read previous comment and plan to slather her bum. Sigh! Onwards and upwards thanks for all the great advice

  7. Wow. We are on night 1 and baby is currently asleep in the crib. She is 6.5 months old and was a great sleeper (1 night-feeding @3am) until 4.5 months, then 2 months of up to 5+ wake-ups with at least 1 lasting an hour or so. We nursed/bottle/rocked for all of these.

    So we did the bedtime routine last night and then I nursed at 6:30 until she was content but not asleep. Then we put her in the crib awake & closed the door. For the first minute, she watched the mobile… Then rolling & crying for 10 MINUTES ONLY!! Then she woke at 11:30 (we’ve started feeding her then for the last month) & again at 5:00! Both times she ate & went back in after 30 sec of crying. Amazing!

    I swear her cumulative crying, stress, and restlessness each night prior to this was DOUBLE what it was with CIO.

    Thank you!

  8. So my husband and I have been doing the CIO method for about five nights now doing the same routine each night but it seems that my 7 month old is getting worse every night. Tonight when I started doing the routine he started crying. Now he has been crying and screaming for an hour now. Have you heard of children getting worse at night before they get better?

  9. Hi Alexis,

    I’m so happy I found your site and the plethora of helpful information!

    We began CIO tonight. 45 minutes in, our girl went to sleep. I’m feeling ill-prepared for not thinking of this before we committed, but night feedings! Shoot, we forgot to factor those in!

    I’ve heard many say she’s fine to go all night without them (she’s nearly 20 weeks). For the first 3 months of her life she would wake up between 2-3am to eat, and again around 5 or 6. After eating she was right back to sleep. She approached the 4 month mark and went rouge. No predictably around when she was waking just to eat and when she was just waking; she was up every hour or two hours. Often, I would breastfeed just to get everyone back to sleep peacefully.

    So…how do we factor those in? I’m sitting here likely jinxing myself since I don’t know when/if she will wake up next. I certainly don’t want to deny her food but since the last month has been 100% randomized eating at night I’m not sure when/if to let her nurse at night with CIO.

    Thank you :)

  10. Hi Alexis (and other parents!) – I’ve noticed that the comments on this page don’t always get responses directly from Alexis, so I’d like to be open to what other parents have to say on the topic.

    Like MANY others here, we have begun sleep-training our baby.

    LAST MONTH, She was 6 months old. After she healed from her 6-month shots, we tried Pick Up/Put Down, and it was a disaster – her crying only got worse throughout the night – she was a wailing, wet, frothy, screaming mess, and ended up IN OUR BED (previously she had just slept in our room near the bed, but not with us), where she stayed put for a month – we decided just to stick with it until we had a plan we could commit to. That was awful – one month of four-hour-long soothing sessions and multiple crying and waking up, jerking awake and wailing at night, only to begin the soothing all over. We were both wrecked, and she wasn’t sleeping at all.

    Ten days ago, we got geared up (after finding your site) and went to full extinction with a nightly bedtime routine. The first night she cried for 45 minutes and then slept for almost 12 hours! She woke up once, we gave her a bottle, she went back into her crib and cried for 35 for mins, then fell asleep again.

    Since then we’ve stuck with it, despite MANY mishaps (sensor pad which kept setting off alarm, making us go in and move her, waking her up on nights #2 and #3; friend forgetting his jacket in her room, and going in and getting it, and waking her up, etc, etc). It really took us about 7 nights before we finally got it to where we simply loved on her, read stories, and sang, closed the door, and walked out.

    However, her intervals of crying have not gotten consistently shorter, and she still cries HARD when we are in the middle of the routine – she doesn’t have a love object and I don’t know if she knows how to self-soothe yet – she still thrashes and screams and bounces.

    Is there anything we can do to make it easier for her?

    Here are her crying times:
    Night 1: 45 mins
    Night 2: 24 mins
    Night 3: 1 hour
    Night 4: 24 minutes
    Night 5: 30 minutes
    Night 6: 35 minutes
    Nights 7,and 8 – missing data
    Night 9: 11 minutes
    Night 10: 30 minutes

    I can’t see any patterns from this. Any ideas? Anyone?

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