“No cry” sleep training came into existence as a counter-approach to a method of sleep training known as the “cry it out” method. In his 1985 book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Dr. Richard Ferber, a physician and the director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston, popularized a method to teach children to self-soothe by allowing a child to cry for a predetermined period of time before receiving external comfort. The technique garnered so much attention that it crossed over from parenting to pop-culture, where it was dubbed “Ferberization.”
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sleep
Of course, the Ferber method doesn’t promote making babies cry. Tears happen when a child who is dependent on external soothing — rocking, lullabies, comfort-feeding, cuddling, bouncing, or any of the other theatrics parents perform crib side — goes through the transition of becoming a child capable of falling, and staying, asleep on her own.
Clinical sleep psychologist Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, a Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale School of Medicine, offers a helpful analogy: “You’re used to falling asleep with a pillow. What if the next time you woke, it was gone? You’d wonder, where the heck’s my pillow? And you’d try to find it so you could go back to sleep.” The same is true for an infant who is used to being, say, rocked to sleep. When that infant wakes in the middle of the night, he’ll start crying to bring mom or dad back into the room to rock him.
Following Ferber’s logic, you would find a substitute for your pillow — laying your head on your upper arm, or pulling off your shirt and balling it up under your head. Similarly, a baby 4 months or older is capable of finding a way to self-soothe and fall back asleep without the rocking. The key is for mom and dad to leave baby alone for a predetermined amount of time to “cry it out,” and therefore figure out a different way to fall back asleep. After some practice — Schneeberg says it can happen as quickly as one week — baby has learned to self-soothe and voila, you have an infant fully equipped to fall back asleep on her own.
Schneeberg says “no cry’ sleep training doesn’t differ all that much from “cry it out,” it simply takes a more gradual approach (she calls it “fewer tears”) to weaning baby from external soothing techniques. The premise behind “no cry” is that tears aren’t the only way to turn a baby into a self-soother. Like “cry it out,” “no cry” advocates creating a cozy and comforting bedtime routine and sticking to it. From there, “no cry” branches off into hundreds of different techniques, each with its own book and set of faithful supporters. For example, registered nurse Tracy Hogg, in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, recommends going in when your baby cries, picking her up for a quick reassurance, and then placing her back in the crib and leaving the room. Repeat as many times as necessary. “There’s so many ways to do sleep training,” says Schneeberg. “It untimely depends on parental preference, and it depends on the parent’s interpretation of the temperament of the child.”
Whether we’re talking “cry it out” or “no cry,” the end goal is the same: to teach baby to be an independent sleeper, capable of falling asleep without parental assistance. Babies and children who have this skill sleep better, longer, and are generally happier. Not to mention mom and dad.