Baby sleeping experts are often telling parents to leave their babies to cry themselves to sleep known as ‘controlled crying’ or ‘the self-soothe technique’. The self-soothing technique is used to condition the baby into knowing that crying will not lead to attention from parents, instead they learn to calm themselves and fall to sleep unaided.
However, latest research findings have reported that leaving a child to cry can cause extreme stress for the baby even after they appear to settle.
Researchers at University of North Texas, recruited 10 month old babies and their mothers. Children were left to fall to sleep without any contact or comfort from their mothers who were in the next room. The amount of time taken to fall asleep, observations of any distress the babies may have been experiencing and the levels of stress hormone cortisol in their saliva were all recorded over three consecutive nights. Additionally, the mothers were asked to provide saliva samples to measure their cortisol levels.
The research reported that by the third night, the babies were taking significantly less time to stop crying and fall to sleep. In line with this, maternal cortisol levels also decreased, indicating their stress levels decreased as their babies were setteling quicker. However, the babies cortisol levels remained the same even after they had fallen to sleep.
This latest research indicates that despite the observation that the baby is soothed and has fallen to sleep with less distress, the physiological stress response remains in their bodies.
Research is now underway to establish how the babies stress hormone levels adapt to the self-soothing technique over a longer period.