Listening to a baby cry it out is stressful – even when it’s an intentional and planned part of sleep training. So how long do you need to let a baby cry it out? And what other considerations should be factored in before letting a baby cry it out?
There is no rule on how long you should or shouldn’t let your baby cry it out. How long you let them cry should depend on the baby’s age, sleep training plan, and parenting style. Surveyed parents report that cry it out takes between 30-120 minutes each night over the course of a week.
Every baby and parent will react to cry it out differently, but 30-120 minutes each night is about how long it takes for this particular sleep training method to work. Below, let’s talk about 25 things you need to know before you pick cry it out as your go-to sleep training method.
How Long You Should Let Your Baby Cry It Out is Your Choice
Just because most babies take at least a half of an hour (and up to two hours) to cry themselves to sleep doesn’t mean that you have to let them cry that long. How long you let your baby cry is ultimately your choice.
It’s okay to set restrictions on how long you let your baby cry. It’s also okay to decide that you’ll let your baby cry however long it takes.
Just remember that a single night’s worth of crying it out isn’t enough to prompt a lasting change. It’s going to take about a week to create that newer, better sleep habit.
And know that (after the first night) nights 3-5 will, according to several hundred surveyed parents, be the next worst. After that, things calm down significantly.
So if you choose to use cry it out sleep training, own that choice. Set up how you want to use it. Then give it time to work.
That being said, there is literature on how long you should let your babies cry at various ages.
- Newborns and swaddled babies should NOT cry it out. Read why that is (and what to do instead) in my article here. I’ve got some great tips and information for you there.
- One-year-olds can cry it out. And it usually takes 1-2 hours, with one hour being far more common. If your baby is about a year old, make sure you read my article on doing cry-it-out with 1-year-olds.
Surveyed Parents Report Cry It Out at Bedtime Usually Takes 1-2 Hours
After extensive research and reading countless sleep training books on how long it takes to cry it out, I decided to do a survey to see how long cry it out actually takes.
Most books say that cry it out takes a few days – anywhere between 3-10, depending on the source. Each book also offered a different nightly screamfest timeline; anywhere between 10 minutes and 90 minutes.
So, I surveyed a group of hundreds of parents to see their results. Here’s what we found:
- Most babies screamed for about 45-60 minutes that first night. Most babies also woke up significantly happier and better rested the next morning.
- The second night was usually better – crying lasted about 30 minutes.
- For some babies, nights 3-5 were the worst. Crying lasted between 45 minutes and 2 hours.
- Nights 6-7 the crying began improving until it completely tapered off, leaving bedtimes a much happier affair where the baby would lay down and fall asleep unaided and without a fuss.
- In most cases, crying it out was successfully done within one week.
Compared to other, gradual sleep training methods then? Letting your baby cry it out is a much faster option with dramatic results. However, it’s not for everyone.
If you’d like to read more about how to do cry it out, I’ve got a whole guide for you on how to do it without wanting to tear your hair out right here.
How Long You Let Baby Cry Depends on Their Age
Letting a baby cry it out won’t work for every age. In fact, there’s an optimal window of opportunity where letting your baby cry it out works. Outside of that window? It’s not recommended – and it’s probably not going to work.
So yes, how long you let your baby cry is strongly dependent on their age – at least in regards to sleep training.
The window of opportunity for crying it out starts between 4-6 months of age and closes by 12-18 months old. Children in this age range can be allowed to cry it out if they so choose. This is the age range that I surveyed and were able to cry it out in 1-2 hours each night over a week.
We’ll talk about why you shouldn’t let babies outside of this range use cry it out later on in this article.
You Shouldn’t Ever Let a Newborn Cry It Out
Newborns use crying to communicate all of their needs. And, until they’ve grown and developed (usually by 4-6 months old), their cries are all very similar.
Often, they don’t know what’s wrong – let alone how to communicate that it’s different than the last time they called for your help. Sure, some babies’ cries are distinctly different at a younger age. But some babies just scream and cry – especially if they have colic.
These babies rely on physical comfort and touch to grow and develop. They can’t differentiate that being allowed to cry at bedtime, as opposed to any other time, will benefit them.
Instead, a newborn will just scream until they’re helped and comforted. So letting a newborn cry it out won’t work. Once a baby is about 4-6 months old, however, they’ll have developed enough that sleep training is an option.
Letting Older Children Cry It Out (No Matter the Length) Isn’t as Effective
Once your toddler is out of a crib and has begun communicating their opinions, cry it out becomes a less appealing option.
Why is that? Well, a toddler who isn’t in a crib (or can escape it) has more say in where they sleep. They don’t always stay put.
Some of them will throw a pretty epic tantrum if allowed to cry themselves to sleep. In many cases, these kids will totally trash their bedroom as a way of expressing their outrage.
Plus, it’s a lot harder to hear a child crying it out when they can talk.
So letting an older child (like a toddler or older) cry it out as a sleep training method isn’t going to be as effective – or as easy – for anyone involved.
If you’d like to know more about how to sleep train older kids, I’ve got a whole guide for working with toddlers up through teenagers right here. There are actionable steps you can use today to make progress immediately.
Not All Cries Require Immediate Attention
Not all cries are created equally. Some cries may need to be attended to immediately, while others can wait.
Learning which cries need immediate attention and which can wait takes practice and experience, as well as an intimate knowledge of your children’s particular cries.
Then once you’ve got several children, you’re going to have to prioritize the cries and get to them as you’re able to.
Example: When one child is crying because they’re hungry and another child is also crying because they’re hurt, I’m going to help my hurt child first. The hungry kiddo can wait five minutes.
Furthermore, sometimes it’s okay to delay responding to a cry if you absolutely need a break. It’s far better to endure a crying baby for a few minutes than to lose your temper, your mind, or both.
As a pediatric emergency department nurse, I saw scenarios far too often where frustrated and exhausted parents didn’t take a break – with heartbreaking consequences.
If you need a break, please put the baby down and walk away. Calm down, get help, and remember that not every cry requires immediate attention.
Not Sure About How Long to Let a Particular Cry Go?
Sometimes, your baby will surprise you with a new cry.
When you aren’t sure what a particular cry means, it’s okay to guess or get help. There’s no rule about how long you have to let a baby with a new cry go.
In fact, it may be a good idea to check the baby’s basic needs and make sure they’re safe. Check their diaper, offer them milk, and see if they’re tired. Go through all of the usual needs and see if any of those were what your baby wanted.
Hopefully, that’ll help and the weird new cry will stop. Sometimes you may have to go through things a couple of times. Maybe it’s just a hard poop that’s surprised your baby – and it takes a while for that to resolve.
Trust your instinct and do what feels right. It can be tempting to trust a book or the internet as the be-all, end-all expert. But it’s not the case – you are your baby’s advocate and expert.
So if a particular cry is new or worrisome, go with that gut feeling. Contact your pediatrician if you need to. Just remember that you are the best resource for your child.
If it’s a weird new cry while sleep training, don’t feel bad about checking it. Worst case scenario, your child is just mad – and checking on them resets the clock for how long they’ll cry.
How Long Can You Let Baby Cry as Part of Crying It Out Sleep Training?
Now, not every baby was able to complete cry it out in 1-2 hours. There were some babies who took longer, although they were in the (very vocal) minority.
There have been a few babies that did cry for longer – the longest one reported was just shy of 3 hours. However, that particular parent reported that they did do timed checks on their baby. And then they decided that doing timed checks was a horrible idea that prolonged the crying.
They reported things went much better the next night without the in-person checks on their baby. Instead, they kept track via a video monitor.
So there’s no official upper limit on how long you have to let the baby cry it out. It just depends on what you choose to do.
When Does Letting Baby Cry It Out Become a Problem?
Letting your baby cry it out becomes a problem in several instances:
|When Crying Is a Problem||Why It’s a Problem|
|The baby’s cries get ignored on a regular basis, not just during cry it out.||This is child abuse (neglect).|
|The baby has been crying it out hard and long enough that they’ve become physically ill.||The baby’s physical status and safety have become compromised. They need care and attention.|
|Your baby has been crying long enough that you can’t handle it, no matter how long that is.||If letting your baby cry it out is problematic for you as the parent, it’s time to pick a different sleep training method.|
Letting Baby Cry it Out: Scientific Studies Need More Research
While there are some studies that show that full extinction (crying it out) does result in higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, there’s one important fact to remember. Having some studies doesn’t equate to having enough studies to prove anything.
In this 2012 study (click here to read the abstract on PubMed via the US National Library of Medicine), researchers found that letting 25 babies cry it out caused a significant increase in their stress hormone levels.
However, there are a few issues with the study that warrant further research. First, they used a sample size of 25 babies. That’s nowhere near large enough of a population for a research study! Furthermore, they didn’t have a control population. So when they say that the hormones were elevated, they don’t have a baseline number for comparison.
Now, let’s compare that to the results of another 2012 study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (click here to read that study). This study concludes that behavioral sleep training (including crying it out) has no higher risks for behavioral, emotional, or psychological issues for the children as they reach their sixth birthday.
If you’d like to read more about behavioral sleep training without having to read a scientific journal, I’ve got a whole guide on behavioral-based sleep training for you right here. I recommend you check it out next.
In other words, we need more research and studies done on crying it out.
Will Letting My Baby Cry it Out Cause Emotional Distress? Crying releases the stress hormone, cortisol. However, studies show conflicting evidence that crying it out causes any lasting emotional or psychological impacts.
Anecdotal evidence leans towards crying it out being effective, but opinions are certainly charged.
Letting Baby Cry It Out is Effective but Controversial
Have you ever asked other parents their opinion on crying it out? Opinions and anecdotal evidence are all over the map. After extensive research and surveying parents, here’s what I can conclude: most parents agree that cry it out is effective. But not all parents think it’s a humane way to sleep train.
In fact, bringing up cry it out is far more likely to cause a long-winded argument between opinionated parents than it is to provide an open and helpful dialogue.
Sleep Experts Can’t Agree on How Long to Let Baby Cry it Out
While doing my own research into how long we should let our kids cry it out, I discovered that the sleep experts can’t agree on how long that should be.
In fact, some of them avoid listing any timeline at all in their books! The few that do list times are all over the place.
- Some books say 10-15 minutes is how long your baby should cry before you check on them.
- Other books say letting your baby cry will just take as long as it takes – then it uses examples that say it took 25-30 minutes.
- Yet other books say it’s going to take 45-60 minutes.
During my research, I couldn’t find a book that advocated letting your child cry it out any longer than 60 minutes at a time.
However – one of our kids took somewhere between 1-2 hours to cry it out the first night. And as I survey other parents, they are reporting similar findings.
In other words, there’s no set timeline that everyone can agree upon. So don’t feel bad if your child doesn’t fit the still-evolving narrative.
Letting Baby Cry It Out Has Different Meanings
When someone asks how long they should let their baby cry it out, it’s also important to remember that “cry it out” has a wide variety of meanings.
In fact, it covers a whole spectrum of sleep training methods:
Type of Cry it Out #1: Full Extinction
- Description: After bedtime, your baby is allowed to cry and self-soothe to sleep.
- How long to let your baby cry: As long as it takes, though it generally takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours the first night.
Type of Cry it Out #2: Gradual Extinction
- Description: Let your baby cry for a short period of time before checking in on them.
- How long to let your baby cry: Check-ins can be timed as you want them, usually between 10-30 minutes. The full process can still take as little as 1-2 hours or longer.
Type of Cry it Out #3: Faded Extinction
- Description: After putting your baby to bed, you let them cry for a few minutes before checking in on them a few times before fading out the check-in process for the night.
- How long to let your baby cry: Check-ins can be timed however you want them. You might check every 10 minutes 3-4 times, then call it good for that night. The full process can still take as little as 1-2 hours or longer.
Type of Cry it Out #4: Controlled Crying
- Description: You let your baby cry in small, controlled bursts before comforting them.
- How long to let your baby cry: Timing is up to the parent, though it’s usually done in 15-minute intervals that may fade or gradually increase.
In other words, just because a parent is using a “cry it out” method doesn’t mean they’re using the same exact method. Each of these methods has different length times for how long a baby should be allowed to cry. Each of those lengths of time can be changed depending on your preferences.
But each of these methods still also has very similar results – requiring about a week or so to see the best results.
Letting Your Baby Cry Doesn’t Make You a Bad Parent
There will be those parents who disagree with what I just wrote; that doesn’t make it true.
As long as you approach sleep training (including crying it out) from a place of love and an attempt to help your whole family, remember this important fact:
Letting your baby cry doesn’t make you a bad parent.
Instead of worrying about what all of the judgy McJudgersons say, focus on what’s best for your family. Do that. And remember that when you’re trying to do what’s best for your family, that makes you a good parent.
You Don’t Have to Let Baby Cry it Out to Sleep Train
Now, not every baby has to cry it out in order to sleep train. Some babies will actually sleep train better using a different method.
So whether you don’t like the idea of letting your baby cry without comforting them or it’s just not working, that’s okay.
You do not have to let your baby cry in order to effectively and efficiently sleep train them.
There are plenty of other methods for you to use.
Expect Other Parents to Share their Unsolicited Opinions
In both my experience and in talking to other parents about crying it out, it seems like unsolicited advice is everywhere. In fact, you don’t always have to mention “cry it out” before unsolicited opinions start coming from every direction.
Sometimes just mentioning sleep training is enough to get well-intentioned adults dishing ideas your way.
If you’d like to engage in a debate or a philosophical discussion about sleep training (and cry it out), go for it. Or if you’d like to escape the conversation quickly, do what I do.
Personally, when I’m given sleep training advice (and yes, it still happens), I just thank the person and promise to think about what they said. After all, they mean well.
Parents Who Opt for Crying It Out Say it’s Fast and Effective
After extensive research into crying it out and parent surveys, cry it out is the fastest way to sleep train your baby.
With crying it out, your baby can be fully sleep trained in as little as just a few days. On average, it takes a week. Most other methods take at least a few weeks to see improvement – and a month to see more lasting results.
So comparatively, it’s faster and more efficient. And if that’s what you need? That’s just fine. Go for it.
Not All Parents Like Letting Their Baby Cry
If you don’t like hearing your baby cry, that’s a good and normal sign. I don’t like hearing my children cry, either.
However, there are different levels of not liking our children to cry. There’s a whole spectrum of not liking it, not being able to deal with it, and being completely unhinged when you hear their cries.
So just because you don’t like hearing your baby cry doesn’t mean that you can’t cry it out – or that it won’t work. In fact, if you’re able to stand the crying for a few, short days, then you may still benefit from letting your child cry it out.
And if not? There are lots of other sleep training options.
How Long is Too Long to Let a Baby Cry at Night Before Picking Them Up?
There is no set timeline for when it’s too long to let a baby cry before picking them up, as long as your baby’s needs are met and they are safe. If their cry changes, check on them in person or via a monitor to see if they need to be picked up and comforted.
If you’re not sure, you’ve got two choices:
- Give it a minute. See what happens.
- Go pick them up and comfort them. You can always try again later.
Common Signs You’re Letting Your Child Cry for Too Long
So what are the most common signs that you’ve let your child cry for too long? Let’s talk about it.
Sign #1: The type of cry changes or becomes more dramatic and more like wailing.
- Why it’s an issue: If the cry has changed, your child might be trying to communicate with you. Something has changed.
- What to do next: Check in with your baby to see what’s changed. It may be wise to first look in via a video monitor.
Sign #2: Your child’s crying becomes too forceful and they vomit.
- Why it’s an issue: Your baby’s physical status has changed. They need to be cleaned up.
- What to do next: Go comfort your baby and clean up the mess. Consider altering your sleep training plan to prevent more vomit.
Sign #3: Lots of crying leads to increased straining and a full diaper.
- Why it’s an issue: More changes to your baby’s physical status quo mean things need immediate attention.
- What to do next: Go change that diaper and hug your baby. The odds of another full diaper are low, so resuming or delaying letting the baby cry more is up to you.
Example: My boys were amazing at finding ways to get their arms and legs stuck in their crib during crying it out. When they got stuck, their cry changed and we’d check on them. We quickly discovered that preventing more stuck limbs was crucial to their safety and ability to cry it out.
Quitting the Cry It Out Method is an Option if it Takes too Long
Look, it’s okay to quit crying it out of it’s taking too long. Quitting can be a temporary thing and you try it again later. Or it can be a more permanent thing where you change to a different, tears-free sleep training method.
And as far as what “it” is that’s taking too long? I mean crying. Because, that first little bit, the crying seems like it will never end.
So if you need to quit, that’s okay. Read my full article on when you should quit sleep training right here.
Examples of When You Can Let Your Baby Cry It Out – and For How Long
Examples are always helpful, right? So let me share a few with you.
Example 1: with our oldest boy, other sleep training methods didn’t work. So we used a cry it out method – and it was rough. Checking on him in person made the crying worse. So we checked in via a monitor and he cried for almost 2 hours the first night. Within about 5 days, he was sleeping so much better – and so were we.
Example 2: with our daughter, we tried a controlled cry-it-out as we moved her to her crib. She needed regular check-ins and comforting to ease the transition. It took about a week.
Example 3: our second boy also ended up not sleep training well except with a variation on cry it out. He only cried for 30-40 minutes that first night. Then, he settled right down. This was good because his older brother and he share a room.
Figuring out how long you can let your child cry it out takes practice and experimentation. Just keep trying to find ways to make it better – and you’ll find it.
Letting Your Child Cry It Out At Naptime Is Totally Different Than Bedtime
In my research and experience, sleep training during the night and doing so for naps? It’s two completely separate events.
So if you’re nap training your child with a version of cry it out, it’s okay to have a completely different set of rules – especially for how long you let them cry.
For us, we found that letting our children cry for an hour at naptime had zero effect – except to leave us all frazzled and exhausted. Instead, I had to implement a 10-minute max to the crying time. After 10 minutes, a crying baby was gotten up and we’d try the nap again later.
I’ve talked to other parents who were able to get a crying child to nap – even after a longer period of crying.
In other words, there’s still no time limit as to how long your child can cry it out at naptimes. Just remember that it’s different than bedtime – and that’s okay.
Some Kids Can’t Handle Crying It Out for Any Length of Time
Now, just as some parents can’t handle sleep training via cry it out, there are some babies who can’t sleep train with it. For these babies, crying works them up so much that they can’t go to sleep.
That doesn’t mean that they can’t sleep train. It just means they can’t sleep train with crying involved.
These babies usually sleep train great with a tear-free option.
Some Babies Can’t Sleep Train Without Crying it Out
Some babies, for whatever reason, may end up needing to cry it out as part of their sleep training.
Perhaps you’ve tried other methods first – and they haven’t worked. Maybe everyone is just so exhausted that you need a quick remedy now.
Whatever the case, there are some babies that will do better after using a variation on crying it out. If that’s the case, try a variation on cry it out. See how it works. Because sometimes, all that stands between your family and a better night’s sleep is a small amount of crying.
In any case, best of luck as you sleep train your baby – and figure out how long they should cry.