Last updated on April 4th, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Controlled Crying Doesn’t Work — What Should I Do?

Gayle wrote: “My almost 8-month old has responded reasonably well to a gradual extinction method of sleep training, i.e. controlled crying. We’re on day 40.
“She was settling herself throughout the night by day 5 but still she has a night of waking every three or so nights sometimes with hours of crying. These awakenings seem to happen after three perfect nights of sleeping through and then she resumes to sleeping through the following night. When controlled crying doesn’t work, what can I do?

“I’m also stressed about doing too much or more to settle her and undoing all of the good work. I feel like I need a happy medium between cry it out and hands on resettling. Can you recommend a strategy where we aren’t taking a step backwards? Thanks so much. I love your site. -Gayle.”

controlled crying doesn't workRule Out Medical Conditions

Gayle, 40 nights is a long time! Behavioral science claims that if you have ruled out all underlying medical conditions, you are confident that your child has a behavioral sleep problem and you are consistent in your follow through then by 40 nights, you should have seen the behavior changed a long time ago.

That makes me go back and wonder if there any underlying medical conditions. Please check with your pediatrician. Reflux, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, milk protein allergies, basically anything that could be interfering with your baby’s ability to sleep better and longer throughout the night.

Wondering what reflux does to baby sleep?
Read: Reflux and Baby Sleep : Helping Your Infant with GERD

Napping and Going to Bed Awake

Now, you didn’t mention whether she’s well-napped. That’s going to be super important. An 8-month-old should be taking two to three naps that total three and-a-half hours. She should also be getting eleven hours of sleep at night. Make sure she is getting those naps.

Is your child resisting naps?

Get answers to your top naptime questions with our free guide!

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The second consideration is how she is going to bed. You don’t want her going to bed too drowsy or already asleep. When that happens and she wakes up at night, it’s confusing for her. She should go down in her crib alert.

Make sure that you respond to all of her awakenings the same. Be consistent with your response.

Want to know more about “Drowsy But Awake”?
Read: Drowsy But Awake — The Cornerstone of Successful Sleep Training

controlled crying doesn't work
Make sure your baby is going to sleep alert and awake, but calm

If Controlled Crying Doesn’t Work, Stop

If the controlled crying isn’t working, then stop. You have nothing to lose by doing a more gradual method which, of course, is The Shuffle. Not everyone has to do The Shuffle, but in this case, you’ve tried gradual extinction or controlled crying and you’re not seeing enough results.

It’s important to always do an initial check to make sure that everything is okay and then either do The Shuffle or timed checks from there. Please know that this might take a little time to sort out, not only to figure out if there’s an underlying medical condition, but to potentially undo any training that might have happened from doing a controlled crying for so many nights. Hang in there!

Want to use The Shuffle?
Read: The Sleep Lady Shuffle: How to Gently Sleep Train your Baby

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!