Can cry tolerance be increased in mothers of infants with sleep problems, and why does it matter? A quasi-experimental study

Hannah Whittall*, Michael Gradisar, Josh Fitton, Meg Pillion, Michal Kahn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study objectives: Infant sleep problems are one of the most common complaints of new parents. Research to date has demonstrated a relationship between low parental cry tolerance and infant sleep problems. The aim of this study was to explore whether three emotion regulation strategies could increase parental cry tolerance. Methods: This study utilised a quasi-experimental design. We recruited 83 females (Mage= 32, SD= 5.26) comprising 3 groups: mothers of good sleeping infants aged 6–24 months, mothers of poor sleeping infants aged 6–24 months, and good sleeping women aged 23–40 years without children. Participants were instructed to listen to crying audio segments and indicate when they felt the child needed to be tended to (measured in seconds). This crying audio was paired with one of three emotion-regulation strategies (i.e., music, gaming, reappraisal). Each participant completed all 4 cry conditions which were counterbalanced to control for order effects. Results: We found that all three strategies yielded significantly longer reaction times (indicating higher cry tolerance) compared to the control condition (p <.001). We also found that mothers of poor sleepers and good sleeping women benefitted from all three emotion regulation strategies compared to control (p <.001 and p= <.05, respectively). The cry tolerance of mothers of good sleepers, on the other hand, did not differ between the control condition and any of the strategies (all ps >.05). Conclusions: This demonstrates that cry tolerance can be increased using emotion regulation strategies, such as distraction via music or gaming, and reappraisal. This has clinical implications for families implementing behavioural sleep interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-71
Number of pages8
JournalSleep Medicine
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • Emotion regulation
  • Infant sleep
  • Parental cry tolerance
  • Reappraisal


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