Exhausted after sleepless nights with your newborn? As you shuffle through your fatigue, you may wonder if your family is ready for sleep training your baby. If you’re unsure how to get started, dive into our sleep training guide.
What is Sleep Training?
Sleep training, or sleep teaching, is how you can teach your baby to fall asleep without you. That truly means no help: no rocking, swaying, singing, etc. The goal is for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep independently. Sleep training also teaches your baby how to fall back asleep if they wake themselves up in the middle of the night.
Sleep training, however, is not night weaning. Depending on the age of your baby and your feeding schedule, your baby may still need to be awakened for night feedings.
When Can I Start Sleep Training?
Generally, most babies can begin sleep training sometime between 4-6 months of age. At this point, babies will have a circadian rhythm that allows for them to fall asleep on their own. If you’re unsure if your infant is ready to begin, feel free to reach out to your pediatrician.
Depending on the technique and the unique needs of your little one, sleep training can be completed in as little as a few days or much longer.
What Are Effective Sleep Training Methods?
Some parents use one way or a combination of these techniques. If your baby isn’t picking up on one, don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new. Or if one method doesn’t seem to stick.
Cry It Out or Extinction
This technique is simple. Once you put your baby down for the night, you leave the room and let them cry it out until they fall asleep. That means no matter how much they cry, you don’t return until the morning or their next feeding.
This can be a tough method for parents. Especially when they hear the wailing through the baby monitor. Be comforted though, it may be the quickest one. But some babies do learn to self-soothe and fall asleep in as little as three to four days.
Don’t want to leave your child crying for so long? The Ferber Method, an adaption of Cry It Out, may be a better choice for you. This is sometimes called the “graduated extinction” method.
As you’re sleep training your baby, you only allow them to cry for a specific period of time. If they’re still crying when they hit that mark, then you can enter and check on them and console. You may have to do this multiple times throughout the night. Gradually, you go longer and longer.
Hopefully, within several days your baby will get used to your absence and learn to self-soothe. It should be noted that some babies struggle with this method. Seeing their parent enter and exit can cause even more distress.
Like the Ferber method, the chair method involves gradually longer periods of time. In this technique, once your sleepy child is in their crib, you sit in a chair and watch them until they fall asleep. The chair should be next to the crib on the first night. Do not comfort or pick up your child.
The following night, do the same thing but place the chair farther away. And so on until your chair is next to the door. Then the next night out of the room. This method also takes some time, but like Ferber, the hope is that your baby will self-soothe after initially feeling comforted by your presence.
Pick Up, Put Down
This may be the longest sleep training method. It’s also often done in combination with the Ferber method.
Here you follow your infant’s usual bedtime routine. Put your child in the crib when they’re drowsy, but still awake. If they cry, wait a few minutes for settling. If the infant does not settle, pick them up and soothe them. As soon as they are calm, put your baby back into the crib and leave.
Repeat until your baby falls asleep.
This technique is more about adjusting your baby’s bedtime than typical sleep training. If you notice your baby is crying for long stretches during their bedtime routine, their internal clock may not match up to your plan.
So if you want to shift it closer to your preferred schedule, shift bedtime back or forth 10-15 minutes each night until you reach your desired bedtime. This is a good technique to use with the other sleep training methods.
Any sleep training method you choose needs to be combined with a good bedtime routine. Consistency is key here. Your baby is learning something new. Routines help them, their caregivers, and you stick to a plan and a sleep schedule. That includes not responding to every whimper or noise. One of the big goals is your baby self-soothing.
Remember to also put your baby to bed when they’re awake and tired. Watch out for signs like yawning or them rubbing their eyes and stretching.
When to Call Your Doctor
Generally, sleep training takes between a few days to a couple of weeks. If you’re still struggling with sleep training past two weeks, calling your doctor for tips and suggestions can be very helpful.
Some babies vomit while crying it out as they are trying to sleep. If this happens once, it’s not a major concern. But if it happens more than three nights in a row, a call to your pediatrician is a good idea.
Now that you have the basics of sleep training, your next step in your parenting journey is to find quality child care. Find a local, compassionate professional near you on Sittercity.