Sleep Training Methods for Babies
Whether you’re a new parent or have been at it for a while, you surely know that sleep is essential to your baby’s development. But did you know that, when it comes to babies, sleeping is a learned skill? And yes, you’re the teacher who has to train your baby to sleep through the night by using one or various sleep training methods for babies.
So, how to make your baby sleep? What’s the best way to sleep train your baby? What’s the best sleep training method for babies you should use? We’ve collected the best information from parents and baby sleep experts to help you sleep train your little one easily and successfully. Before we dive deep into the best sleep training methods, let’s first say a word or two about what you need to know before actually choosing a method.
What Exactly is Sleep Training?
Simply said, sleep training is teaching your little one how to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s the process of helping your baby form good sleeping habits that’ll benefit literally everyone in your home.
You might say to yourself: “But all my baby does is sleep!”, especially if your precious one is a newborn. While newborns do sleep a lot, some up to 18 hours a day, sleep training is not simply teaching your baby to fall asleep. It’s all about falling asleep at a certain time, usually nighttime while doing it independently.
So, until your baby learns how to fall asleep without your help at the right time of day or night, you’ll need to train them with a sleep training method that works best for the both of you. But when is the right time to start doing it?
When to Start Sleep Training Your Baby
Let’s start by saying that there isn’t one right sleep training age for everyone.
Every baby develops differently and some don’t even require sleep training – they simply learn how to fall asleep on their own. Others are fussy and wakeful throughout the night and/or need their parents’ help and presence to fall asleep every single night. So, it’s different for everyone.
That being said, there’s a general consensus that babies should be sleep trained when they’re between 4 and 6 months old. Why exactly during this time? Let’s see.
- 0 – 6 weeks: All babies do during this time is sleep, some even up to 17 hours a day but for short periods of time, usually 1-2 hours.
- 2 – 3 months: This is when babies learn to sleep for longer intervals of 5-6 hours. It’s the perfect time to prepare your little one for sleep training that we’ll get into in a moment.
- 4 – 6 months: Most babies this age are ready to stop night feedings and sleep through the night, making this the perfect time to start with sleep training.
Is your baby older than 6 months? Even if your little one is a toddler, it’s never too late to start. From 4 to 6 months is the best age, but better late than never is what you should know when it comes to sleep training.
Want to drastically increase the chances of the sleep training method you choose to work? Let’s see how you can prepare your baby to nod off on their own.
How to Prepare for Sleep Training?
There are a few things you can do to prepare both you and your baby for a more successful sleep training experience. After all, when the baby sleeps well, everyone in the house sleeps well, so if you can we highly recommend that you prepare for sleep training a couple of months before you actually start.
Develop a bedtime routine. It’s never too late to introduce a bedtime routine but the best time to start is a few months or longer before sleep training. The routine can be whatever you want and it’s crucial that you do it at the same time each night.
For example, it can be a soothing activity like bathing, so every time you give your precious one a bath, they will know that what comes next is sleeping. The point of this is to encourage healthy sleep patterns so your baby can associate the activity of your choice with sleeping.
Besides bathing, your bedtime routine can include activities like reading a story, singing a lullaby, playing music, and so on.
Follow a regular daytime schedule. This is another important preparation for successful sleep training which involves waking your little one up each morning at the same time. It’s the same with feedings and naps. Try to have a regular daytime schedule for every activity your baby does, or at least for waking up, napping, and eating.
Get your baby primed for sleep. For best results, it’s important that you give your little one enough stimulation during the day and cut back on long naps. Make sure his or her day includes some activities instead of just sitting in a chair or lying down.
Also, the more you expose babies to natural light during daytime, the quieter and longer they’ll sleep during nighttime, so keep this in mind.
Talk to your partner. Let’s be real here - sleep training can be very stressful and exhausting, even upsetting for some parents. Teaching your baby how to fall asleep on their own is not a walk in the park, so it’s crucial that you and your partner are on the same page about everything.
Will you both be doing it together every night? If not, how will you organize? Will a member of your family come to help you out? Do you both agree on the same method? You need to ask yourselves these questions and create a plan that works for the both of you.
Visit the doctor.
Before choosing a method, make sure that your baby doesn’t have any medical condition that disrupts his or her sleep. For more information, check out our piece on what causes baby sleep problems
Start at the right time. The final preparation is that you choose the right time to start sleep training your dearest. And when is that, you might wonder? When you’re the least busy, of course. So, don’t even think about starting when you are crammed with work or during the holidays. Sleep training your baby will deprive you of sleep, so be wise and make sure you don’t have any disruptions during this period.
How to Sleep Train Your Baby – Top 5 Sleep Training Methods for Babies
We give you the five most used and most effective sleep training methods you can try.
Before we get into them, it’s very important that you choose the method you think is most suitable for both you and your baby and stick with it, at least for a week if not more. Consistency is the key to success when it comes to sleep training, so be persistent. If you decide it doesn’t work and want to change it, go for it! All we want is to accentuate the fact that by being consistent you’ll see the most success from sleep training.
Now, let’s move on to the top 5 sleep training methods for babies starting from the most “gentle” techniques that require little to no tears and move on to the ones that do.
The Pick Up, Put Down Sleep Training Method
After your bedtime routine, put your baby to sleep in the crib or bassinet and leave the room while he or she is still awake. Don’t react if your little one starts fussing, only when they start crying. This is when you enter the room and pick your baby up to give them comfort. Once he or she calms down but is still awake, put your dearest back in the crib and leave the room. Repeat this process until your baby falls asleep.
The point of this method is to help your baby nod off on their own but still be there to provide comfort. It’s most suitable for babies who are between 4 and 8 months old. If you think your little one cries too much and don’t know the reason behind, discover why babies cry at night and how to soothe them
Beware that the pick up put down method won’t work with everyone. Some babies find this process upsetting and too stimulating so it may have the opposite effect.
Another thing to have in mind is that this method can be exhausting and you might have to repeat it countless times during the first couple of days, so patience is definitely required. But hey, at least you won’t have to listen to your little one cry it out.
The Fading Sleep Training Technique
If you already have a particular technique to put your darling to sleep, the fading method is something you should definitely try. The goal is to do your technique less and less until your baby doesn’t need it at all to fall asleep.
Let’s say that you’re successfully helping your baby fall asleep with rocking their crib. The point of the fading method is to gradually decrease the amount of time that takes you to do your technique, so shorten the amount of time you rock their crib every night until you only do it for a couple of minutes after a while and one day - not at all.
This method is most suitable for babies older than 5 or 6 months. If you’re one of those parents who cannot stand watching their babies cry, we highly recommend this method.
The Chair Sleep Training Method
After your bedtime routine, put your baby to sleep and sit next to the crib, bassinet, or bed. The goal is to leave them fall asleep on their own but still be present in the same room and provide comfort with your presence. The point is to gradually move the chair away from the crib every night until your presence in the room is no longer required. It’s ok to sometimes verbally soothe them but make sure you don’t overdo this.
The chair method is most suitable for babies over 3 months old.
The biggest issue with this method is the parents’ reaction. Not many parents can just sit and watch their baby cry without soothing them in some way. So, if you think this will be particularly hard for you – don’t even start with the chair method. But if your little one or even your toddler suffers from separation anxiety, this is the best sleep training method to help them become more independent during nighttime.
The Ferber Sleep Training Method
Now we come to the sleep training methods that require more crying than the rest.
After your bedtime routine, put your baby to sleep in the crib or bassinet and exit the room. So, what do you do once they start crying? Simply go inside so your baby knows you’re here, but don’t engage. Don’t pat them, pick them up, or provide any physical contact.
Some say that verbal consolation is ok, but try to restrain yourself. If you really feel the need, just tell them something like “Mommy is here for you” or “Daddy loves you” but don’t read a story or sing. Repeat this at different intervals. Start with 1 minute, then 5, then 10, 15, and so on until your darling falls asleep.
Otherwise known as graduated extinction or check and console, the Ferber method usually shows results in a relatively short period of time, like up to a week for many parents. It’s great for parents who want their baby to fall asleep entirely on their own without any feeding, rocking, or singing. It’s recommended for babies over 4 months old.
Some parents say that once they enter the room the baby gets even more aggravated or expects that you will do something. If this is so in your case, then the following method might be perfect for you and your baby.
The Cry it Out Sleep Training Method
After your bedtime routine, put your baby to sleep in the crib or bassinet and leave the room. And that’s basically it! If your little one starts crying you don’t do anything, just wait until the crying is done and your baby falls asleep.
Maybe the most controversial sleep training method, the cry it out technique sounds harsher than it actually is. Many parents are pleasantly surprised to see their baby cry for only a few minutes before calming down. The first couple of nights are the hardest, so you need to be patient and leave your baby be.
If you enter the room to comfort your darling after they cry for a while, your baby will expect the same thing the day after and this method won’t work. That being said, some sleep training experts advise that it’s ok to comfort your baby but only if they wake up after sleeping for a couple of hours and cry longer than usual.
The cry it out method is recommended for babies older than 6 months. Beware that this is definitely not for everyone. Before you decide to try it out, think whether you have the strength to leave your baby cry it out. It’s perfectly fine both ways.
And remember, leaving your baby to cry it out is not neglecting them, but just teaching them to soothe themselves and fall asleep on their own, so don’t be afraid to try it.
What we want you to understand is that there’s no one right way to sleep train your baby.
The method you choose should be the one you believe will work best for both you and your baby’s temperament. Give it time - at least one week if not two and if there are no results, just switch to another one and be consistent. As we already said, consistency is crucial for the success of any sleep training method, so try to stick with it.