How to Sleep Train a Baby
If you’ve been sleep deprived for months and you’re teetering on the brink of insanity, you may be looking for any respite you can find. Good news: You’ve got a few options if you decide to try sleep training your baby.
Sleep training was designed to teach babies self-soothing, which is the ability to calm themselves down so they can fall asleep without your help. There are various ways to accomplish the same result, usually with varying degrees of parental involvement and time commitment. However, there is one important requirement that underlies all approaches to sleep training a baby: consistency. Without it, your baby won’t learn the “lessons” of sleep training (i.e., a parent isn’t always going to come swoop you up at the first gurgle). So, choose your approach according to your ability to commit to it.
Common Sleep Training Themes
One important feature common to various sleep training methods is a bedtime routine. The bedtime routine is your baby’s signal that it’s time to start settling down and getting ready to go to bed. This might include reading a book, singing a lullaby, or playing a quiet, soothing game; the dimmer the lights, and the more soothing the environment, the better for sleep prep.
The bedtime routine sets the stage for getting your baby quiet, calm, and ready to be put into her crib. The key is to put your baby into the crib drowsy — but still awake — so that she learns to fall asleep in the crib on her own. It’s common to sleep training methods because it’s important. If your goal is to reduce sleepless nights, you do not want to teach a baby to fall asleep in your arms; that only ensures that your arms become a sleep crutch, and that they’ll be required any time the baby wakes up (which, for many babies, is many times a night).
Oh, and one more little thing: All of these sleep training approaches will depend on your ability to stomach some amount of your baby crying (without you running to comfort her). We’ve outlined your options for baby sleep training below, from the fastest approaches (which are parent-led and involve more tears) to the slowest (child-led, fewer tears).
Parent-led Sleep Training Options
These approaches are the quick fixes; they are best for parents who have to go back to work, or are desperate to get a good night’s sleep. They are fast and effective, but they require a commitment to consistency even in the face of a baby’s screams.
The Cry It Out method
Otherwise known as ‘ripping off the Band-Aid’ sleep training. It’s short, painful and effective.
Leave the room after putting the baby in her crib, knowing without a doubt that she’ll wail and that you can’t go back until morning. To be clear, even if she falls asleep, then wakes up and fusses and screams in the middle of the night, you still don’t go back into the room, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Hold strong for the next three to 14 nights, and you should have a baby who knows how to self-soothe and will be able to fall back asleep by herself any time she wakes up.
The Ferber method
Otherwise known as the ‘gentle cry it out’ sleep training. For parents who need a quick fix but can’t commit to the above method.
Start the same way, but when you hear the first cry, wait a few minutes before entering the room. When you do, do not pick up the baby! You can speak soothingly, sing or give her a pat. After a couple of minutes of this comfort, leave the room. If she continues to cry, you continue to go tend to her — but gradually increase the wait each time. And remember: no picking her up. When you reach a wait time of 10 minutes, continue going in at 10 minute intervals until she falls asleep. Over the next few days, continue to gradually increase the time it takes you to respond to her crying.
In 8 to 14 nights, the baby should have learned to fall asleep on her own, without your intermittent soothing.
This method allows parents to feel more responsive and in control, but it takes longer than straight Cry It Out and the temptation for inconsistency is greater. Your kid might also get more upset when you come in and leave again, but remember — she will get over it.
Baby-led Sleep Training Options
These sleep training methods are less focused on time and structure, and can be adapted to suit you and your baby. The downside is that they take a lot longer (and therefore can test your sanity in other ways).
The Chair/Camp out method
Otherwise known as ‘you’re chained to your seat, but you get to be in the room’ sleep training.
Take a seat in a chair near your baby’s crib. When she cries or fusses, you can give her a pat, speak to her soothingly or sing a song. But do not pick her up. Camp out in the chair whenever she wakes up and cries, and pat, soothe or sing to her.
Every night, move the chair a little farther away from her crib – halfway across the room, inside the doorway, just outside the doorway. By around night 14 or so, she shouldn’t need you to soothe her anymore. If you haven’t lost your mind by then, congratulations are in order.
The Fading Method
Otherwise known as ‘coming in and out of the room, as needed’ sleep training.
Leave the room for sanity and sustenance after you put your baby down, but when she fusses, return every five minutes to soothe her – without picking her up – until she falls asleep. This is a good choice for patient parents who get hangry, co-sleep, or share a room with their baby.
Pick up-Put down method
Otherwise known as ‘slow burn, but you get to hug your kid as they learn to sleep’ sleep training.
When your baby fusses, pick her up, soothe her for a couple of minutes only, say your signature good-night phrase, then put her back into her crib, even if she is still fussing. Repeat until she gets quiet and falls asleep. Then you can leave the room. Repeat throughout the night and for as many days, weeks or months as it takes.
Whatever sleep training method you choose, hang in there, and know that soon, your baby will know how to self-soothe and you won’t get stuck in an endless cycle of rocking, soothing, and parental sleep deprivation. This too shall pass.