When you think of sleep training, you may think of the cry-it-out method, which dates back to 1894. The truth is, sleep training has come a long way over the years. At the heart of each sleep training method is the goal of teaching a child to fall asleep on their own without the need for a long, drawn-out bedtime routine from parents.
The Ferber method is a graduated extinction sleep training program developed by Richard Ferber. Also known as check and console, the Ferber method uses strictly timed intervals during which you leave your baby alone and follow up. When following up, you soothe and console your baby with comforting words or through touch. Repeat this cycle while increasing the time of each interval the baby is left alone until you reach 10 to 15 minutes. Then, keep at it until they fall asleep.
The cry-it-out method, also known as the extinction method, involves putting your baby in their crib and leaving them alone while they fuss until they are self-soothed and fall asleep. The goal of the cry-it-out method is to teach babies how to fall asleep on their own without any outside help.
Pick up, put down method
The pick up, put down method works just as it sounds. You put your baby down in their crib, allowing them to momentarily fuss, and then go back into their room and hold the baby for a bit. Once they’re calm, you put them back in their crib. These steps are repeated until the baby falls asleep. This approach to sleep training is considered a more gentle technique of teaching babies to self-soothe without them feeling as if they have been abandoned.
The bedtime fading sleep training method is a strategy based on your baby's willingness to go to sleep. The approach involves paying attention to when the baby naturally falls asleep and adjusting their bedtime incrementally every couple of nights. For example, take note of your baby’s natural bedtime three nights in a row. On the fourth night, shift your baby’s bedtime 15 minutes earlier, continuing the new, earlier bedtime for the next few nights. Then in a few nights, again shift the bedtime 15 minutes earlier and so on until you have reached the desired bedtime.
The wake-to-sleep approach tends to be used when a baby or child is waking up too much. The idea behind the technique is to support your child through the transition from one sleep cycle to another. For example, if your child is regularly waking up after 45 minutes of sleep, set an alarm for 30 minutes before their normal wake-up time, go into their room and gently rouse them without fully waking them. This gentle nudge helps them ease into the next phase of sleep and encourages deeper, longer periods of sleep.
The chair method is simple: After putting your baby into their crib each night, sit in a chair by their bed until they fall asleep. Then, every few nights, move the chair farther away from their bed. The idea behind this method is that babies will learn how to fall asleep with little interaction from you and know you are close by, even when you are gone from sight.
Sleep training FAQs
- When to start sleep training?
- Experts recommend starting sleep training for babies at four to six months of age. This age range is the sweet spot when babies are big enough to make it six to eight hours without needing to eat. This is just a recommendation — there's no need to rush if you feel you or your baby aren’t ready.
- How long does sleep training take?
- All babies are different. While some parents find sleep training effective and efficient, others may find it takes a bit longer for their baby to adapt. If sleep training feels like it is taking too long, it may not be a fit for your family. You can discuss other options with your pediatrician.
- What is a newborn’s sleep schedule?
- Newborns are all different, and each has their likes, dislikes and sleep schedule. While there is not one specific sleep schedule a newborn follows right away, you will learn your baby’s sleep cues and when they need to sleep. Generally speaking, newborns should sleep a total of eight to nine hours in the daytime and about eight hours at night.
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