Sleep training (or sleep teaching) is the name given to different techniques of teaching your baby how to fall asleep without your help. So, if your baby has always needed to be rocked, cuddled or fed to fall asleep, sleep training will teach them that they can fall asleep without anyone’s help (also referred to as self-soothing). Not only is your baby able to fall asleep by themselves at bedtime, but they can also fall back asleep on their own if they wake during the night.
Keep in mind that sleep training will not automatically mean that your baby will sleep through the night. Depending on their age there are many reasons that may cause them to still need you during the night, such as hunger or teething pain.
There are many methods of sleep training to choose from, so do your research to see which method may work best for your family. Contrary to what you may have heard, sleep training is not just ignoring your crying baby until they eventually run out of energy and fall asleep. Explore the methods mentioned below and consider whether one of them could be your baby’s key to more independent sleep.
All methods of sleep training require good preparation for success. Do your baby’s usual bedtime routine to get them into a sleepy mindset, then begin implementing your chosen method once they’re drowsy.
Also called the Extinction Method, this method is considered suitable for babies 6 months and older. This method may be the most intense (and controversial) as your baby is likely to be very upset the first few times you try to implement this method.
How it’s done: this method involves putting your baby into their sleep space when they’re drowsy but awake. You then leave the room and do not return. Many babies may cry for up to an hour without settling, especially if they’re used to lots of assistance (cuddles, rocking, feeding, etc) to fall asleep.
This method is the most well-known method of sleep training, with many people thinking it’s the only method. Well-meaning family and friends may suggest this method when they see a parent struggling with a baby who doesn’t sleep well. There are plenty of alternative methods which you can implement if Cry-It-Out seems too intense.
The Ferber Method
The Ferber Method is a technique developed by paediatric sleep expert Dr Richard Ferber and is considered suitable for babies 6 months and older. It originally became popular when he wrote about it in his book “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”. It’s considered a gentler version of the Cry-It-Out method.
How it’s done: just like Cry-It-Out, put your baby into their sleep space and then leave the room. After about one minute, reenter the room and reassure them, maybe with a rub on the back, soft-spoken words, etc. This method recommends that you do not pick them up or feed them. Leave the room again, this time for slightly longer – say 3 minutes. The goal is to gradually increase the time between checking on them.
Some babies may be reassured by the frequent visits which let them know that their caregiver is not far away. However, some babies may be confused and more upset when a caregiver acknowledges their distress without taking action to soothe them.
If your baby is really upset by your absence then the Chair Method could work for you. This method is considered suitable for babies aged 6 months and older.
How it’s done: put your baby in their sleep space and sit on a chair in their room. If your baby gets upset you can try soothing words and patting their back. Aim to let them fall asleep without your touch or your voice, you should mostly just sit on the chair as a comforting presence. Once they fall asleep you leave the room. If they wake up crying just reenter the room quietly and sit on the chair again until they fall back asleep. Each night, move your chair closer to the door until you are completely out of the room.
Some babies may be comforted by your presence, however, some babies may be distressed if you’re in the room with them but not interacting in your normal way. Also, sitting on a chair in the dark may sound boring, but don’t be tempted to scroll on your phone while you wait for them to fall asleep, this can create a visually stimulating environment for your baby.
Pick Up Put Down Method
This method is regarded as a gentle method of sleep training and is considered to be suitable from 6 months of age. Keep in mind when implementing this method that it takes more patience and time than other alternatives.
How it’s done: put your baby in their sleep space drowsy but awake. If they remain settled then leave the room. If they start to cry then pick them up and comfort them. Once they calm down place them back in bed and leave the room. If you hear them fussing pause outside their door and listen. If they start to cry go in and pick them up and comfort them. Once they settle, place them back into bed and leave the room again. Repeat this process again and again.
Your baby may find this method easier to adjust to as they still have comfort from you – but also eventually learn to doze off without assistance.