Let’s be honest, sometimes just the words ‘Sleep Training’ or ‘Sleep Coaching’ can trigger ill feeling amongst parents. Unfortunately, sleep training is an incredibly mis-understood topic, where in so many cases the belief is that sleep training = leave your baby to cry for hours. The fact is, sleep training is not about leaving your baby to cry, it is about helping give them the space to learn how to become a strong, independent sleeper. Now, as a parent who suffered severe sleep deprivation and today as a certified pediatric sleep consultant, I want to use this article to lay out the facts about what sleep training is, the different sleep training methods and what to consider when deciding if sleep training is for you.
If you don’t want to read this whole article, I highly recommend taking this FREE baby sleep assessment to see how you can help your baby (and you) get more sleep!
What is Sleep Training for Babies?
Baby sleep training is a collective term for teaching your baby how to fall asleep, when to fall asleep and what to do if they wake between sleep cycles. While your baby is born knowing how to sleep generally, the act of falling asleep independently is a learned skill. Once your baby learns to sleep, the whole family gets more rest.
Sleep training is a science-backed process that involves fine tuning three things:
- Sleep Environment - where we sleep
- Biological Sleep Rhythms - when we sleep
- Behavior and Sleep Associations - how we fall asleep
The sleep training methods I discuss in this article address sleep behavior and associations - or how we fall asleep. It is important that any sleep training method is paired with adjustments to sleep environment and sleep rhythms as well, in order to be successful.
If you’re looking for support in helping your baby become a strong independent sleeper, prevent early wake ups, night wakings or get naps on track - look no further than The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ this app seamlessly combines all three aspects of sleep to guide parents like you, holistically through the sleep training process step-by-step. It’s a lifesaver, and definitely something I wish I’d had when sleep training my little ones.
Why Sleep Train?
Sleep is an essential component of your baby’s growth, development, and overall health. In fact, the fastest rate of brain development happens before the age of 3, and most of that happens while sleeping. Since sleep is a learned skill, when you sleep train you’re teaching your baby the important skill of self-soothing, how to recognize routines that cue sleep and laying a healthy sleep foundation for the future, too. Studies show that babies who sleep better from a young age are at lower risk for obesity, mood disorders, and academic struggles later in life.
Sleep Training Methods
There are a number of baby sleep training methods, each of which were developed by pediatricians or baby sleep experts. Each sleep training method is focussed on helping your baby learn how to fall asleep independently (without your help) and requires a different amount of parental involvement. We can categorize them along a sliding scale from ‘high parental involvement’ to ‘no parental involvement’. If you use the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ it will help you select the method that is the best fit for your baby, and you.
Pick Up, Put Down Method
This is on the higher end of parental involvement and includes picking up your baby when fussy and putting them down once they calm, then picking them up again next time they fuss, and so on. The idea is that your baby will learn to self-soothe over a longer period of time with limited crying each night.
While many parents like being able to soothe this way, a downside of Pick Up, Put Down is that it can take a few weeks (or more) of serious time commitment and engagement. It is often harder for the baby to learn this way and parents often struggle to be consistent since it takes such a long time to see results.
Camping Out Method: Sometimes called the Chair Method or the Settle and Leave Method, the camping out method of sleep training is all about time and distance and is also on the higher end of the parental involvement scale.
You start by sitting in a chair next to your baby’s crib while stroking their back or cheek and speaking softly until they fall asleep.
Over the course of this program, you lessen the amount of soothing and increase the distance – so you move the chair further and further away.
The theory is that this combination incrementally teaches your baby to self-soothe. And, yes, this can definitely work, though it isn’t best for all babies. In many cases parental presence only serves to escalate baby’s protesting and like Pick Up Put Down, it can be very time consuming and can take many weeks without concrete results. Still, a lot of parents I work with prefer this method because they struggle with separating from their baby.
The Ferber Method
Developed in the mid-1980s by a pediatrician named Dr. Richard Ferber, the Ferber Method, also known as the Timer Method or Interval Method, is one of the most commonly practiced versions of sleep training and is considered a moderate parental involvement approach.
Using this method, you let your baby fuss for a set period of time, before going in to offer a brief reassurance and then leaving again to give them room to settle.
The intervals between each brief reassurance increases each time and adjust as nights or weeks go. The idea is that your baby will learn to self-soothe in those longer “away” intervals.
So, does “Ferberizing” or the Timer method work? From my experience, yes, it does work for many babies. However, often parents notice that their baby’s crying escalates when they enter the room and opt to switch to a non-parental involvement method afterwards - it really depends on your baby’s temperament.
Sometimes referred to as Cry It Out (CIO) is a non-parental involvement approach. This is typically the most polarizing method because you have to give your baby the space to learn to fall asleep independently - without your presence. Babies typically learn fastest with this method as it is the least confusing for them to grasp.
It is also important to remember that no matter which approach you take, there will always be some level of crying. Every parent hates to hear their baby cry. The struggle is real!
That said, sometimes it’s for the best – for example as it relates to danger or safety. Imagine a situation where your baby was crying because they wanted to eat the dog food and you wouldn’t let them, would you concede and let them eat the dog food so they stop crying? No, of course not. We always respond to our baby’s needs, but not their wants.
Only you can judge how much crying you can handle, which really means giving your child some room to struggle as they learn to become a strong, independent sleeper. This is 100% your decision and no one should pressure you to take this step if it’s not a fit for you or your family. And it is important to note, methods that work faster may ultimately result in less overall crying than a method with higher parental involvement which take longer.
Remember, every parent (me included) felt this way at some point, but many parents still found
sleep training very beneficial!
How To Pick a Sleep Training Method:
Fundamentally it is YOUR decision, but to help you choose, here are the key things to consider:
- Your Time Frame: If you want to reach your sleep goals in a short amount of time, you will need to choose a method with no parental or low parental involvement. These methods deliver results the fastest.
- Your Comfort Level: Are you able to give your child the space they need to learn on their own? Are your caregiving team on the same page when it comes to sleep? What have you already tried and learned? Does your child’s crying escalate when you enter the room for a brief reassurance?
- Your Child’s Unique Temperament: While you may have a sleep training method in mind, your child may not respond well. In this instance, you will need to use a method that reflects their personality rather than your comfort level. Taking your baby’s habits and temperament into account can really make a huge difference in terms of progress.
What Makes Sleep Training Successful?
Whichever method you go with, or if you decide to by guided through the process with our app, these three things hold the key to your success:
- Consistency - It’s widely known that babies and children thrive on routine, it gives them a sense of security since they know what’s coming next. And that’s why they also need 100% consistency from their caregivers, it’show they most quickly learn what we need them to learn.
- Sleepy Cues & Flexible bedtimes - Our bodies follow a biological rhythm, a set of naturally occurring sleep waves - times of the day we need to sleep. These fall at 9am and 1pm on the clock, we want to use sleepy cues to catch these waves and keep bedtime flexible depending on how naps go.
- Patience - Sleep is a journey, and change is hard. As you try to adjust and course correct your baby’s sleep keep in mind that it won’t happen overnight, but with patience (and consistency!!) you’ll get there. And remember, as your baby grows and changes, so do their sleep needs - you may need to re-visit sleep training a few times as they get older.
If you’re still on the fence about sleep training, or just looking for a nudge in the right direction - check out this FREE sleep assessment and get some personalized tips to help your baby become a super sleeper!