Baby Sleep Training Methods: All you need to know and how to get started

Last Updated: 
January 1, 2024
 | 
10
 minutes read
Written by
Mandy Treeby
Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
Medically reviewed by
Arik Alper, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Aerodigestive Specialist

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 means you leave your baby to cry for hours. The fact is, sleep training is not about leaving your baby to cry, you can actually respond to your baby’s needs at night while still sleep training! Sleep training 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 is now 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.

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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 independently, 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, without your support, 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 fundamentals of sleep:

  • 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 vary in the amount of parental involvement, but they all address sleep behavior and associations or how we fall asleep. In order to be successfully, all sleep training methods should include the necessary adjustments to your baby’s sleep environment (such as room temperature and noise levels) and alignment with their sleep rhythms.

If you’re looking for support in helping your baby become a strong independent sleeper, prevent early wake ups reduce, night wakings or get naps on track - look no further than The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. The app seamlessly creates a personalized plan that combines all three fundamentals of sleep to guide parents like you, through the sleep training process step-by-step. This includes a sleep schedule that aligns their naps and bedtime with their circadian rhythm and information on which sleep training method may be best for your family. It’s changed the lives of thousands of new parents and babies, and definitely something I wish I’d had when sleep training my little ones. It’s a lifesaver, and definitely something I wish I’d had when sleep training my little ones.

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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. If your baby is struggling with finding restful sleep, fine-tuning their schedule and sleep environment may be enough to help them find the optimal sleep times to get there. However, for parents who feel their baby needs additional support with building healthy sleep habits, one of the methods of sleep training may be the key to quality zzs.

When you sleep train, a big part is teaching your baby the important skill of self-soothing, and how to recognize routines that cue sleep. It also is a great way to lay a foundation for healthy sleep habits 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 science-backed baby sleep training methods, each of which were developed by pediatricians or baby sleep experts. Each sleep training method is focused on helping your baby learn how to fall asleep independently (without your help) and requires a different amount of parental involvement. These methods can work for both naptimes and bedtime, 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.

pick-up-put-down


Pick Up Put Down Method

The Chair Method (Camping Out Method)

Sometimes called the “Camping Out 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 Chair Method

The Chair Method

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.

ferber-method


Ferber Sleep Training Method

Cry It Out (Extinction Method)

The Extinction Method, sometimes called Cry It Out (CIO) is a low-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, which often involves a bit of tears. 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. If they are used to a certain way of falling asleep, of course they’ll be a little frustrated when they don’t get their way! We know parents hate to hear their baby cry, but usually it is safe to let them cry. Of course if it’s an emergency or your baby is hungry or has a dirty diaper, you should always attend to your baby’s needs!

That said, crying is sometimes for the best, as it can teach your baby right and wrong as it relates to danger or safety. For example, 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 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. And remember: With a perfected sleep schedule and environment, which Smart Sleep Coach can help with, your baby may not even need sleep training!

Remember, every parent (me included) felt this way at some point, but many parents still found

sleep training very beneficial!

baby-cry-it-out-method


Cry It Out Method

The Gentle Method

The "Gentle" Sleep Training Method is a nurturing approach designed to help infants and young children develop healthy sleep habits with minimal distress. It is similar to the Pick Up, Put Down method. Unlike more assertive methods such as Cry-It-Out, the gentle approach prioritizes comforting and reassuring the child without prolonged periods of leaving the child to cry alone as they learn to fall asleep independently. Parents employing this method respond promptly to their child's cries by going into their room to offer, comfort and reassurance. Once they calm down, you leave the room. If they cry again, you go in to comfort them and repeat the process.

Every night, you increase the amount of time between going to comfort your baby when they protest. The emphasis is to foster a sense of security and trust, allowing the child to gradually learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently. While it may require more parental involvement and take longer to complete, the "Gentle" Sleep Training Method aims to create a positive sleep routine that promotes healthy sleep patterns and a strong parent-child bond.

The Gentle Sleep Coaching Method

The Gentle Sleep Coaching Method

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 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:

  1. 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’s how they most quickly learn what we need them to learn.
  2. Sleepy Cues and 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.
  3. 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, take this FREE 3-minute sleep quiz and the Smart Sleep Coach app can share some personalized tips to help your baby become a super sleeper!

Step-by-Step Gentle Sleep Training

Few Parents Know, falling Asleep is a learned skill. Just like rolling, crawling, walking and talking – babies need help to master sleep.

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Studies show new parents can lose as much as two hours of sleep every night after their baby comes!

“Thanks to the Smart Sleep Schedule, I’ve been able to follow my baby’s natural rhythm, and stick to the wake windows. This makes a huge difference in her ability to nap longer.”

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Studies show new parents can lose as much as two hours of sleep every night after their baby comes!

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What parents tell us

Thanks to the Smart Sleep Schedule, I’ve been able to follow my baby’s natural rhythm, and stick to the wake windows. This makes a huge difference in her ability to nap longer.

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FAQs:

Many experts recommend that you don’t formally sleep train your baby until they are around 4-6 months old. However, you can start establishing the fundamentals of sleep, such as a consistent feeding and sleep schedule and bedtime routine, as early as 3-4 months. It's crucial to gauge your baby's readiness based on their individual cues.

Yes, there are various methods of sleep training that range from low parental involvement to higher parental involvement. These include the Ferber method, the "Cry it Out" method, and gentle approaches like the Chair Method or the Pick-Up, Put Down method. Choosing a method depends on your parenting style and your baby's temperament.

The ideal time to start sleep training varies, but many parents begin around 4 to 6 months when babies start developing more predictable sleep patterns. However, individual readiness and developmental milestones should also be considered.

The timeframe for a baby to adjust to a sleep training method varies. Some infants adapt quickly, while others may take more time. The method you choose also plays a role in how long it takes for your baby to adjust. However, consistency and patience are crucial elements for parents who want to successfully sleep train.

Yes, many parents find success by incorporating elements from different sleep training methods. It's essential to be flexible and responsive to your baby's needs, tailoring the approach to best suit their temperament and your parenting style.

Many experts suggest beginning sleep training around 4 to 6 months when babies develop more predictable sleep patterns. However, individual readiness varies, and some parents choose to start earlier or later based on their baby's cues and temperament. Flexibility is key in determining the optimal age for sleep training.

The best sleep training method varies based on individual preferences and a baby's temperament. Some popular approaches that require lower parental involvement include the Ferber method, and the "Cry It Out" method. Gentler techniques like the Chair Method or Pick Up, Put Down are also popular, just may take longer to implement. The effectiveness of each method depends on your parenting style and your baby's unique needs. Experimenting and finding an approach that aligns with both your comfort level and your baby's temperament is key.

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How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Sources:

“Parental use of 'cry it out' in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 months,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
“Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial,” Pediatrics.
“Sleep and Early Brain Development,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism .

“Sleeplessness, night awakening, and night crying in the infant to toddler,” Pediatric Review.
“Back to sleep: Teaching adults to arrange safe infant sleep environments,” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.
“Study finds link between sleep habits and weight gain in newborns,” National Institutes of Health .

“National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary,” Sleep Health Journal.

Mindell, J.A., Kuhn, B., Lewin, D.S., Meltzer, L.J., Sadeh, A. “Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine Vol 29, No. 10 (2016) https://aasm.org/resources/practiceparameters/review_nightwakingschildren.pdf

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