Ferber Method Sleep Training: How It Works

Updated Jan 10th 2023 | timer 8  min read

Ferber method
Mandy Treeby

Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant

As you learn about sleep training, you encounter new terms and concepts, including something called The Ferber Method. So, what is the Ferber Method for sleep training, how does it work, and is the Ferber Method best for your baby? Here I'll provide answers about the Ferber sleep coaching method, often referred to as timed checks or the timer method.

If you’re looking to get support with sleep training, considering using Ferber but really don’t know where to start, take our free sleep assessment and download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers app. Get a personalized sleep plan along with step-by-step guidance (from yours truly) on how to improve your baby’s sleep using Ferber, and guide them to become strong independent sleepers.


IN THIS ARTICLE:


What is the Ferber Method?

Named after Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatric sleep expert in Boston, the Ferber sleep training method uses increasing interval based checks to gratually fade out the parental support your baby needs to fall asleep independently.

In a nutshell, the Ferber Method has you put your baby down for bed drowsy but awake, and leaving the room for progressively longer intervals before entering to provide a brief reassurance and leaving again – repeating this process until your baby falls asleep.

There are differing variations of this method and how the intervals work – in some cases you stick with a given interval of 2-mins for the first few nights and then extending to 5-mins for the next few nights. In other cases you increase the intervals by 1 or 2 mins each time you enter the room until you hit an evening ‘max’ interval – starting at the max from night 1 for the next night waking or on night 2.

Regarless of the variation you use, essentially by lengthening the amount of time between reassurances, you give your baby the opportunity will soothe themselves to sleep – the primary goal of successful sleep training.

Note: Brief reassurances should be less than 1-min and as calm and quiet as possible – you don’t want to stimulate your baby further. When possible I recommend not picking up your baby, rather providing an ‘arms length’ reassurance with a gental pat and using your voice.

What Kind of Comfort Can I Offer When “Ferberizing”?

While you can comfort your baby when using the Ferber Method, you want to keep your reassurances brief (less than one minute) and gentle. Comforting can include:

  • Shushing
  • Patting your baby’s back
  • Stroking your baby’s head

Avoid picking up your baby as this may further stimulate them.

Remember: The Ferber Method is all about gently soothing your baby and letting them fall asleep independently. Talking too loudly or picking them up may stimulate them even more, leading to a more wakeful state.

How Do I Do the Ferber Method of Sleep Training?

Here is an example sleep training plan using the Ferber Method:

What You’ll Need: A timer or stopwatch. Most smart phones have one.

Nights 1-3: The first three nights of the Ferber Method are exactly the same in terms of time interval:

  • Perform your bedtime routine as usual and put your baby down sleepy but awake. That means they’re very tired but not yet asleep.
  • Leave the room.
  • If your baby cries, start your timer, and wait until it goes off before entering your baby’s room to reassure them.
  • Reassure your baby for 1 minute max. You want to keep your visit as short as possible without lingering.
  • Leave the room and repeat this process until your baby falls asleep. If they wake up again later in the night, repeat the same process as necessary using the same interval.

Nights 4 and Beyond:

  • On the fourth night of sleep training with the Ferber Method, add two minutes to the “fussy timer” and wait that length of time before entering the room to reassure your baby (still for less than 1-minute).
  • For example, if you waited 3 minutes on the first 3 nights, you’ll wait 5 minutes on night 4.
  • Then, on night 5, you add another 2 minutes; on night 6, you add another 2 minutes, and so on… By lengthening the time between protest and reassurance, you give your baby an opportunity to soothe themselves to sleep.

How Long Does the Ferber Method Take?

Every baby is different, but in my experience, with consistent delivery parents start to see some sleep improvement using Ferber by around nights 5-7, but it can take 2-weeks or more for your baby to learn how to fall asleep independently. It is considered a moderate parental involvement method and is among the fastest sleep training methods you can use.

That said, it’s important to note that successful sleep training is also very much dependent on your baby’s personality and finding the best sleep training. Sometimes entering the room for a brief reassurance only serves to escalate crying – babies with this response are often better suited to a non-parental involvement method such as .

Regardless of which sleep coaching method is best for your baby, you’ll achieve fast and easy results with the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™.

We worked with the world’s best pediatric sleep experts to create an app that can help any parent sleep train any baby – easily, safely, and quickly. In fact, the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ is so effective that most users see results in as little as a week.

Are There Night Wakings with the Ferber Method?

No matter which sleep training method you use, there will likely be night wakings. What is important is that you handle those night wakings in exactly the same way as you handled bedtime – using your sleep training method. In the case of Ferber, that means not entering the room after the night waking until your designated interval is up. And then repeating the interval assurances until your baby falls back to sleep.

How to Handle Night Wakings with the Ferber Sleep Coaching Method:

If your baby wakes up at night, follow the same rules or steps as you do when putting them down for the night: set your timer, wait the appropriate time, and softly reassure 1 minute before leaving and starting your timer again.

What If My Baby Wakes Near Morning?

If your baby experiences a night wake and it’s near their wake-up time, leave them alone until it’s time to get up for the day. This is for two primary reasons:

  1. Melatonin production decreases after 5am, which means your baby is not likely to fall back to sleep, even with brief reassurances
  2. Going in may solidify early wakeups: by going in, you cue your baby it’s time to get up. By leaving them in their crib, you’re reinforcing the fact that proper wake up is later in the morning. This can help inspire your baby to sleep a little more in the morning or teach them to be quiet as they wait for you to get up.

Check out this article for more advice on how to handle early wakeups.

Additional Tips for the Ferber Method of Sleep Coaching:

If your baby calms down while you’re in the room, leave: you want your baby to fall asleep while you’re out of the room. The goal with sleep training is to teach your baby to fall asleep independently. If you’re there by their crib when they fall asleep, they may come to depend on you to fall asleep.

If when you enter the room your baby's cry escalates, that’s ok – as long as it doesn’t continue every time you enter for more than a few nights. If it becomes the standard reaction, then you might want to consider transitioning to a non-parental involvement method, such as Cry it Out.

Why Cry It Out is Best at Naps:

Regardless of which method you use for bedtime sleeps, cry it out is always best for naps. This is for a few reasons:

  1. Naps are short and you have a much slimmer window of opportunity to perform a bedtime routine or sleep coaching method.
  2. Melatonin production is lower during naps – that means your baby has more energy to protest sleep training and can fight you the entire nap. For this reason alone, it’sbest to leave them alone and let their natural sleepiness take over.
  3. Your presence before a nap may stimulate them and you miss the sleepy window.

For more advice or step-by-step guidance on starting your sleep coaching journey, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It’s truly a game-changer – and a sleep saver!

FAQs:

How long does it take to do the Ferber Method?

Every baby is different, but on average babies and parents who use the Ferber Method of sleep training see initial results in about 6-7 days. Sleep training is a process, though – there are a few hills and valleys to conquer before your baby's sleep is 100% on track.

Is sleep training traumatizing for babies?

No. Sleep training is harmless; in fact, sleep trained babies may even be healthier than babies that aren’t sleep trained: studies show that well-rested babies are more emotionally even, have stronger linguistic skills, and are at less risk for obesity.

Why won’t the Ferber Method work on my baby?

Every baby is unique and has their own style of sleeping – and sleep training. While the Ferber Method has helped millions of babies, millions of other babies do better with a different sleep training method. Not to mention that with any habit change, consistency is the key to success. The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ can help you find which sleep training method will work best for your little one (and you) and guide you step by step through the process.

Which night of sleep training is hardest?

Again, every baby is different, but from my own experience and the experiences of my friends, the 2nd or 3rd night of sleep training are often the most challenging– meaning that babies cried more on those nights than any other night. By the third night it’s not unusual to feel like sleep has taken a step backwards instead of forwards. If you experience this, don’t be deterred, stick with it and stay consistent!

Sources:

“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.

Disclaimer:

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.

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