There are many different sleep training methods out there, each one varying in parental involement. But the one that is considered the most gentle is often referred to as “The Gentle Method,” or “Pick Up, Put Down.” This method that requires more parental involvement than other sleep training method, as a result, the Pick Up, Put Down or Gentle Method also takes longer than other methods. Here I’ll explain how to perform the gentle method of sleep training and answer the most common questions about how to start sleep training with the gentle method.
If you’re looking to get support with sleep training and 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 the sleep training method of your choice – so your baby can become a strong independent sleeper.
What is the Gentlest Sleep Training Method?
Succesful sleep training requires 100% of consistency, no matter what the method, for as long as it takes for your baby to learn how to fall asleep independently. With that in mind, you need to choose a method that fits with your parenting style and that you feel confident you can deliver, every bedtime, every wake up, all the time.
Because of this, I always find it difficult to answer ‘what is the gentlest sleep training’ method. Do you mean for the parents? Or for the baby?
For most people, the assumption is that a sleep training method with higher parental involvement (like pick up put down or ‘the gentle method’) is more gentle than one with less or no parental involvement (such as Cry it Out) – however when you look at it this way you fail to take into account two things:
- Sleep training with more parental invovlment will inevitbely take longer to resolve sleep than a more hands off approach.
- Since all sleep training methods will be met with some sort of protest, a shorter intervention with more initial crying doesn’t mean it is less gentle on your baby than a longer intervention method with less initial crying but where crying will happen night after night over a prolonged period of time.
It also doesn’t factor in a baby’s personality – which is another critical component in successful sleep training. Some babies are more laid back, and a higher parental involvement approach can work great for them. Other babies are simply more highly strung and their parent’s presence just escalates the protest – for those babies, less parental involvement will work best.
In my experience, the gentlest sleep training method is the one that parents find easiest to execute consistently and that matches best with your baby’s personality.
The “Gentle” Sleep Training Method
Pick Up, Put Down is generally thought of as the gentlest sleep training method, this is because when you deliver the Pick Up, Put Down sleep coaching method, you pick up your baby whenever they fuss, reassure them for a set period of time, and then put them down to try again.
It is considered gentle as you don’t leave your baby to cry for a long period of time, that said while indeed this is gentle and can be effective, the Pick Up, Put Down method requires the most parental intervention and therefore isn’t always the most efficient method and can be exhausting to deliver consistently (after 15+ pick ups parents tend to get tired themselves).
The goal with sleep training is to teach your baby to fall asleep independently and soothe themselves back to sleep if they wake up. The Pick Up, Put Down method works toward this goal but far more slowly than other sleep training methods because babies may come to rely on you picking them back up before they can settle. In general I find it works best with babies under 7 months.
How Do I Do Pick Up, Put Down?
Here is a step-by-step guide to performing the Gentle Sleep Coaching Method, also known as Pick Up, Put Down.
- Perform your bedtime routine and put your baby down when they're sleepy but awake.
- Leave the room.
- If your baby starts to cry, set the timer.
- Wait 3 minutes before intervening.
- If your baby is still crying when the timer goes off, pick them up and offer brief reassurances until they calm down but are still awake.
- When your baby calms, put them back down and leave the room.
- If your baby cries again, repeat the process until your baby falls asleep.
Be sure to make a note of how long it took them to settle. This will help you monitor their progress. (The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ will do this automatically.)
On night two, you perform this same exact routine except you add 2 minutes to the timer. So, instead of waiting 3 minutes, you'll now wait 5. The third night, you’ll add more time to the timer, and so on.
The goal here is to fade out your assistance while increasing your baby’s “alone endurance” to the point that they will learn to soothe themselves to sleep.
Which Sleep Coaching Method is Best?
Every baby is different and learns in their own way – that’s why the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ asks for your input to customize your baby’s sleep coaching method. What works for one baby may not work for the rest, and of course what one parent is comfortable with may not work for another.
When choosing a sleep coaching method you have to really consider four things:
- How quickly do you want to get sleep on track? Faster = less parental involvement e.g. CIO vs Slower = more parental involvement e.g. Pick Up Put Down and then there are methods in the middle such as Ferber and Chair.
- How comfortable are you with giving your baby space and time to learn how to fall asleep?Recognizing all sleep training will be met with some level of crying and protest.
- Your baby’s temperament. Is your baby’s protesting escalated when you enter the room, or escalating when you try to calm them down? If so, then you might want toconsider less parental involvement.
- Are all of your baby’s caregivers on the same page? Consistency is the key to sleep training success so you need everyone rowing together if this is going to work, since any deviation can set you back to the beginning.
What if The Gentle Method Doesn’t Work?
If the gentle method doesn’t work, then you can try another method. Before changing methods though I always recommend asking yourself:
- Have we been 100% consistent?
- Have we tried this method consistently for at least 7-14 days without improvement (14-days for the Gentle Method is ideal)
If you can answer yes to both of the above, then you can consider switching to another method – I typically recommend trying Chair or Ferber next. If your baby’s crying is escalating then often the lead option is to switch Cry it Out – but again that’s not for everyone - trust me, Itotally understand. Just remember, crying does not hurt your baby and a little discomfort for you now is worth the long-term benefits of sleep training.
How Long Does Sleep Training Take?
When delivered consistently, sleep training can improve sleep in as little as 7-days, but of course that depends on the method being used and the extent of the sleep challenges. It is also important to remember, habit change takes time and while you may see initial improvements quickly, solidifying healthy sleep habits will take a few weeks. That said, once you get the fundamentals in place and your baby has fine tuned their sleep skills, it is much easier to get sleep on track next time there is a set back.
Did I just say set back? Yes, as your baby grows and develops their sleep needs will change and disruptions can occur. Whether it is dropping a nap, adjusting a bedtime, dealing with an illness or a sleep regression or perhaps just a timezone change due to a vacation or annual daylight savings - you will periodically need to adjust your baby’s sleep schedule.
Tools like the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers can help you every step of your baby’s sleep journey through all the ups and downs.
What are the Benefits of Sleep Training?
Sleep training has incredible immediate and long-term benefits, in the short term it:
- Provides your baby with the sleep they need to keep growing
- Provides you more sleep because your baby sleep better
- More emotional balance for babies and parents
While in the long term it has been shown to:
- Improve babies’ learning and cognitive abilities.
- Improve babies’ emotional balance.
- Improve overall physical health. For example, babies that sleep coach are less likely to be obese.
Do I Sleep Train My Baby at Nap Time?
Yes, naps are an essential part of sleep coaching, though often require less “coaching” than nighttime sleeps. During naps, the best approach is usually “cry it out” this is because your baby’s sleep drive is lower at naps, so their ability to stay awake and protest sleep is higher. Leaving them to self soothe not only gives them the space and time to practise falling asleep, but less intervention means less stimulation and they are more likely to fall asleep without your support.
That said, if you aren’t a fan of CIO you can use your preferred method for naps – just be aware that it may be less likely to work and could result in an overtired baby.
How Long Do Babies Take Naps?
Your baby’s nap schedule will shift as they age, but roughly speaking a 3 month old is on 4-5 naps, by 4 months they drop to 3 naps, by 8 months 2 naps and around 15-18 months 1 nap. These changes
As a quick reference, these are the signs it’s time for your baby to drop a nap:
- Your baby actively resists a nap or bedtime – consistently for a number of days / weeks.
- Your baby has trouble falling asleep at their typical times.
- Your baby misses a nap and isn’t cranky
- Your baby naps and IS cranky
For more on nap transitions, read check out this article on how to successfully drop your baby’s naps.
If you’re looking for answers to any and all of your other sleep training questions, check out the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers ™. I know from my own experience how frustrating and confusing this process can be. This app offers you, and every other new parent , the insights, advice, support and tools you need to make sleep training easier.
“Child Sleep Coaches: Current State and Future Directions,” Clinical Pediatrics.
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.