As a new parent, one of the most challenging aspects can be getting your baby to sleep through the night. Sleep deprivation is tough on both you and your little one, leading to exhaustion and a lack of energy during the day. If you're struggling with your baby's sleep, you’re not alone, in fact, 75% of babies experience difficulty with their sleep and it may be time to consider sleep training. In this article, we'll explore when to start sleep training and provide helpful tips for sleep training your baby effectively. With our expert advice, you and your baby can both get the restful, rejuvenating sleep you need to thrive.
Looking to sleep train, but not sure where to start? Take our FREE Sleep Consultation to get a customized sleep plan using the most suitable sleep training method for your baby from the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers App. This unique app works with you and your baby, guideing you every step of the way to sleep success.
What is Baby Sleep Training and how does it work?
It might surprise you to know that the act of falling asleep is a learned skill. So just like rolling, crawling, walking and talking – your baby needs the space and time to practice and master this skill.
This process of supporting your baby to learn how to fall asleep independently is called sleep training (sometimes called sleep coaching using science-backed techniques.
Often just the idea of baby sleep training can seem daunting, but it is important to keep in mind that while it will involve some tears, when it is done properly and consistently most babies take to it very quickly and everyone can be sleeping better in just a few nights.
Sleep training is an umbrella term for teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own without the need for parental assistance. This means putting your baby down when they're drowsy but still awake, so they can learn to self-soothe and drift off without needing you to rock, sway, cuddle, nurse, or shush them to sleep.
Mandy Treeby , Pediatric Sleep Coach and Co-Founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers
And because your baby learns how to fall asleep on their own, sleep training also teaches your baby how to fall back to sleep when they wake up during the night. An essential skill that will help them sleep more soundly and for longer periods.
Sleep Training Myth Busting and Common Misconceptions
There is a lot of conflicting information about sleep training, here we bust 4 common myths and misconceptions when it comes to sleep training.
1. Sleep training means night weaning. False. While it's true that some sleep training methods involve reducing or eliminating nighttime feedings, sleep training and night weaning don't necessarily go hand in hand. You can still sleep train your baby and be feeding them once or twice during the night, if needed.
2. Sleep training involves letting your baby cry all night. False. While all sleep training will be met with some level of crying, it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. You can adjust the amount of crying you're comfortable with before offering your baby comfort, such as a soothing song or a comforting rub on the back. The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers features a range of methods so you can use an approach that best fits with your family and parenting style.
3. Sleep training can harm a baby's health or create attachment-related issues down the line. This is simply not true. In fact a 2016 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine revealed that sleep trained children were reportedly more secure & predictable, less irritable and fussy and cried less.
4. Sleep training means sacrificing your baby's emotional needs for your own convenience . This couldn't be further from the truth. Sleep training is all about helping your baby learn the skills they need to sleep soundly and independently. By helping your baby learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, you're actually promoting their emotional and mental well-being.
When’s the Best Time to Start Sleep Training?
The best time to start sleep training is 4 months, when your baby has reached two fundamental sleep milestones the ability to:
1. Go for longer stretches between feedings
2. Self-soothe – that is, they start to instinctively know how to settle themselves down ahead of sleep.
While you can’t sleep train a newborn, you can establish a healthy sleep foundation by:
1. Deliveringconsistent bedtime routines
2. Creating a sleep nourishing environment
3. Following age approrpirate wake windows (not sure how? Download the Smart Sleep Coach)
4. Limiting your support to help them fall asleep
Different Sleep Training Methods
Sleep training is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are many different sleep training methods out there, and it’s important to find one that fits your baby’s temperament and works for your family.
Finding a sleep training method that works for your family's needs and your baby's temperament means it is more likely you will be able to deliver it consistently and that will increase your chances of sleep success!
Mandy Treeby , Pediatric Sleep Coach and Co-Founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers
Sleep training methods typically fall on a spectrum from high parental involvement to low or no parental involvement and are most successful when delivered 100% consistently:
Pick up Put down:
This method involves placing your baby down drowsy but awake and waiting a set interval before picking up your baby when they cry, calming them down, and putting them back in their crib. It’s considered a high parental involvement method and one of the most gentle sleep training approaches. This method can be particularly effective with younger babies.
The Chair method:
In this approach, you place a chair next to your baby's crib and wait there until they fall asleep. Gradually moving the chair farther away over several nights until your baby can fall asleep without you in the room. While it can be difficult to deliver this approach consistently (so hard to resist the urge to pick up your baby), the Chair method can be effective for parents who want to provide physical presence as support for their baby to fall asleep.
Ferber or Timed Checks:
This method involves gradually increasing the amount of time you wait before going in to check on your baby when they cry. The idea is to gradually teach your baby to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, while providing regular reassurance along the way. The Ferber method is one of the the most widely used approaches to sleep training and can work for a range of ages and temperaments when delivered consistently.
Cry It Out or Extinction:
This method involves letting your baby cry until they fall asleep , without going in to check on them. This method can be difficult for some parents emotionally, but it works the most quickly and is the most simple for your baby to understand. It's important to note that this method isn't right for every family, and parents should never feel pressured to try it if it doesn't feel right for them. However, for parents who do decide to try this method, it can be helpful to know that many babies learn to fall asleep on their own after just a few nights of crying.
Sleep Training for Naps: Is it Possible?
Yes, it is possible to sleep train for naps, although it can be a bit more challenging than nighttime sleep training. This is largely because your baby’s sleep drive is much lower during the day, put simply your baby is just not as tired as they are at night. With that in mind, using your regular sleep training approach may not work, instead I recommend using what we call the ‘1 hour rule’ where you place your baby in their crib at nap time and wait a full hour, if they don’t fall asleep in that time you can pick them up and wait until the next nap window.
Naps can often be the most complex to solve, if you’re struggling with naps – start this free sleep consultation and get a personalized sleep plan to improve your baby’s sleep.
How Long does Baby Sleep Training Take?
Sleep training can take anything from a few days to a few weeks or more. I wish I could give a definitive answer, but the reality is there are a number of factors that impact how hard or easy sleep training will be and how quickly your child may learn how to fall asleep by themselves:
1. Sleep Training Preparation: Ensuring that your baby is following a biological schedule and has their sleep environment optimized to nourish sleep will likely take to sleep training faster. That’s because it is much easier for a baby to fall asleep when they are tired and in a space that is condusive to sleep – so these things really set you up for success. That’s why the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers starts with these fundamentals, as the first stage of sleep training before transitioning to teaching your baby to fall asleep independently.
2. The Sleep Training Method You Choose: Methods like Cry It Out (CIO) or Ferber (Timed Checks) tend to work faster, with many parents seeing big improvements in just a few days, this is because they are easier for the baby to understand. Methods like Chair and Pick Up Put Down tend to take a little longer, often a couple of weeks or more as they take a more gradual approach to weaning support.
3. Sleep Training Consistency: The more consistent you are in your sleep training approach, the faster your baby will learn. It takes time to change habits, so you should expect to deliver your sleep training method for at least 2+ weeks. Any time you waver from the plan, cave and rock your baby to sleep or feed them will set you back to square one – so stick with it and if you don’t want to go it alone, then download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers App for step by step guidance!
4. Your baby’s age: When you sleep train, you’re changing habits of a lifetime. If your baby is 4-6 months of age, they will typically take to the new habit much more quickly than a baby who has been nursed to sleep for 18 months. It doesn’t mean you can’t change habits, or that you have to sleep train babies earlier, it just means that it may take a bit longer for an older baby since the habit is more engrained.
5. Your baby’s temperament: Every baby is different, some babies are more chill, some a little more highly strung. Understanding how your baby responds to the method you use will give you a good indication on whether the method is a fit for them and how they will take to this change in habit.6.Unexpected set backs. Sleep training takes time, and it is possible that your baby unfortunately gets sick , or they start teething , or you get sick and can’t deliver the method consistently. What’s most important when that happens is to pause, take a breather and start back when everyone is healthy and you have a clear runway to guide your baby to become a strong, independent sleeper.
Helpful Tips to Help Make Sleep Training More Effective
There are five steps you can take that will help set you up for success when sleep training:
1. Set up the Ideal Sleep Space: See above for more information on how to create an ideal sleep environment for your baby.
2. Create and Stick to a Bedtime Routine: Whether it’s reading a story book or singing softly, it’s important to create a standard, predictable routine before bed - and to consistently deliver it.
Kylee Money, Sleep Consultant tells us, “As babies, we all have a fundamental need for structure, predictability, and routine that allows ourselves to make sense of - and feel safe in - the chaotic world around us.”
The key is to make the sleep training routine reliable and predictable – a bit of order in a world that can be confusing and chaotic for babies – and adults, too.
Once the routine is created and practiced, it will help settle your baby for the important work of resting.
3. Time sleeps to be in line with your baby’s biological sleep rhythm: By using your baby’s natural cycles, you can create a sleep pattern that works for them. The Smart Sleep Coach app takes the guesswork out of sleep timing, updating your baby’s schedule automatically with each sleep you track – so you always know the perfect time for sleep. It is commonly thought that babies need a strict schedule for naps and bedtime, but parents should try to follow biological timings that fit theirunique baby. Setting a schedule according to the clock could backfire, getting all sleep out of sync.
4. Track Your Baby’s Sleep: Here’s where the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ can be a lifesaver: you simply enter the time your baby goes to sleep and the time your baby wakes up. This easy-to-use app learns your baby’s rhythms and lets you know when it’s the perfect time for their next sleep! But if you’re not ready to try an app, you can keep track of sleep the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper.
5. Let Your Baby Learn: Your newborn may have needed your help to fall asleep – maybe they liked when you rocked them gently or held them to your chest or you may have been feeding them to sleep. As they approach 3-4 months of age they have the ability to learn to self soothe, so the more space you can give them to practice learning how to fall asleep themselves the faster they will learn this important life skill.
With that in mind, when it’s time to sleep train, the objective is to try to teach your baby to soothe themselves. This means you put them down for sleep when they seem drowsy but awake and see if they can learn to nod off on their own. This handy app will guide you step by step through sleep training and helps you easily see the progress your baby is making.
Sleep training takes time and consistency, so resist the urge to quit too soon – give your baby at least 14 nights of a consistent sleep training approach before deciding if you need to course correct or change to a different sleep training method.
Important Reminder: Be Kind to Yourself. Sleep training is an excellent learning experience for you and your baby. It can also be frustrating. There may be times you feel overwhelmed or dejected – and that’s completely natural and acceptable.
The key is to be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you’re doing something new and important – there’s a learning yourself that you’re doing something new and important – there’s a learning curve you will get over. And, yes, we do mean “you will get over.” You’re a strong, capable, responsible person – the fact that you’re reading this proves that.
Just be patient, don’t beat yourself up - remember why you are doing this, you and your baby will be stronger and better rested in the end.
Sleep training is most successful when:
1. Both parents are 100% consistent and don’t waver from the approach
2. Sleep fundamentals (like schedule and sleep environment are set up to nourish sleep)
3. You give your baby at least 2-weeks to grasp the concept of falling asleep independently
4. The chosen sleep training method is a good fit for your baby’s temperament and something you can deliver consistently.
“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