What is Sleep Training and How Do You Do It?

Updated Jun 1st 2022 | timer 10  min read

What is sleep training

Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant

Struggling with your baby’s sleep? Are you feeling exhausted? You’re not alone. In-fact, 75% of babies experience difficulty with their sleep.

“Is sleep training same as cry it out or CIO?”

No, sleep training is an umbrella term referring to a range of approaches designed to help babies learn to fall asleep independently. Teaching your baby this important skill will also reduce the number of times they wake during their sleep cycle. While cry-it-out and the Ferber method are both popular forms of sleep training, there are also many other methods that help teach your baby to self-soothe and sleep through the night.

Get started by taking this FREE Sleep Assessment to help you decide on the best method for your baby and be sure to check out the Smart Sleep Coach App. Our AI powered schedule tunes in on your baby’s biological sleep clock, so you always know when the time is just right for their next sleep.  It’s like a sleep expert, in your pocket!

Sleep is a Learned Skill

Sleep is one of the most important skills you can teach your baby, because sleep is essential to a baby’s development. Sleep is when your baby grows and cements everything they learn each day, so teaching them healthy sleep habits is essential to their overall health, both now and down the road.

While newborns seem to sleep all the time, sleep can become more challenging as your baby grows. In fact, almost three-quarters of babies have trouble sleeping at some point. Sleep training can get over these troubles while helping the entire family thrive, too.

In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of sleep training, how to sleep train, what you need to sleep train, how to create sleep training routines, and address other sleep training-related questions.

Also, while you’re learning more about sleep training, consider taking this FREE Sleep Assessment brought to you by the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers, a game changing app for parents looking to sleep train. In addition to pediatrician-approved sleep training methods, it helps you keep track of your baby’s unique sleep cycles, offers advice on how to balance sleep training with your personal life, and shares daily insights into your child’s sleep training development.

Why Do Babies Need So Much Sleep?

Babies are constantly growing and developing, and they do that growing and developing largely while they’re asleep. Sleep therefore is the cornerstone of your baby’s healthy development now – and later, too: babies who don’t sleep enough can develop mood disorders and obesity.

Plus, establishing healthy sleep habits helps parents, too: sleep training your baby will help you get more sleep, which in turn makes you a happier, more attentive parent and keeps you more alert in other places, too, like the workplace and while driving. So, yes, sleep training is about your baby and your baby’s health, but you matter here, too.

What Does It Mean to Sleep Train Your Baby?

You may be wondering, “What is sleep training?” Sleep training – sometimes called sleep coaching – uses science-backed techniques to teach you and your baby how to follow their sleep cues, self-soothe and how to love to sleep. It involves creating healthy sleep habits, establishing routines and working together to enhance your baby’s sleep.

All-in-all, sleep training encourages your baby to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer both at night and during naps, so they can be a happier, healthier baby when they’re awake. It’s also a great opportunity for parents to improve their own sleep, too.

When Do I Start Sleep Training?

Sleep training starts in earnest around the 3- or 4-month mark. That’s when your baby will develop two key sleep training skills: longer stretches between feedings and the ability to self-soothe – that is, they will instinctively know how to settle themselves down ahead of sleep.

While you can’t sleep train a newborn, you can lay the groundwork for healthy sleep habits from day one and help your baby be a super sleeper by doing things such as delivering consistent bedtime routines and creating an ideal sleep environment for your baby.

How to Create the Right Sleep Environment for Your Baby:

There are few things a baby needs to sleep well:

  • Darkness: Darkness helps your baby produce melatonin, a natural hormone that encourages sleep. For the darkest room, we recommend black out curtains.
  • A Cool Room: Research shows humans sleep best when the room temperature is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • A Noise Machine: We’ve found, and data supports, that babies sleep better when there’s brown noise or another steady sound. ( more on sound machines here)
  • Calming Scents: A spritz of lavender can help make your baby’s room more of a calming oasis.

How Do I Start Sleep Training?

There are five steps you can take to start 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, a parent of one and the expert behind Parenting Made Joyful, 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.

    Kylee tells us: “To prepare yourself to teach your baby to sleep independently, you would need to cut out of the routine anything they can’t replicate by themselves.”

    Again, around 3-4 months is when babies have the ability to learn to self-soothe: an essential tool in sleep training.

    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 or a nap 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.

    It may take a few days for this process to “click,” and you may be tempted to quit but it’s best to resist that urge – we promise that your baby will learn to fall asleep themselves in no time. and let the natural magic of sleep take place.

Why Are Naps Important

Sleep training is about more than just nighttime sleep. Naps are an important part of sleep training, because it’s really what your baby does during the day that sets them up for overnight sleep success.

How to Help Your Baby Get The Best Nap:

This may seem like a no-brainer, because babies, especially newborns, nap so often, but there are some steps you can take to help your baby get the most out of their naps.

  1. Know Your Baby’s Sleepy Cues: Within days of bringing your baby home you’ll get a sense of their unique sleep patterns – they’ll sleep when they’re tired. Keep these times in mind and later, as the baby develops a nap routine, try to schedule their naps around your baby’s natural cycles.
  2. Let Naps Go Long: As a general rule you should let your baby nap for as long as they naturally do. Their little bodies will wake them when they’re ready. BUT, this may change if your baby has trouble falling sleep at night. If you’re sleep training and your baby’s no longer tired at their typical bedtime, consider shortening their afternoon nap or moving that nap up a bit. This should help rebalance their sleep cycle. (For more on that topic, please read our piece on Reducing Naps.) Or to avoid having to calculate sleep times, take this free sleep assessment and get your personalized sleep plan!
  3. Keep It Dark: Darkness is essential to healthy sleep - and while light helps govern the circadian rhythm, having it super dark during naptime will help your baby sleep better. If your new baby is struggling to understand the difference between night and day, making sure they get lots of awake time in daylight can really help!
  4. Biologically timed naps: You want to put your baby down to sleep when they are most tired and ready to sleep. Figuring that out can take some trial and error, that’s where the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ can help you – with sleep timings and so much more.

How Much Should My Baby Sleep?

While there are standard amounts of time a baby typically sleeps, remember every baby is unique and how your baby sleeps may be a bit different, so bear this in mind when looking at averages.

It’s more important to pay attention to your baby’s sleep cues than a particular amount of time. That means you should put your baby down when they seem tired, rather than because it’s 2:30pm and you think they should nap then.

With that in mind, the National Sleep Foundation recommends different amounts of sleep for babies of various ages:

Newborns (0-3 months): Newborns often take care of this themselves because they sleep most of the day and night, waking only when they’re hungry or need to be changed.

Still, sleep experts suggest newborns sleep about 14-17 hours each day, though some may sleep between 11-19 hours. This usually happens in 2–3-hour increments with brief awake intervals in between.

This may seem like a lot of sleep for them – and maybe less for you – but this brief period is essential to your baby’s healthy development, and you can catch up on any missed sleep later.

Infants (4-11 Months): Sleep training can start around the 4-month mark. Around this time most babies sleep between 12-15 hours per day, though some may sleep as little as 10 or as many as 18 hours. To help keep track, we recommend the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. It’s easy-to-use and helps you craft a personalized sleep plan for your unique family.

Toddlers (12 months-24 months): As your baby gets older, they need less sleep. By age one, babies are typically sleeping 11-14 hours per day, though it could also be between 9-16 hours, depending on your baby’s schedule.

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 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.

For more information about sleep training, sleep cycles, and all else you need to know for you and your baby to sleep better,  download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™.

Sources:

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