Sleep training is the process of teaching your baby to sleep independently, and can be a difficult undertaking. Experts agree that the “sweet spot” for sleep training your baby is around 4-6 months. At this time, babies are starting to learn to self-soothe and are capable of going much longer stretches of time without eating.
Much of this process will depend on the temperament of your baby, and your family’s specific needs and circumstances. With that in mind, there are many different methods of sleep training and you may need to experiment, or even use a combination of more than one method to find the most effective solution for you and your baby. Regardless of the way you choose to help your baby to sleep more independently, this process requires patience and consistency. Below you will find a brief overview of several popular sleep-training methods.
Cry-it-out method: This method of sleep training is controversial. It involves letting your baby cry upon waking, with no intervention or engagement from you or your partner, until he gets the hang of soothing himself to sleep. Supporters say this is a practical way for your baby to learn, and it generally doesn’t take long for parents to see results. Critics say letting your baby cry without soothing him can cause psychological damage and negatively effect your baby’s sense of security while sleeping.
Chair Method: The method involves placing a chair by your baby’s crib to reassure her of your presence. You are not intended to engage with, or soothe your baby during this time, but simply to be there. As your baby grows more independent each night, you move the chair further away until you are no longer needed in the room at all.
Ferber Method: This technique is named after pediatrician Dr. Richard Ferber and is often mistakenly as the cry-it-out method. However, Dr. Ferber meant for his method to help parents specifically avoid unnecessary crying. The Ferber method involves putting your baby in his crib drowsy, but still awake. If he cries, you are meant to wait for gradually increasing periods of time before soothing him, starting with 3 minutes, than 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and so on, over the course of a week or so until your baby is more efficient at falling asleep on his own.
Wake-and-sleep Method: Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, is a proponent of waking your baby in order to help them learn to fall asleep independently. His method involves nursing or rocking your baby to sleep, then placing them in their crib and waking them slightly (just enough that they are still drowsy), and then allowing them to fall back to sleep on their own. He says that in those 10 seconds of wakefulness, your baby will become equipped with the skills to put himself back to sleep in the night.
No-Cry Methods: Many experts are fans of gentler, no-cry methods to sleep training. In general these techniques take longer, but suggest taking a more intuitive approach to your baby’s sleep habits, and also, varying the way you put your baby to bed. By switching up the way your baby goes to sleep (by rocking, nursing, singing, and allowing your partner or other trusted adults to share bedtime responsibilities at different times), the idea is that your baby will be more flexible, and eventually, learn to go to sleep independently.
Whatever method you decide works for you and your family, getting adequate sleep is vital to both baby and parents. Lack of sleep can lead to both mental and physical illness, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider for help.