Getting your child to sleep is no small feat. While some children are natural-born sleepers, many babies need some form of sleep training to learn how to put themselves down to sleep without our assistance.
Sleep training can be quite controversial, but it doesn’t need to be. With so many methods, ranging from in room techniques with next to no crying to out to the room techniques that work fast but do typically result in tears, parents have many options to help teach their children how to get rest.
Ready to for your little one and you to get some much needed rest? Here’s everything you wanted to know about the five most widely-used sleep training methods.
What’s the most effective sleep training method?
Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to sleep training. Depending on your child’s temperament and age, some sleep training methods might be more suitable than others. Below I’ll highlight the most popular sleep training methods, and when they are most successful.
What’s the gentlest form of sleep training?
There are several gentle forms of sleep training. The Shush/Pat method is a wonderfully gentle method that’s used for little babies. Pick up/put down is also very gently as is the chair method.
What age is easiest to sleep train?
By far, the easiest way to sleep train your child is to practice good sleep hygiene from the beginning, making sleep training an absolute breeze.
That being said, if you are just thinking about starting to use good sleep hygiene with baby or are interested in sleep training, you really won’t have too much success (outside of using the very gentle and very assisted shush/pat method) with sleep training until baby is 4 months old and some parents have more success at 6 months old.
By four months baby is able to learn how to self-soothe, which is why sleep training is effective at this point. However, even though baby can technically self-soothe at four months, gentler sleep training methods are advisable during this age.
The best sleep training methods
Important note: Sleep training methods will not work well if baby is overtired. Make sure to take the time to read my wake windows by age post before you get started.
The Shush/Pat method is an extremely gentle way to get baby off to sleep. You can start using the shush/pat method as soon as you bring baby home from the hospital, it’s that gentle.
A quick note, baby must be swaddled for this method to work. Here’s how the shush/pat method works to get babies off to sleep:
First, you’ll swaddle baby with arms down. This method only works when swaddling with arms down, so a swaddle that doesn’t promote that will not work. Once baby is nice and swaddled, begin patting their back or their bottom.
At the same time, you’ll say “shuuuusssh” in a rhythmic pattern over and over again. If you have a baby shusher, you can use this as well.
You’ll pat your baby on the bottom and say “shush” over and over until baby is very sleepy. You want your baby drowsy/sleepy but not completely asleep. When they’re nice and drowsy, transfer them to the crib or bassinet and continue patting them while saying “shhuuush.” You’ll continue with this until your baby is off to sleep. This might take about 20 minutes or so.
What age is the shush/pat method best for?
The shush/pat method can be used to help babies as early as they are born up until the time they stopped being swaddled, which is usually between 4-6 months. Babies must be swaddled for this method to work, so if your child is already showing signs of rolling, it’s time to drop the swaddle and you’ll need to pick another settling method.
Pick up/put down
Pick up/put down is a very gentle, minimal tears sleep training technique that’s great for older babies. A lot of parents that want some sleep training but don’t want to leave their baby really like this approach, as you stay with your baby the whole time.
With this method, you’ll place baby in bed, after carrying out a wind down routine. Baby should be wide awake, but ready for nap using the correct wake window time for their age. Stay next to your baby, if they begin to cry, sing or use reassuring words to calm them. it’s also advised to place your hand on their back or tummy to help soothe them.
If after a minute of this they get more upset, pick them up and calm them down by using voice and holding them. Don’t do too much bouncing or swaying, as you don’t want to develop a motion sleep association. As soon as they are calm, put them back down in their bed. You’ll repeat these steps until baby is calm and off to sleep on their own. This may take several attempts, but the goal is to get the pick ups down after several nights.
What age is pick up/put down best for?
This settling method is best used for babies aged four months until they are standing.
Chair method/gradual withdrawal
The chair method is another gentle way to teach little ones how to fall asleep on their own. This method takes time, but stick with it, as most parents see results in two weeks.
On night one, you’ll put baby/toddler to bed and you’ll sit in a chair right outside her crib. You’ll stay there, using your voice and touch to console baby. If baby gets really upset, you can pick them up to console them. Ideally, you’ll want to do less and less to console baby as the days go on. If baby still needs a lot of assistance to fall asleep, you should stay at this level for a few more days.
On night four, you’ll move the chair halfway between the crib and door. At this point, you’ll just use your voice to console, no touch. Stay at this level until baby is consoled just using your voice. There might be some crying during this stage, because you’re just using voice to comfort your baby.
On night seven, you’ll move your chair to the door frame. You’ll keep using your voice to console at this level.
On night 10 you’ll keep the door open, but move your chair to the hallway just out of view. Again, use your voice to comfort and reassure them.
Typically this method takes two weeks, but you can drag it out more if you want to spend more time in level 1 getting baby used to a new way of settling down for sleep. Only move on to the next stage when baby is ready. You’ll stay in your chair each night until baby is off to sleep.
What age is gradual withdrawal best for?
This method is best for older babies aged 8 or 9 months. You can try this method if baby is at least 6 months old, but it does tend to work better with older babies.
Spaced soothing/controlled crying
Otherwise known as the Ferber Method, spaced soothing or as some call it, controlled crying has been around for decades. Unlike the chair method, pick up/put down or shush/pat, controlled crying is mostly an out-of-the-room technique. This is a less gentle approach, but it typically works within a few days.
On night one, you’ll put baby down as you normally would and then leave the room for the first interval. You can decide what you’d like the intervals to be, or you can follow Dr. Ferber’s guidelines:
|Day||At first wait||At second wait||At third wait||Subsequent waits|
If you are not following Dr. Ferber’s guidelines, keep in mind that with each subsequent wait, the times need to increase. You also don’t want the intervals to be too short either, as it will just be too stimulating for your child and cause them to get even more upset.
When you enter the room after a wait, go to your child and console them and try and settle them back down, but don’t stay in the room for more than two minutes. As soon as you leave your child will become very upset, but don’t give in and go right back in.
Most parents find that with consistency, controlled crying/spaced soothing works in a few days, so it’s a very fast method.
If you want to use spaced soothing with toddlers you need to start with bigger intervals, as toddlers will quickly get wise to the fact that their crying eventually means you’ll come back in and instead of settling down to sleep they’ll just keep crying, hoping to illicit a response from you.
You can also do the “errand” drill here too where you say “I need to go put the laundry in or I need to go clean the kitchen but then I’ll be back to check on you. Do these errands each night and be gone for longer stints each time until you find that your little one is putting themselves to sleep without your help.
What age is spaced soothing best for?
Works best on 5 months of age and up.
Extinction is a method where you simply leave your baby to cry until they go to bed. Typically this is capped at 40 minutes to an hour of crying before you should enter the room and go in to console and use another method to put your baby down. Extinction is typically a sleep training method that parents use after they’ve exhausted all other gentle forms with no success.
Parents wanting to try this method really need to make sure baby is well fed and not overtired before trying this method, as a hungry or overtired baby will take too long to settle down using this method.
When used correctly, this method is very fast and typically can work in a few days.
What age is best for extinction?
This method can be used starting at 4 months, but is better for 6 months and older.
Have questions about sleep training? Let me know below!