Let’s talk sleep training methods. What actually works?
Ah, sleep. We all love sleep. That doesn’t change when you become a parent. It’s just that you usually get much less of it. And there’s nothing you can really do to prepare yourself — one minute, you’re able to sleep until you’re actually refreshed. The next, your sleeping pattern is being determined by this creature that seemingly sleeps all hours of the day and night and, paradoxically, never sleeps. Remind us again — why did we do this to ourselves?
Anyway, after a period of time that will inevitably feel like a lifetime, you might just decide that enough is enough. You’ve aged ten years in the past six months. You aren’t yourself. You find yourself nodding off in the middle of conversations and you’re an emotional wreck, crying and shouting at your spouse because they had the nerve to ask you to pass the salt — don’t they know how much you do already?
At this point, you might just think about sleep-training methods. If you are — don’t feel guilty for a second. You need to keep your sanity as a parent, whatever it takes. And there are a lot of sleep-training methods out there, so no matter your personality or preferences, you’ll find one that works for you. We read the relevant parenting books and did our research and we’re happy to share the most common sleep-training methods — to save you doing the research yourself.
Before We Get Started — What is Sleep Training?
Sleep training is all about teaching your baby how to sleep independently. Many people look at sleeping as a skill to be learned like any other. To develop healthy sleeping habits, babies need to be taught and encouraged. They need a routine, a calm environment and to learn how to go to sleep themselves, without the help of an aid.
When it comes down to it, it’s all about sleep associations. With sleep training, we’re trying to avoid negative sleep associations (like feeding or being rocked to sleep) and encourage positive sleep associations (like a special teddy bear or singing themselves to sleep).
Do I Really Need to Sleep Train My Baby?
Life really isn’t fair — some parents get babies who seem to sleep through the night from the moment they’re born. Other babies turn into toddlers, still not sleeping through the night. So whether or not you need (or want) to sleep-train your baby depends entirely on you and your family. Many experts recommend sleep training as a way of encouraging healthy sleep habits and combating sleep issues … but many babies just don’t seem to have any sleep issues at all.
What Age Should You Start Sleep Training?
Sleep training newborns isn’t a great idea. Their tummies are too small, they need to have milk frequently and they don’t have the ability to self-soothe. If you’re going to try sleep training, you will want to wait until your child is around six months old. By that time, their stomachs have grown and your baby will be more aware of routine.
1. The Ferber Method
This sleep training method is named after paediatrician Dr Richard Ferber and people often confuse it with the “Cry It Out” method. However, there are differences. You might want to think of it as “Cry It Out Lite”. Ferber doesn’t recommend simply leaving babies to cry for long periods of time. Instead, the method aims to avoid unnecessary crying.
It involves putting your baby in their crib, drowsy but awake. Then you leave the room. If they start crying, wait three minutes before you go in and check on them. Then you wait five minutes, then ten. You begin increasing the increments and the idea is, eventually, your baby learns to settle themselves.
People generally prefer this method over Cry It Out as you are free to go in and reassure your baby. You can give them a gentle rub and tell them you love them, but the method advises against picking the baby up. People who have seen success with this method say that it takes up to a week to work.
2. Cry It Out Sleep (Possibly the Most Controversial Sleep Training Method)
We’ve all heard of this sleep-training method. It is a simple method that involves leaving babies to cry themselves to sleep. Eventually, they learn to soothe themselves. Supporters of this method say that it encourages independence, but critics say that it can negatively impact a baby’s sense of security and cause psychological damage. While this method isn’t popular these days, if you do choose to use Cry It Out, you shouldn’t have to worry about long-term effects. According to a recent study, this method does not have negative effects on a baby’s attachment to its mother or on the child’s future behaviour.
3. The Pick Up, Put Down Sleep-Training Method (PUPD)
The “Pick Up, Put Down” technique involves putting babies down to sleep while they’re drowsy. If they start to cry, you can pick them up and comfort them until they’re drowsy again — and then you put them back to bed. You need to make sure they’re awake. Rinse and repeat until your baby falls asleep by themselves once they’re tucked up in their crib. This method appeals to mums and dads who can’t resist helping their babies with a bit of a cuddle, but some babies find the process over-stimulating and can gradually become more frustrated.
4. The Fading Method
The Fading Method involves sleep coaching where you identify sleep associations and then fade them out. So, for example, if your baby needs to be rocked to sleep, you gradually shorten the amount of time you need to rock your baby to sleep. Over time, your baby is able to put themselves to sleep. This method is popular for people who favour “no cry” baby sleep-training methods, but it does take longer and requires a lot of patience and persistence.
5. The Chair Method
This technique involves putting your baby to bed in the crib and then sitting in a nearby chair until they fall asleep. You’re not meant to help, soothe or calm them down — you’re just there to reassure them that you are there and they’re not alone. Each night, you’re meant to move the chair further and further away from the crib until you’re outside their bedroom door. Eventually, you should no longer need the chair at all. This method is very gradual. In theory, it should take two weeks to work, but only if you are consistent. While effective, a lot of parents find it too hard to be in the same room as their baby, watching them cry without tending to them.
6. The Wake-And-Sleep Method
In his book The Happiest Baby on the Block, paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp promotes this sleeping method. This involves creating a calm environment. Turn on the white noise, swaddle your baby and have the lights low. Then do whatever you can to get your baby to sleep. For example, you might nurse them, walk them or rock them. However, once they’re asleep, you put them in their crib and then wake them up by tickling their feet or fussing their head. At this point, they are drowsy, and they have the white noise and calm lighting. The idea is they should be able to put themselves to sleep at this point. The benefit with this method is that if your baby wakes in the middle of the night, they know they can put themselves back to sleep.
This is by no means an exhaustive list — there are plenty more sleep-training techniques out there. Which one do you think should have been on this list? Let us know on social media!
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