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Sleep Training Methods: The Ultimate List for Parents (Who Are Ready to Sleep Again)

We see you over there, holding that beautiful baby of yours with those tired eyes. We have been there, the cycle of sleepless nights, bedtimes that can take hours, which leads to exhausting days ahead. We are here to tell you, you are not alone.  The good news — it gets better! And to help …

Written By
Expectful
Nicole Kainz
Instructor
November 2, 2021

We see you over there, holding that beautiful baby of yours with those tired eyes. We have been there, the cycle of sleepless nights, bedtimes that can take hours, which leads to exhausting days ahead. We are here to tell you, you are not alone. 

The good news — it gets better! And to help get there faster, some parents use a sleep training method. Sleep training methods can help your baby learn to soothe themselves and have a more restful sleep. 

Sleep training methods can be controversial. The center of the issue is that many methods involve some form of letting a baby “cry it out,” from short periods to long periods, and that can take an emotional toll. 

Here at Expectful, we support all different parenting styles and think your decision is your own — we encourage you to thoughtfully choose your own method (or no method!) that works for you and your family.

We have made a list of some of the tried and true sleep training methods that parents have been using for years. Here you can learn the ins and outs of each, why they work well, and some of the difficulties of each. In the end, you can pick what you feel will work best for you, if any at all.

Why Is Sleep Training Helpful?

Is your baby fighting to go to sleep? Are they only sleeping on you, and as soon as you try and put them down in their crib, they wake up? Do they wake up multiple times in the middle of the night? If you said yes to any of these questions, your baby may benefit from a gentle sleep training method. 

When babies are born, they lack a circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock. Using 24 hours, circadian rhythm helps establish sleep and wake cycles. Newborns lack this circadian rhythm, likely due to their feeding needs. 

However, as babies grow, the amount of sleep they need reduces, as does the necessary nighttime feedings. Sleep training can help establish healthy circadian rhythms and sleep schedules for babies. 

Baby snuggles are the best, but not when they come between you and your sleep. Not only can sleep training help babies, but it can help you, too. The better the baby sleeps, the better the whole family can sleep. 

You can look forward to more energy, patience, and less of that tiresome brain fog. Parents’ sleep disruption can lead to anxiety, depression, stress, and sadly, even increase the risk of child abuse. 

What Is the Right Age To Start Sleep Training?

The general rule of thumb for when to start sleep training with your infant is around four to six months old. It is between these ages that babies are able to self-soothe, sleep longer stretches at night, and needless feedings around the clock. 

If you are back to work, this may also be the time when you need more of a routine to balance parenthood and your professional life.

Bedtime Routine for a Positive Sleep Training Experience

It is never too early to start a bedtime routine

Your bedtime routine will likely morph into different iterations, but the idea will be the same. Ten to 30 minutes before bed, start the wind-down process with your baby. This can include a bath, reading stories together, snuggling together and singing songs, or a calming infant massage. 

Starting this routine well before you decide to start sleep training can help you both ease into a sleep routine that does not include falling asleep in your arms. 

Sleep Training Methods

Sleep training can take time. It is best to start a sleep training method when you have the time to be consistent and form healthy sleep habits. Going on vacation? Wait until you get back home. 

Make sure you have a few weeks to really commit to this new routine. Sleep training can be a big transition for both you and your baby, so be patient. 

Here are some tried and true sleep training methods that work for both bedtime and naps. Some include crying and some take a no-crying approach. There is no right or wrong one to choose one. The best method is the one that feels right for you and your baby. 

Extinction Method

When you hear “sleep training” the first thing that probably comes to your mind is the cry it out method, also known as the extinction method or no tears method. Extinction is used in the name because it aims to eliminate a reinforced behavior response or parent intervention. 

The thought is, if every time your baby cries when they are going to sleep, you go and pick them up, the baby is learning that when they cry, they get to be picked up. The desired behavior would be for the baby to learn to self-soothe.

After you have finished your bedtime routine, lay your baby in the crib and leave the room in this method. Most likely, your baby will cry until they fall asleep. However, as the days go on, they will cry less and less. Usually, the crying ends between the fourth and seventh night. 

The positives to this approach is that it usually helps babies fall asleep on their own relatively quickly and get a good night’s sleep. If you are hoping to sleep train your baby in around a week, this may be the best sleep training method for you. 

This method is also helpful if you have tried what seems like everything with no success. Another pro is that it is one of the most simple baby sleep training methods. There are not a bunch of steps to follow. 

The downside of this method is it can be stressful for both you and your baby. While there is no evidence using the extinction method may harm the baby, it can be difficult the first few nights. This method is also best if used after the six-month mark, so if you are looking to sleep train your baby earlier, you may want to look for another option.

Ferber Method

Another sleep training method is called the Ferber Method, also known as the console method or graduated extinction. This method is very similar to the extinction method. However, instead of leaving the baby to cry as long as it takes to fall asleep, you would go in at different intervals and soothe your baby. 

In this method, after you have finished baby’s bedtime routine, lay your baby in their crib awake, and leave the room. At this point, you would set a timer. If your baby continues to cry for three minutes, go in their room and soothe them for the first night. You can verbally soothe them, pat their bottom, or rub their back, but you should try not to pick them up. After a couple of minutes, you would leave the room again. 

After going into their room for the first time, set a five-minute timer. If your baby is still crying, go in and repeat the soothing techniques. When you leave the room again, set a timer for ten minutes, and continue the steps. 

For the first night, continue going in every ten minutes. The next night, you would go in at progressively longer intervals, adding two to three minutes to each of the times called out each night. Stick to the same soothing techniques each time, and you can master this sleep solution. 

A positive to this approach is you can go in and soothe your baby. Some parents may find completely ignoring the baby’s cries too stressful. With this technique, you can go in, soothe both of you, leave the room, and try again. This method is a faster way to sleep train, usually taking about four to seven days. 

While you don’t have to follow the times called out perfectly, there is a lot to follow when using this method. The more consistent you are in following the times laid out with this approach, the better success you may have in helping your baby sleep tight. 

While there is plenty of research to back up extinction-based sleep training methods, the biggest downside is parents often do not follow through. Although this method is a modified extinction method, it can still be difficult for the parents to commit this method. 

Also, babies sometimes cry even harder, right before they are about to fall asleep. Think of it as their last effort to keep themselves awake. Many parents find it difficult to push through that crying burst. 

Chair Method

If you feel uncomfortable leaving your baby while they cry, the chair method may be a good option for you. While this is called a “no-cry” method, expect some crying. 

Sleep training is all about changing the baby’s behaviors regarding sleep. Change is hard for anyone, especially a baby who likely has had someone help them fall asleep since day one.

Here is how it works. Like the other methods, after your bedtime routine, lay your baby in their crib. Instead of leaving the room, place a chair next to their bed. You are there to pat their bottom, kiss them goodnight, or make a “shhh” sound, if they need to be soothed, but not constantly. 

Try not to pick them up or soothe too much. If your baby is able to pull themselves up to stand, you can lay them back down, but only once or twice, as they will likely see it as a game if it continues. 

After three days, move your chair a little further from the crib. You can still offer verbal soothing, but you will be too far away to offer touch. After a few more days, move even farther away, until you are finally out of the room.

With each move, slightly lessen your soothing interventions. If your baby wakes up during the night and it is not feeding time, sit back in the chair and offer the same gentle techniques to calm your child’s sleep problems. 

This is a great sleep training method for babies who are a little older and can understand that their parent is there for comfort but does not require being picked up. This can also be a great technique for babies who have spent time co-sleeping with their parents. 

If you thought you were over the sleep training phase but have a toddler with new fears, this might be a great tool for you. Maintaining normal bed routines, but sitting in their room a few nights, can help them. 

While this method has many advantages, one downside is that it can take much longer than other techniques. If you choose this method, plan around two weeks before you are entirely out of the nursery. Another downside is that if you are not consistent in soothing your baby, you may not get the results you are looking for. 

Pick Up, Put Down Method

If you feel better picking up your baby to soothe them, the pick-up, put-down method may be the best for you. This method starts the same as the others. 

Once you are finished with the bedtime routine, lay your baby in their crib and leave the room. If they start crying, give them a couple minutes to see if they will soothe themselves. If not, go in and pick them up. Hold them until they calm down, then lay them back down and leave the room. Continue this pattern until your sweet baby is off to dreamland. 

This method may be great for younger babies, closer to 4 months. Remember, sleep training may start between four and six months, since this is when babies are better able to sleep for longer stretches. 

The downside to this method is it can take several weeks for your baby to finally start falling asleep on their own. This method can also be too stimulating for some babies. Constantly coming in to soothe them can have the opposite effect, or they may see this as a game — cry harder and get more hugs.

Fading Method

Another interesting method is called the Fading Method. Once your baby is in their crib, leave the room. Your baby will likely cry, but give them a couple of minutes to see if they will self-soothe. If not, go back into the room, pick them up, and take them out of their room. 

Yes, you read that correctly, take them out of their room, and let them play a little more. After 20 or 30 minutes, start bedtime again. 

Continue this process until your baby falls asleep. This can take a few rounds of trial and error, but once you find the time that they fall asleep consistently each night, you will likely need to change the time. 

If your baby is going to bed at 10 pm, this may be late for your family’s normal schedule. Gradually start shifting bedtime earlier and earlier by 15 minutes every couple of days until you get to your desired bedtime.

The fading method can also include gradually reducing the time spent with your baby during bedtime. However, what is right for your family may not be right for another. If this time is a special one-on-one time that you do not get during the day, and you are happy with the way your routine is, then keep it as is! If you are looking to reduce the bedtime routine, you can use this method. 

The fading method is great for parents who have a lot of time to slowly transition their baby to a new routine. It is also good for parents who prefer not to use a method that may cause a lot of crying. Babies who are young enough not to understand how great it is to have extra playtime may do better with this method.

The downside to the fading method is it can take several weeks to see results. This may not be practical for a family that has a full schedule. If you are a parent that will soon be going back to work, this may not be the best option for you. 

Conclusion

Sleep training can be a helpful way to help your baby learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. There are many different sleep training methods that each have their own pros and cons. 

Some use an extinction method—cry it out—or some version of that, and some are “no-cry” options. If you’re considering sleep training, whatever method feels the most approachable  for you and your baby is the best option. There is no right or wrong way. Remember, consistency and patience is key—like most things in parenting.

Expectful is here for you, bringing you wellness support from fertility to sleep training. We are here to bring you solid, science-backed advice to support you in your motherhood journey.

Expectful
Nicole Kainz
Instructor