So you’ve read my post Sleep training 101: A Guide to Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night and you’ve decided that you’re ready to get started!
No more sleepless nights for you!
No more waking up every 2 to 3 hours to a screaming baby demanding food or just wanting a little extra attention.
You’ve made up your mind that today will be the day you sleep train!
…So now what?
I mean you know the basics that were covered in sleep training 101, but with the many different sleep training methods out there, how do you choose the one that’s right for you?
Well, I’ve got you covered!
I’ve put together a summary of the most common infant sleep training methods and the pros and cons of each so that you can make an informed decision about what will work best for you and your family.
But before we dive in, let’s start by discussing the basics of sleep training and how it works to help your baby fall asleep.
How Does Sleep Training Work?
As Matthew Utley from the Fatherly blog stated,
“Babies generally don’t have any expectations other than what they’ve already experienced so far so setting expectations is really just a matter of repetition, which is the core principle of sleep training. “
The truth is, all of us have mini arousals that wake us up in the middle of the night; however as we get older, we just tend to fall back asleep without really remembering them.
For infants, these arousals can be more startling and they generally require the same intervention that helped them fall asleep in the first place, to fall back asleep.
Sleep training via whatever method you choose, will help your baby build the skills necessary to not only fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night but also put themselves back to sleep when they inevitably wake up in the middle of the night.
How you accomplish this is up to you.
So keep reading to learn about some of the most common and effective infant sleep training methods and how they can be incorporated into your sleep training journey!
Cry It Out
This is perhaps the most well-known method and what usually comes to mind when people hear the term sleep training.
As the name implies, you let your little one “cry it out” until they learn to self soothe…. but there’s a little more that goes into than that.
As with any sleep training method, you should start with a soothing bedtime routine.
You should make sure your little one is nice and drowsy but NOT asleep. Then put them down into their beds.
The point of the “cry it out” sleep training method is to allow your little one to figure out how to calm themselves and fall asleep WITHOUT your assistance.
The key to this method is providing the least amount of interaction as possible so that your baby can learn to fall asleep without your help.
Checking in on the baby every once in a while or using a baby monitor to ensure your baby is okay is fine, but you shouldn’t do much more than that.
Now, the thing most people want to know is whether it is emotionally harmful to allow your baby to cry without intervention or if there is a certain amount of time beyond which it would become harmful.
And the answer is No…
In fact, there was a randomized controlled trial published in Pediatrics Journal that followed 43 infants that were randomized to different sleep training methods including a graduated “cry it out” method.
The study measured stress response and negative emotional attachments via parental survey and measurement of stress hormones from the baby.
They found no increased level of stress hormones in the babies randomized to the sleep training groups when compared to the control group.
There was also no difference in emotional issues, behavioral problems or insecure attachments at 12-month follow-up with the infants in the sleep training group.
With consistency, you can typically see good results with the “cry it out” method after 3 to 4 days.
However, while this method is safe for baby and generally effective, it’s the parents that often don’t fare too well.
It can be difficult to stop yourself from intervening when your baby is upset and may not be worth the added stress for some families.
Graduated Extinction (Ferber Method)
Most people confuse the Ferber method with the extinction AKA cry it out method. However, Ferber actually recommends a more “gentle” approach to sleep training known as graduated extinction.
The Ferber method is similar to cry it out in that you start with the same soothing bedtime routine and drowsy baby in their crib.
You walk away and allow them to cry… BUT you return to the room to comfort your baby at certain time intervals.
The comfort should involve minimal interaction with gentle patting on the back or whispered assurances but should not include much more than that.
You start with returning to your child’s room after 3 minutes, comfort them for 1 to 2 minutes then leave.
If your baby starts to cry again, you should wait a little longer, about 5 minutes the second time, then leave again.
The next time, you should wait 10 minutes and repeat as needed every 10 minutes until your baby falls asleep without you being there.
On the second day, you should start with a 5 minute wait time, then increase to 10, and then 12 minutes, repeating the same comfort routine.
On the third day, you should start with a 10 minute wait time, then increase to 12 and then 15 minutes.
Eventually, your little one will learn to fall asleep on their own without you having to come in to intervene at all.
This method tends to be a little easier for parents as they are able to comfort their little one while also giving them the chance to learn to fall asleep on their own.
The first couple of nights tend to be pretty rough and require dedication by the parents to stick to the schedule and wait the recommended time between each crying episode.
Generally speaking, it tends to take longer than the classic “Cry it out” method but still tends to get good results within about a week.
The Chair Method
The chair method is similar to the Ferber graduated extinction in some ways but with an interesting twist.
It involves putting your little one to bed and initially placing a chair directly next to their crib.
After putting them down to sleep, you leave the room and only return when your baby starts to cry.
When this occurs, you return to the room and sit in the chair until your baby falls asleep.
You can give very light comforting stimulation but should avoid picking your baby up or giving too much interaction.
You remain in the chair until they fall asleep and repeat the cycle every time they wake up crying.
For the first 3 days, you keep the chair directly next to the crib.
For the next 3 days, you should move the chair halfway between the crib and door. Continue to come in and sit in the chair when your baby cries but you should no longer have any physical interaction with them.
For the next 3 days, the chair should be placed right inside the door, and then right outside the door but still in view for the next 3 days.
And finally, the chair should be placed out of sight and if you check on your child it should be done from the doorway.
This method tends to be more gentle than the previous two but can end up requiring more physical presence and usually takes longer, generally about 2 weeks.
Fading: Gradual Fade Out of Sleep Associations
Perhaps the most flexible AND gentle sleep training method, fading consists of parents gradually decreasing the amount of time they perform their child’s current sleep association.
For example, if your child currently requires you to rock them to sleep for about 20 minutes at night, you would gradually decrease to 15 minutes, 10 minutes, etc until your child no longer requires that intervention to fall asleep.
With this method, you choose the sleep association to fade and the pace at which you fade it.
While this method is really gentle and you may be able to avoid some of the guilt from having to watch your little one cry without swooping in to help, this is by far the longest sleep training method of them all.
This slow and gentle fading can take 3 weeks to 3 months before your baby is falling asleep without your help.
So Which Method Do I recommend?
The one that works best for you and your family!
Also, keep in mind the temperament of your child and your own ability to stick with the plan.
Remember, consistency is key!
And there is no one size fits all when it comes to sleep training.
If you have tried any of these methods or have any other sleep training techniques that have worked for you and your family, please leave them in the comments below!