Bleary-eyed parents who dream of their babies sleeping through the night often consider sleep training. Training an infant to fall asleep by themselves sometimes gets a bad rap, but there’s much more to it than just letting your baby “cry it out.” Studies have even shown that sleep training improves parent-child bonding.
Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep
There are a few different methods to help your baby (and you) work through the rough patches so you both get a restful sleep:
The “cry it out” method. “Cry it out,” or CIO, is the most well-known type of sleep training. In CIO, you bring your child through their bedtime routine, put them in their bed, tell them goodnight, and then leave the room. This controversial method is also known as "full extinction," or going cold turkey. Some parents can’t stand to hear their baby cry — and they will cry — and not be able to comfort them. Other parents report that this method works in just a few days and that their baby was able to self-soothe after a short bout of tears.
The Ferber Method. This method is similar to “cry it out” but is more gradual. Using the Ferber Method, you follow your baby’s bedtime routine, put them to bed, and leave the room. For the first few nights, you will return right away to soothe the baby when they cry. When the baby is calm, you will leave the room again, gradually increasing your response time until the baby is able to self-soothe.
The chair method. Using this method allows you to be in the same room as your baby, but you’ll reassure them from a distance. You’ll take the baby through their nighttime routine and place them in their bed while they are drowsy but awake. You’ll stand or sit next to their crib, but — this is key — you won't touch them. If the baby gets upset, you’ll reassure them with your voice. Every night, you’ll gradually move farther from their bed, until you’re out the door. This method will take about two weeks to work.
The “no tears” method. The most gentle sleep training method is similar to the Ferber Method, but with one exception: Parents are encouraged to enter the room and comfort their baby anytime they cry. The key is to put them back in their bed while they are still awake. This ensures that the baby feels confident falling asleep by themselves and doesn’t rely on mom or dad to rock them into la-la land.
The “check and console” method. Check and console is exactly what it sounds like. After the baby's bedtime routine, parents will come into the room to check on the baby — whether they’re crying or not. Parents should come in every few minutes to give a small pat or verbal reassurance to console the baby when necessary. The time between checks should increase slowly, from every few minutes to about once every 15 minutes. It’s possible that your little one will get more excited from your visits, so monitor their reaction to see if this method will work for you.
What's most important is to try different approaches to see what works. Following these steps will help ensure that your baby becomes a sound sleeper:
Start at the right age. Most experts agree that 6 months is a good age to start sleep training. Some parents start sleep training at 9 months because babies at this age don’t need to eat during the night anymore and are set to sleep through it.
Develop a bedtime routine.Bedtime routines are essential for babies because they don’t know the difference between night and day yet. A bedtime routine creates a smooth transition between night and day. Follow the same steps in the same order every night to help your baby understand that it’s time to sleep.
Choose a method.Sleep training is safe. Studies show that there aren’t any negative effects from sleep training, even years later. Choose a method that works best for you and your baby and stick to it.
Be consistent. Sleep training can take from a few days to a few weeks to work. A solid bedtime routine is key to telling your baby that it’s nighttime. If your child gets upset when they're brought into their bedroom, try doing some positive activities there during the day. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. It takes time.
There’s no one magic method that will make every baby sleep soundly. Some babies may prefer being left alone for most of the night, while other infants might need reassurance every 10 minutes that you’re still there.
By focusing on the moment when your baby falls asleep without a parent being in the room, you can adjust your check-ins or soothing methods to nail down exactly what your child needs.
For about 20% of babies, sleep training just doesn’t work. It could be that your baby has a belly full of gas or is experiencing a medical issue like acid reflux. Maybe they have plain-old separation anxiety. Some babies simply aren’t ready to be sleep trained.
Once you successfully sleep train your baby, expect that they may need retraining after a few months, or they might have difficulty sleeping again if their routine or surroundings change.