One common misconception about sleep training (also called sleep coaching) is that there’s only one way to do it. But this could not be further from the truth! In reality, there are a number of ways parents can work to help their babies develop healthy sleep habits. Some involve crying, but others involve minimal (or no) tears, and are very gentle.
So what methods should you try with your baby? To help you answer that question, we’ve created a sleep training ‘cheat sheet’, complete with a list of the most common sleep training techniques as well as explanations of how they work.
5 Common Sleep Training / Coaching Techniques
The Fading Sleep Training Method
This is a very gentle, no-cry (or very little cry) method of sleep coaching. With the Fading method, you continue to help your baby fall asleep (by rocking or feeding to sleep, for instance), but over time, you gradually do less and less of the ‘work’ to put your baby to sleep, and your baby does more and more. For instance, if you normally rock your baby completely to sleep, you may shorten the amount of time you rock each night, until you are rocking for only a few minutes. This method requires lots of patience on the parents’ part, but it’s great for families who want to minimize crying as much as possible.
The Pick-Up-Put-Down Sleep Training Method
This is another gentle technique. The PUPD method works just the way it sounds: when it’s time to sleep, and your baby is fussing in his crib or bassinet, you pick him up and comfort him until he’s calm and drowsy. Then, you put him back in his crib to sleep, repeating this cycle until your baby is finally asleep. PUPD is another method that requires lots of patience, and it won’t work for every baby; some babies find being picked up and put down so often overstimulating, and they gradually become worked up, instead of relaxed.
The Chair Method For Sleep Training
This method involves more tears than the previous two; however, you don’t leave your baby unattended in the room at all. Here’s how the chair method works: start by doing your normal bedtime routine. Then, put a chair very near the crib and sit on it while your baby falls asleep. The goal is not to help your child fall asleep, nor to help her calm down. You are generally not supposed to give your child any attention. The reason you are in the chair is only to reassure them that you are there with them. Each night you move the chair farther and farther away from the crib until you are right outside the door, until eventually, you no longer need the chair at all.
As you might suspect, this method can be very difficult, depending on temperament, and can take many days or weeks. It can be difficult to avoid engaging with your child, and it will likely be a little confusing to the child (particularly younger ones) when you don’t. However, with time and consistency, this can be a good option for parents who do not want to leave their child alone to cry but who haven’t had success with other methods, either.
The Check-And-Console Sleep Training Method (aka ‘Ferberizing’)
This is considered a ‘cry’ method of sleep training. This technique entails allowing baby to cry while checking on him at intervals. The goal here is to reassure him every so often that you are nearby, and to reassure yourself that he is okay. When you go to check on baby, you are not supposed to pick him up nor engage him much, but simply reassure using your voice and a loving pat for 2-3 minutes, tops (watch the clock!). With this method, the goal is NOT to help baby fall asleep – that is what he is learning to do on his own! Instead, the idea is that he falls asleep on his own, in the same “environment” in which he will awaken periodically throughout the night. The knowledge of how to fall asleep unassisted at bedtime will pave the way for him/her to go BACK to sleep throughout the night. Over time, you gradually increase the amount of time between your ‘checks’. The first night, you might check on your baby every 10 minutes; the next night, you would check every 15 minutes. Continue increasing your ‘check’ intervals by about 5 minutes every night.
The Extinction Sleep Training Method (aka ‘Cry It Out’)
This sleep training technique involves lots of crying on your baby’s part. The way it works is simple – you do your bedtime routine, put your baby to bed awake, and then leave the room without returning for checks. If your baby cries, you do not go in to check on her; instead, you let her ‘cry it out’ on her own. The thinking here is that if you allow your baby to cry for a period of time, but then go in and ‘rescue’ her, you have all but guaranteed that she will cry for that amount of time the next night, because she will expect you to come and rescue her again.
Reminders About Sleep Training
There is no right or wrong method of sleep training; it all comes down to your unique baby, and your unique parenting style. What works well for some babies does not work well for others, so do not be surprised if the techniques your friends or family members recommend don’t work the same way for your baby. The bottom line is to pick a technique that you feel comfortable with, and that you think will work well with your baby’s temperament.
“There are many variations to any sleep training method. For example, you can do a cross between The Chair Method and PUPD with great success and fewer tears! There are also ways of breaking each method into smaller baby steps, which we recommend very often. Find what feels tolerable (because, frankly, no one ‘likes’ to sleep train), more comfortable for you, and what seems the gentlest, yet effective, on your baby, depending on his or her temperament and personality.”
No matter which method you choose, remember that you need to stick with it for at least one week (preferably two) before you decide it’s not working and give up. Some babies take awhile to adjust to a new way of sleeping. And remember that, with ANY sleep training method, consistency is key!
NOTE: This is by no means an exhaustive description of each of these sleep training techniques! For more details about each of these techniques, or for personalized help in implementing any of these methods at home, check out the list of resources below.