Sleep Training a Baby: 5 Methods Explained and Other Essential Tips

Sleep Training a Baby: 5 Methods Explained and Other Essential Tips

Sleep training a baby teaches your baby how to fall asleep on their own so they can sleep through the night or take longer naps. And, sleep training can be the source of many questions. One of the most pressing questions is ‘What is the best sleep training method for my baby?’ This post will cover the 5 most common baby sleep training methods and other essential tips based on my 15+ years of experience as a sleep consultant.

What Is Sleep Training?

Sleep training is teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own and learn to self-soothe. Once a baby knows how to fall asleep on their own, babies can learn to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake up in the night. We all wake between sleep cycles but it’s important for your baby to know how to get into another sleep cycle. Keep in mind that when you are sleep training, you aren’t necessarily also night-weaning depending on the age of your baby. More on that below.

Do You Have to Let Your Baby Cry It Out When Sleep Training?

One common misconception about sleep training babies (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, stop waking up in the middle of the night, and stop taking short naps. The idea is to get your baby to fall asleep on their own and self-soothe. Some sleep training methods and techniques involve crying. Others involve little to no tears and can be very gentle. Sleep coaching is NOT bad for babies. It simply helps your baby learn to sleep more independently. Of course, they are babies, so they will still need you! The key is to have realistic expectations given their current age.

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What Is The Best Age For Sleep Training? When Should You Start?

The best age for sleep training is usually around 4 to 6 months old when your baby is ready to be unswaddled but before they are standing up. It’s never too early or too late to start sleep coaching a baby, however. We work with parents with children of all ages every day. Each age has its own unique challenges as far as what your baby learns. When your baby is going through a sleep regression can be one of the most challenging, though.

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Do I Have to Stop Feeding Baby at Night?

No, you do not have to stop feeding your baby at night when you start sleep coaching. Breastfeeding babies, for example, often still eat at least once at night until 6-12 months old, on average. Formula-fed babies typically can be night-weaned by 6 months old and, often, younger.

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Sleep Training Methods: 5 Most Common Explained

These are the 5 primary sleep training techniques though there are many variations for each:

  • Fading (FIO)
  • Pick-Up/Put-Down
  • The Chair Method
  • Controlled Crying/Ferber/Graduated Extinction
  • Extinction/Cry-It-Out (CIO)

The Fading Sleep Coaching Method (FIO)

The Fading Method is a very gentle, no-tears/no-cry (or very little cry) method of sleep coaching where you “fade it out” (FIO). 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. Your baby does more and more on her own. Eventually, your baby is falling asleep independently.

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 only as a part of the bedtime routine. This method requires quite a bit of patience on the parent’s part, in some cases, but it’s great for families who want to minimize crying as much as possible.

Q: What age for The Fading Method?

Our recommendation is any age over 6-8 weeks old. Since it’s a gentle method, you can try it with any age baby or toddler. And, you can go as fast or slow as you want for younger babies. That said, a mobile baby might be more difficult to keep still. However, it never hurts to try!

The Pick-Up-Put-Down Sleep Training Method (PUPD)

The Pick-Up-Put-Down Method is another gentle sleep training method. The PUPD method works just the way it sounds. When it’s time to sleep, and your baby is fussing or crying in the crib or bassinet, you pick them up and comfort them until they are calm and drowsy. Then, you put them back in their crib to sleep, repeating this cycle until your baby is finally asleep. Pick-Up-Put-Down is another method that requires quite a bit of patience, depending on your baby. And, unfortunately, it won’t work for every baby. Some babies find being picked up and put down over-stimulating, and they gradually become frustrated and worked up, instead of relaxed.

Q: What age for The Pick-Up/Put-Down Method?

Our recommendation is any baby over 6-8 weeks old. Since it’s a gentle method, you can try it with any age baby or toddler. That said, a baby who is getting heavy can hurt your back to pick them up over and over, of course! For some temperaments, this method makes them angry, though, and is more irritating and frustrating than comforting.

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The Chair Sleep Coaching Method

The Chair Method involves more tears than the previous two. However, you don’t leave your baby unattended in the room at all.

First, start by doing your bedtime routine and turn on the white noise. Then, put a chair very near the crib, bassinet, or bed. You will sit on the chair as your baby falls asleep.

The goal is not to help your child fall asleep, nor to help her calm down necessarily, depending on how you implement it. 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 and have not left them alone. Each night you gradually move the chair further away from them 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 “watching them cry” is very difficult. Furthermore, it can be a little confusing to the child (particularly younger ones) when you don’t interact. 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.

There are variations to this method (such as Kim West’s Sleep Lady Shuffle) where you do tend to the baby periodically, verbally and/or physically, and then go back to your chair. As with many things, finding what works best for you and your child is key.

Q: What age for The Chair Method?

Our recommendation is over 3-6 months old, depending on how severe the sleep disruptions have been. Since it’s a gentler method, you can try it with just about any age baby or toddler. Of course, if your toddler is already in a bed of which he can get out, this might not be the easiest method to use.

Controlled Crying Sleep Training Method aka Check-And-Console aka The Ferber Method/Ferberizing aka Graduated Extinction

Controlled Crying, or Ferberizing, is considered a ‘crying’ method of sleep training. This technique includes allowing your baby to cry while checking on them periodically using set intervals.

The goal with The Ferber Method is to reassure your baby that you are nearby and to reassure yourself that they are okay. When you go to check on your baby, you are not “supposed” to pick them up nor engage them much, but simply reassure them using your voice and a loving pat for 2-3 minutes, on average.

With Controlled Crying Sleep Training Methods, the goal is NOT to help your baby fall asleep. That is what they are learning to do on their own! Instead, the idea is that they falls asleep on their own, in the same “environment” in which they will awaken periodically throughout the night. The knowledge of how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime will pave the way for them to go BACK to sleep throughout the night. Over time, you gradually increase the amount of time between your ‘checks’.

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Q: What age for Controlled Crying or The Ferber Method?

Our recommendation is over 4-6 months old and up to approximately 18 months old, depending on the situation, but encourage most families to try a gentler method first. Older toddlers and preschoolers, we recommend one of our unique methods, especially used for toddlers.

The Extinction Sleep Training Method (aka ‘Cry It Out’ or CIO)

The Cry-It-Out Sleep Training Method, also known as Extinction, usually involves quite a bit of crying on your baby’s part for the first couple of nights. Some parents share that it tends to be less crying, overall, since you are ‘done’ faster (for many, but not all, people).

The way Cry It Out 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 are not supposed to 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.

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Q: What age for Cry It Out?

Honestly, in our personalized consultations, we try to avoid this method as much as possible. If you are going to use Cry It Out, we recommend your baby is at least 6 months old, but preferably 10 months or older, when we expect almost all babies to be able to get through the night without a feeding. It is not for the faint at heart if your baby has a persistent temperament. We find that laying a foundation in the beginning with other and gentler strategies and techniques can reduce crying even if this method is used in the end, however.

Q: Can you sleep train for naps?

Yes, and we highly recommend sleep training for naps since children take a nap until 3-4 years old, on average. Naps are generally harder than nights since the drive to sleep is weaker. However, some babies have the opposite issue. They are great nappers but wake up a lot at night! We typically recommend starting with the same sleep coaching method that worked at night but, occasionally, we have to use a different method if it doesn’t go well. Also, you may or may not want to work on nights and naps at the same time in the beginning. Consider working on nights for 4-7 nights before you add on naps. Nights do not have to be perfect before you start. Consistency is often the key to success!

Q: How Long Does Sleep Training Take?

While some babies will learn to sleep through the night in just 2-3 nights, we typically recommend expecting 1-3 weeks with some days being better than others. Tomorrow isn’t always better than today, unfortunately, but your consistency will pay off in the end!

Q: How Long Do You Let a Baby Cry It Out?

There isn’t a time limit with Cry It Out, in general, though some families make one based on their comfort level. Expect at least 45 minutes to an hour of crying as that is not uncommon. However, many easy-going babies will cry for 20 minutes or less. Your baby’s age and temperament will have a big influence on how long your baby cries. Hungry babies often cry longer. So if you are night-weaning at the same time, you might hear more crying than average. That’s why we often break sleep coaching and night weaning into separate steps in our personalized consultations.

Which is the Best Sleep Training Method?

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 choose a technique that you feel comfortable with, and that you think will work well with your baby’s temperament.

As a sleep consultant for over 15+ years, I can tell you there are many variations to every 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. We recommend these baby steps very often in our Personalized Sleep Plans®. Find what feels tolerable/more comfortable for you (because, frankly, no one ‘likes’ to sleep train).  Choose what seems the gentlest, yet effective, for 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. Some babies take a while to adjust to a new way of sleeping. And remember that, with ANY sleep coaching method, consistency is key! If you aren’t sure if your baby is reacting “normally,” we’re here! We’ve had experience with thousands of babies in our 15+ years. Reach out to us anytime!

Need more sleep training tips?

For more tips, here is a 2-minute video to help you get you started:

YouTube video


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