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)
- 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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- See a more detailed step-by-step explanation of this method here: The Ferber Method Explained
- How To Do Sleep Training at Nap Time
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:
86 thoughts on “Sleep Training a Baby: 5 Methods Explained and Other Essential Tips”
Hey guys! Just visited this site to recheck my process of sleep training, as I have a 27 month old son who has recently regressed. We just got back from South Korea for summer vacation and WOOOOOO talk about sleep regression! We do Ferberize, and in the past, that has worked just fine, but this summer, things are going wonky…. he goes down for bed around 7, but has started waking up at an unknown time in the morning. Unknown, because he won’t make noise to ask us to get him out of the crib. He waits until one of us wakes up around 9 in the morning and then cheerfully wreaks havoc all morning until I decide to put him down for a nap (I try to put him down between 11-12, my husband seems to think we should wait until 2!!!). Right now, I hear him in his room, making noise and not sleeping. What do?! Keep his normal nap schedule despite his wake up time? Adjust his nap? Is melatonin reasonable for naps and not just jet lag nights? I could really use some advice.
Thank you for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with the transition back home. Assuming you’re in the US, it may take a good couple of weeks for your son to adjust to the time difference 100%, so the best thing you can do is keep him on schedule as best you can. He may also be dealing with a regression or a true change in sleep needs at this age – we have more info on 2 year-old sleep in this article here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddlers/5-things-about-2-year-old-toddler-sleep-2/
If you do continue to have trouble, our sleep consultants work with families transitioning time zones all the time, and would love to help. Good luck!
Hello. I just read your article and I already use of of the sleep training PU/PD method for my 10 weeks old baby.
I started this method at 8 weeks. And started him on a nap routine at 6 weeks.
Some days it works a treat and he goes to sleep. On some days it could go on for 30 minutes just trying to settle him. He gets upset, but not that bad that works up to hysteria, hence why I am still sticking with it.
I look out for his cues, so at the first sign of grizzling, I put on the white noise, close the curtain and then hold him for a bit whilst singing a lullaby. I try not to do that for more than 3/5 minutes.
And also noticed that sometimes he starts sucking on my shirt, (I top up feed him at least 10 minutes before nap to make sure he is full) bit he keeps so I feed him, once he closes his eyes, I call his name, to wake him and tell him it’s nap time and then hour him to bed, so he is aware of what I am doing. He then goes to sleep.
Is there any reason why it works fast on some days and why it doesn’t work on other days.
P.s.he seems to fightthe 3rd nap on some days and other days, just go down to sleep.
PP.S I make sure he doesn’t close his eyes whilst carrying him during the PU/PD
Hi @Lola, thanks for your comment! It sounds like you have done a lot of research on sleep and that you are working hard to get your son into a nice routine. 🙂 Great job! Keep up the consistency and hang in there on the bad days. Some babies do take longer (4-6 months) to get into a real schedule so it is totally normal for some fighting to happen some days. Here is a link to a sample schedule for a newborn (and we also have them from 3 months and up so you can check those out as he grows) so you can make sure he’s getting the adequate amount of sleep in a 24 hour period, even if he doesn’t cooperate with your schedule 100% of the time: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/newborn-sleep-feeding-schedule/
I hope this helps!
We have had major sleep problems with both of our children. Our 9 month old daughter wakes every 15-20 minutes all night, every night. Our son( who is now 10), had the same sleep problems. We tried so many sleep training books, I felt as if we were trying a new method every 2 weeks. We even hired a sleep training consultant, which still did not help a bit. We finally took him for sleep latency testing, he was diagnosed with a type of RSD. I’m wondering if our daughter perhaps has the same problem? We weren’t able to have our son tested until18 months. I’m so sleep deprived I’m not able to even drive any longer.
Hi @Stephanie, I am so sorry you are going through this again! As we are not medical professionals I cannot say for sure what is going on, but perhaps it would be worth a visit to your child’s doctor to see what they think? Maybe there are tests they could do now to give you an answer so you do not have to wait another 9 months of this before you can do the test your son had. If you decide to go the sleep consultant route again, we are here and would love to walk alongside of you every step of the way if you’ll have us. If you have questions about it, please feel free to contact us directly at [email protected]
Hang in there! I hope you get answers soon.
Hi there! I have an almost 6 month old who is a terrible sleeper! Was occasionally down to waking 2 times per night but is now up close to 4 times. She isn’t overly hungry as over the course of the night she maybe drinks 6 oz and that is in probably 2 oz increments. We are exhausted and need help!
Hi @Lindsey McCanty, thank you for writing to us. I am so sorry that you’ve been struggling with your daughter’s frequent night wakings. We would love to help! First off, if you haven’t yet we have a free guide available to sign up to receive with tips for sleeping through the night: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
If you would like more specific help for your situation, I think you would really benefit from working with one of our sleep consultants that can create a specific plan for your daughter based on her age, temperament, and your parenting philosophy. This is a great way to get specified help you need without reading a bunch of books and trying to guess what will work for your baby, because all babies are so different! If you are interested, you can view our packages here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/ or contact us directly here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/contact and we can help you select the package that will be best for your situation.
Hang in there and thank you for using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource for sleep help!
I have an 11 month old who started sleeping through the night just before he was 7 weeks old. He has always slept 10-12 hours a night until recently. He is now waking 2-3 times per night (sometimes more). On one of the wake ups he refuses to go back to sleep and will stay up for 2 + hours. He has also started wanting (demanding) a night bottle. We have always rocked to sleep and don’t have an issue getting him to sleep initially. What can we do to get him back to sleeping through the night? Also, he takes 2 one hour naps during the day.
Hi @Janna – Thank you for writing to us. I’m sorry to hear about your sleep troubles. I can understand how difficult those night wakings can be, especially for a couple of hours each night! There could be many causes of the night wakings, and without a full sleep history and a Sleep Consultant taking an in – depth look, we would not be able to diagnose why he is waking so much lately!
Our recommended schedule may help if you want to take a peek at things you may be able to adjust:
Hopefully things will improve soon and he will be sleeping well once again! If you do find that you would like one on one help, please contact us!
Hang in there!
My little one is 7 months old and doesn’t sleep through the night. I’m working on separating feeding from bedtime. She goes down to bed at night “drowsy but awake” and has no issues falling asleep, but she wakes at least 1x, if not, 2x, and then up early after that and can’t get back to sleep unless we feed her. We’ve tried a variety of things but usually given in because going in and consoling her only seems to make her more upset. She is growing fine and healthy weight so I know she doesn’t have to eat 1-2 times per night and should be able to make a 10-12 hour stretch. She sleeps roughly 3 hours per day napping and goes to bed between 7-7:30 each night.
Thanks so much for visiting The Baby Sleep Site! I’m sorry to hear you’re having some trouble with night sleep. It can be very normal for a 7 month-old to need to eat 1-2 times per night, especially if her daytime schedule is such that she’s not getting enough opportunities to eat. We have more information about average nighttime feedings and night weaning here, which I hope will help: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/baby-night-feedings-age-chart/
Please let us know if you have any questions!
Hello! My 18 month old twins had been amazing sleepers. They still sleep 12 hours a night but recently, they’ve been only taking a 60 min nap! And they wake up crying which is not typical of them at all. I have no idea what to do! I need my long naps back:-(
@Kristine – Thank you for reading and for sharing with us. 18-months can definitely be an age where sleep can change suddenly and throw you for a loop! The good news is this can be developmental and a phase (so temporary) if they were previously good sleepers. Read more here about the 18-month sleep regression – https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-regression-2/18-month-old-toddler-sleep-regression-10-tips/ Hang in there, and let us know if we can be of any help!
I used the HWL method by Susan Urban and it saved us as parents! If I remember correctly it took us less than 4 days to sleep train our son and he wasn’t the easiest case 🙂 We’ve followed Urban’s guide entitled How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone so anybody who need help with sleep training – I recommend it
@Ginger, thanks for sharing your experience with us!
I had to come here to declare my love for this guide! It worked, and I’m so thankful 🙂
@Dona – I’m so glad you found this helpful! We’re thankful for you, too! 🙂
Best ITEM I have ever purchased. My son is sleep trained and sleeps 11 hours and wakes up cheerful and ready to play. I am so glad I bought and read this book.
Same thing! We even reach 12 hours again! And the sleeptraining with with guide was like 3 nights or so… Susan is my master!
My daughter is 4 months old and I think I have messed up her sleep terribly and don’t know where to start! She’s on a flexible (some days unpredictable schedule) of taking 2-3 short naps 30 minutes-1 hour. Until about 2 weeks ago she was on a completely predictable 3 hour eat play sleep cycle. Now she has to be held or nap in her swing. At night is even worse she was sleeping decent 4-5 hour stretches until about 2 weeks ago now she’s waking ever hour to 2 hours. She can’t self soothe at all has to be completely rocked or nursed to sleep at night and if you wake her up when you lay her down in her crib you have to start all over again! We did stop swaddling this week but that actually seemed to cut down on the crying. We do a bedtime routine with her but it’s about useless because she falls asleep at varing times after that usually at least 45 minutes. She gets tons of interaction throughout the day because I’m a stay at home mom. She’s exclusively breastfeed doesn’t take a bottle. She is sensitive to being overstimulated.so I’m careful to watch for sleep cues and start the rocking/nursing right away. As long as I catch her before she’s upset she will usually go to sleep without much fuss. I should say too that she was colicky and a tough newborn so we just did whatever we could to get us any sleep at all but now we are in a mess. Please help!
@Jessica, thank you for writing to us! I am sorry to hear you are struggling with your daughter’s sleep, but I can assure you this is normal and can certainly be resolved. This age is almost a guaranteed spot for trouble sleep (for the majority of babies) as they hit a sleep regression at this point. Your daughter’s sleep as permanently changed to be more like ours, so now as she transitions sleep cycles, she is waking up and needs help going back to sleep. Here is an article about the 4 month sleep regression: https://www.babysleepsite.com/how-we-sleep/4-month-old-sleep-regression/
It is possible that she also has some sleep associations that are contributing to the wake up situation, and this is the perfect age to begin weaning her from those associations – you have not messed her up terribly by meeting her needs as a newborn! She needed that. 🙂 Here is an article explaining sleep associations and her dependency on you: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-association/
Lastly, here is a 4 month sample schedule to give you an idea of what her schedule should look like (it may vary slightly of course): https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/4-month-old-schedule/
I would suggest slowly trying to wean her from any sleep associations starting with one area of sleep (naps or night) – I personally have found night time to be easiest for my children and begin putting her to bed drowsy but awake! If she gets upset, that’s where the above article can come in handy – make a plan for how you will handle any wake ups and be sure to stay consistent for a few days as it can take time for her to figure it out. Hang in there!
Just two days back I had messaged my baby’s sleep schedule and said now he transitioned from rocking to sleeping on her own. She’s almost 5 months old and suddenly became a pain in the butt for the last two days. She refused to take naps, nothing seems to work to put her to sleep. She took two naps yesterday and the data before and refused to go to bed until 8. She was trying to sleep alternating between playing fussing and cryin for 3 hours at least each day. I basically went from her third nap time to past bed time trying to put her to sleep.
She’s been awake for 3-4 hours between naps and until two days back slept within 1;15-1:30 minutes by the clock.
What the hell went wrong? What do I do? Is she too young for controlled crying? She cried like I’ve smacked her so hard.
I want to stress that I’d easily gotten her to sleep on the bed alone and now it’s all gone.
Hi @ Preksha –
Thanks for visiting! I am sorry that sleep has suddenly gone wrong! Because it was sudden, you may want to double check with your baby’s Doctor, before you start/re-start with any sleep training. Ruling out any medical/health issues will help you feel better about moving forward with making changes. The 4-5 month mark can be a really difficult one for many babies, so you are NOT alone!! Here is our article that specifically addresses this 4 month sleep change:
Some babies have not mastered putting themselves to sleep and back to sleep on their own by this age, and are not proficient at self soothing. If you think she is good at self soothing, and you are interested in controlled crying, you can try leaving her and checking in intervals, but you may want to keep those intervals short, especially at first. If things do not smooth out soon, please consider getting some kind and caring one-on-one help with an expert sleep consultant. If you would like additional support, please take a peek at our offerings here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/services
Good luck and hang in there!
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