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”
My almost 7 month old use to sleep through the night from age 2 months to 5 months. Maybe once a week, she would wake up once and go right back to sleep. At 5 months she starting waking up consistently 1-2 times a night…still not bad. The past 2-3 weeks she has been waking up consistently 4-8 times per night. This past week it’s been almost every hour. I am quickly loosing sleep and not able to to function in my full-time job that requires a lot of patience (full-time emotional support teacher to kids with severe mental health). I feel like I’m about to loose it. Any suggestions will be welcomes with open arms.
@Amy Hodapp, I am so sorry that you are suddenly struggling with your daughter’s sleep. We would love to help you get through this so you can fully enjoy your time with your family, and focusing on your kids at your job. First off, here is a link to a free guide with tips to help your baby sleep through the night that may help: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
If you need more help, considering the stress of your job and that you are experiencing such frequent waking from your daughter, I’d suggest working one-on-one with one of our sleep consultants. We offer many different levels of support in this process which you can read about here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting- services/
If you have any questions about what package would be best, please let us know, you can email us directly at [email protected]
Hang in there!!
Hello. My 14 month old has usually been a good sleeper but has never been able to go to bed completely awake. We usually rock her until she is drowsy and put her down and she would go to sleep no problem. Sleeps about 11-12 hours a night with 2 half an hour naps during the day.
She got a cold and it messed with her sleep pattern and now it has been off for a couple month. It takem me almost an hour to get her down for naps and now she is waking up multiple times a night. Like full on screaming and standing up. We can’t seem to get her back on track and to even get it so we can put her in her crib fully awake and let her go down on her own.
@Kayla Lepage, I’m so sorry to hear things have been challenging lately! It is so frustrating how a little cold can throw so many things off. You may be interested in downloading our free guide with tips that may help: https://www.babysleepsite.com//sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
If you are totally stuck and need more specific information, then I think the best option would be to work with a sleep consultant through one of our Personalized Consultation Packages which you can read more about here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
Essentially, your sleep consultant would look at your daughter’s sleep history, age, the issues you’re experiencing and the goals you have and will create a step-by-step plan of action to get you on the other side of this. We also have lots of in-between options so if you have any questions or want to know what else we have available, please email us directly at [email protected]
Hang in there and let us know if we can help more!
I used Susan Ubran’s HWL methos, not even knowing put up put down exists! But know it seems pretty similar, still better I think. Guide in a nutshell – everything you need on just few pages.
Hi, my 3.5 month son has always been a bad sleeper. He normally only goes down at night from nursing and wakes up when put in the crib. It takes multiple attempts for him to stay asleep and he then wakes up multiple times throughout every night and needs to be nursed or rocked back to sleep. When put in the crib awake he cries heavily, like a painful sounding scream. I don’t know what to do since he will cry with all methods. Help!
Hi @Kelly –
Thank you for writing to us. I’m sorry to hear your family is having sleep problems and your little one is struggling with sleeping on his own. We know how tough this can be, and you’re not alone! Since you have been working on this on your own, and are still struggling, it may be time to consider one on one help and support.
I would recommend checking out our consultation packages here:
There are essentially two types of packages: email only, and e-mail plus telephone support, and we have packages to fit every need and every budget.
Our most popular package is our Deluxe E-mail Consultation Package; it provides a Personalized Sleep Plan (written just for your family given your specific history you share with your sleep consultant) plus three follow-up e-mail consultations.
Sleep coaching on your own can be confusing and oh so tough! One of these options will give you the support and knowledge you need to get sleep on track!
If you have any questions, or need any assistance at any time, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Good luck and hang in there!!
I really really need help. I’m so so tired and with the amount going on at the moment my sons sleeping habits add to it.
So for the last three months he has forgotten how to put himself back to sleep. He used to suck his thumb but stopped. Now ever time he wakes up he wants to breastfeed back to sleep. He won’t sleep at all without me breastfeeding him. Then once he is sleeping I have to pry my boob out of his mouth.
His bedtime used to be 6pm because he is only napping once during the day. Somehow he just wont sleep until 9, which means I literally have no time to myself.
Everytime he wakes up at night he needs to be breastfed back to sleep and during his nap he wakes up tired and wants to be held or breastfed back to sleep. I’m really struggling.
My intention was to start sleep training him around 5-6 months but then we were plagued by housing issues, moving, more housing issues and it became near impossible.
Now he isn’t sleep trained at all and I just feel like such an awful mother.
Please please help me
Hi @Tania, thank you for writing to us. I first want to mention that you are not an awful mother! Life happens, and so you are not to blame for not sleep training your son. We would love to help you though with your son’s sleep. You didn’t mention his age, so I did want to mention that we have sample schedules available on our site that you can look up for his appropriate age for you to get an idea of what a day should look like (and the times can certainly be adjusted a bit but it’s a good guideline). And here is a link to a free guide with tips to help your baby sleep through the night: https://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-through-night-free-ebook/
It sounds like he’s got a sleep association, so be sure to pay attention to that part of the guide and it will help give you tips for overcoming that and teach him how to sleep on his own.
If you need more specific help, please let us know! We have a ton of resources available. You can contact us directly anytime at [email protected]. Hang in there!
My 17 month old daughter has always had a pacifier during naps and nights. She usually sleeps 10 hours at night and one long 3 hour nap during the day. We decided to wean her from the pacifier this weekend, cold turkey, after gentler attempts did not work. At bedtime she cries for about 30-45 minutes before falling asleep, but it’s naptime that is an issue. Her first two days of naps she cried about an hour before falling asleep, but the last two days she cried for two hours when I put her down for a nap. We’ve used the CIO method, though a couple times we did go in after an hour and it seemed to make it worse for her. We thought we wouldn’t have to sleep train her, but now realize we were mistaken- the pacifier was just delaying the inevitable. Now we have a toddler who doesn’t know how to put herself to sleep. We don’t know what to do. The stuffed animal we gave her doesn’t seem to give her any comfort, and we don’t want to start another “lovey” addiction. How can we teach her to self soothe at this age?
Hi @Michelle, thank you for writing to us. I am so sorry you are struggling with this – let me tell you that I can relate to this with my own son. It is challenging (but not impossible!) to sleep train toddlers when they have such a will. Here is a link to a free guide with toddler sleep help: https://www.babysleepsite.com/toddler-sleep-tips
If you find things continue and you need more help, let us know. I am confident our sleep consultants can help provide specific advise to get you through this. Here is a link to read more about your options if you are interested: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
Hang in there!
My son has always been a bad napper. As an infant / young baby, he’d maybe nap for 20-30 minutes on his own, but for up to 2 hours if he was being held.
He’s 15+ months now and almost always wakes up after 30-45 minutes crying because he’s still tired. He’s almost fully transitioned to one nap a day.
He’ll go back to sleep in someone’s arms and take a longer nap. His Dr wasn’t too concerned. Said this is his snuggle time.
He puts himself to sleep at night and for his naps just fine. If he wakes in the middle of the night, he puts himself back to sleep just fine. Sleeps 10-11 hours. (Main reasons wht dr wasn’t concerned).
He’s had a few magical 2-3 hour naps on his own, but those are rare. I don’t mind the snuggles, but baby #2 is due in December and I’d really like him to be able to nap well on his own by then.
We do a shortened version of his bedtime routine before naps (have even tried the full version). I’ve tried putting pjs on him. Tried letting him nap with a blanket. We have the same white noise on for naps & bedtime. Room is as dark as possible and the house and street we live on are quiet.
Today my back was killing me, so I tried the ferber method to sleep train when he woke from his nap (what we used for bedtime) and he ended up crying so hard he threw up :/
Anything else I can try? Advice?
Hi @Hannah – Thank you for writing! I am sorry that you are struggling with your son’s naps! Sorry to hear that he vomited when trying to work on naps today too. : ( I can definitely understand how tough that is.
We do offer a free nap guide called, 7 Common Napping Mistakes. This may help maximize the possibility of him falling back to sleep. You can get this guide for free by entering your email address here:
He may simply need more time and more practice to learn to fall back to sleep after he wakes from these short naps. The fact that he will fall back to sleep in your arms likely means that he does need/want to sleep longer! Naps can be tough to figure out sometimes!
We can definitely help with this issue, and if you would like additional help, I do believe you could benefit from one of our Sleep Consultation packages, where we will work with you on a detailed naptime plan that you can commit to and feel good about.
You can read about all of our sleep consultation packages and purchase directly online here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/services/
Good luck and please contact us if you have any questions!!
I have a 2 year old who needs me to hold her hand to go to sleep. She wakes up at least 2x per night. Sometimes won’t go back into her crib so she and I go to a spare room and sleep there.
I’ve tried cry it out. Or scream it out for her, but I just don’t have the heart to keep it up. She could scream for hours.
I used to be able to just go into her room and lie on the floor and she would go bts knowing I was there. But now it’s the hand holding.
If I try to release her hand before she’s asleep she is hysterical.
I’ve heard of the camping out and the “errand runs” methods but she won’t sleep without me right there.
Thank you for your comment! I’m sorry to hear that you’re having so much trouble helping your toddler sleep independently. Since she’s having such strong reactions when you try to leave, and also because you report that other sleep training hasn’t worked for you, it sounds likely that there’s something going on in her day-to-day routine, eating or sleeping schedule that is contributing to the night waking and trouble going back to sleep. I would strongly recommend looking at our consultation packages, because then one of our sleep consultants could look at her history and routines and help you figure out what’s going on, and once the schedules and routines are addressed, help you find a gentler sleep coaching method to get you out of the room. We do work with intense children very often, and have great success.
You can read more about our packages here: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-toddler-sleep-consulting-services/
Or please feel free to send us an email at [email protected], so we can help you find the best fit for your family. Good luck!
At what age are these techniques recommended? My 2nd child is 9 weeks old and I feel that he’s way to young for some like the chair one…my issue is he only tends to fall asleep on the boob or being rocked. Whilst my gut tells me this is natural and i dont mind it most of the tine coz he needs to feel save and secure…ita really tricky with my 1st (2 and half) thanks x
Hi @Gemma Holman – congrats on your new baby! We typically recommend starting sleep training between 4-6 months, so your gut is right. 🙂 I know it can be super difficult with another toddler, so hang in there, I promise it gets better. Here is a free guide with tips to help soothe your newborn until you can get into the more formal sleep training stages: https://www.babysleepsite.com/15-free-baby-sleep-facts-new-parents-must-know/
I hope this helps!
I came here just to say this is a great article and guide! We need more great info out here.
Hi @Kayla – Thank you for your comment! We are happy to hear that this was helpful for you! Keep reading! : )
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