We talk a lot about sleep training on this blog… A LOT. And over the years, we’ve come to learn that while many of our readers are generally interested in sleep training, they are specifically interested in gentle sleep training. This makes sense, if you think about it. No parent is eager to hear their child cry. If it’s possible to build healthy sleep habits in a gentle way that involves minimal fussing, many of us would greatly prefer that to the cry it out alternatives.
But gentle sleep training can be confusing. Other sleep training methods can seem more straightforward, but gentle sleep training? That’s a whole spectrum that involves a number of approaches and methods.
What Is “Gentle” Exactly, and What’s Not?
First, when we talk about gentle sleep training, it’s important to address what “gentle” includes, and what it doesn’t. The good news here is that “gentle” can mean basically whatever you want it to mean. It’s a very subjective sort of word when applied to sleep training! Some parents view gentle sleep training as sleep training that involves almost zero tears. Other parents consider Ferberizing (check and console) methods gentle because they allow for periodic comforting. So be aware that the spectrum of gentle sleep training is large and will vary from one family to the next.
In general, though, we’ve learned that many families consider gentle sleep training methods to be those that involve minimal tears and allow for mom and dad to remain in the room during sleep training, very close to baby’s sleeping area. Additionally, some co-sleeping families want gentle methods that allow for continued bed-sharing. So, for the purposes of this article, we’ll call gentle sleep training an approach that minimizes crying and allows for lots of parental involvement and closeness.
Is Gentle Sleep Training Really Sleep Training?
Yes indeed! While some families consider the term “sleep training” synonymous with “leave your baby in a room alone to cry all night long”, that’s not true at all. Simply put, sleep training – also known as sleep coaching – is the process of weaning your child away from sleep associations, and helping her learn how to fall asleep without help. A child who can fall asleep independently is a child who can fall BACK to sleep when she wakes between sleep cycles at night, or during a nap, and who sleeps through the night and takes long, consistent, restorative naps.
The good news about sleep training is that HOW you help your child learn to fall asleep independently is up to you. There are so many ways to approach this process, and many of them can be customized and tailored to be incredibly gentle.
5 Ways To Gently Sleep Train Your Baby
In truth, you can make most sleep coaching methods gentle (or at least gentler). That said, there are some sleep training methods and approaches that produce results without much (if any) fussing. Here’s a quick look at 5 ways you can gently help your child learn to sleep better:
1. Make schedule and feeding changes.
It might seem strange to start here but believe me. Making a few careful adjustments to your baby or toddler’s sleep and feeding schedule can sometimes make a huge difference in sleep. Schedule and feeding changes can be a gentle and non-invasive way to make great progress. If your child is waking too early, for instance, you may need to adjust bedtime. Naptime drama may indicate that your child is ready for a nap transition. Night waking may point to a need for more daytime feedings. However you shift your child’s schedule, remember that a few schedule changes can greatly improve your child’s overall sleep.
2. Create or strengthen your bedtime and nap time routines.
One of the easiest and gentlest ways to help your child sleep is to create a strong pre-sleep routine. Both your bedtime routine and your nap time routines should help to relax and calm your child. This signals that it’s time to fall asleep. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what makes a great bedtime or nap time routine. As a general rule, keep routines short for young babies and longer for toddlers and preschoolers. Lastly, be sure that you have a definitive ending to your routine.
3. Substitute one sleep association for another.
This might seem strange, but it’s true. Substituting your child’s preferred sleep association for another can actually help sleep. Here’s how it works: you start by swapping in a different sleep association at bedtime and nap time. For instance, if your child prefers to be nursed to sleep, you may choose to swap in rocking to sleep. You work on that until your child falls asleep when rocked. Then, at that point, you gradually wean away from rocking. The idea here is that it’s easier (and gentler) to wean away from a weaker, less habitual sleep association (in this case, rocking) than it is from a stronger, more preferred sleep association (in this case, nursing).
4. Fade out sleep associations gradually.
Fading requires a lot of patience, but it is a great way to gently sleep train. Fading sleep training works just the way it sounds. You simply fade out your child’s sleep association gradually, and by degrees, until your child can fall asleep without it. If you nurse to sleep, for instance, you would gradually work towards getting to the point where you nurse until your child is drowsy, but not fully asleep. Or if you are fading out rocking, you may work to get to the point where your child falls asleep in your arms, but without the rocking movement.
5. Try the pick-up-put-down method.
Once you are actually ready to have your child work on falling asleep independently in his sleep space, you can use the PUPD method. Simply put, PUPD means you lay your child down awake in his sleeping area. Then pick him up and offer comfort when he fusses. You repeat this process until your child eventually falls asleep. This is a gentle method because it allows constant soothing and minimizes fussing.
Does Gentle Sleep Training Actually Work?
Gentle sleep training can absolutely be effective. Be advised, however, that gentle methods require lots of patience. They can take a while to actually produce meaningful results. Gentler methods may take weeks before you see signs of improvement, but the process is often more enjoyable for everyone! Provided you are committed to your sleep training plan and are willing to put in the time and energy needed to reach your goals, gentle sleep training can be an effective and low-fuss way to finally get your baby or toddler sleeping through the night.
For more information designed to help you sleep train gently AND effectively, check out these VIP Members Area resources:
- No-Cry and Limited-Cry Sleep Coaching Techniques audio course with Nicole
- Sleep Training and Co-Sleeping Strategies
- No-Cry Method Case Study
- Sleep Plan Workbook (use this to create your gentle sleep training plan)
- The 3-Step System To Help Your Baby Sleep e-Book (with gentle sleep training guidelines and tips)
21 thoughts on “Gentle Sleep Training Explained + 5 Strategies”
Hello, I have been doing sleep training for a few months now (my son is 9 months old and I started around 7 months). He is able to fall asleep in the crib independently while I’m in the room jiggling the mattress/singing to him, and putting him back on his back. We’ve had a few setbacks with family coming to visit for a week, his first cold, the flu, RSV, 8 month sleep regression, etc. I have gotten to where I can barely sing/jiggle the mattress & he’ll go to sleep in about an hour or less (I know that’s a long time).
I don’t believe in the Cry It Out or Controlled Comforting (Ferber) methods because of the crying and I feel it does not give the baby a chance to LEARN and OBEY rather than just helplessly flailing until they master it. I want a way to advance while staying in the room (if possible), and communicating clear messages to my baby without remonving all his sleep props at once.
My question is: I have been putting him on his back EVERY time he gets up/starts doing something to distract himself. He cried a lot at first but got over it & barely seems to notice now. But I want to wean him off of that – but don’t know how. I want him to be able to put himself to sleep independently eventually. But I don’t want to just stop everything cold turkey. But I also don’t want him to stand in the crib & stare at me where I am standing and I just don’t respond.
I am thinking…set a time interval & only put him on his back at taht interval. Also, just stand there even if he pulls up on the crib to look at me without saying or doing anything. Do you think this eye contact/my non-responsiveness by just standing there will be confusing for him, and do you think this will be effective?
We have a very strong bedtime & naptime routines that have been in place for several months. He starts yawning immediately whne the routines start so I know he knows it’s bedtime. He does fuss when I go to the bathroom or walk out of sight, however, so I think he is experiencing a little bit of separation anxiety.
I just don’t know what the next GENTLE step is that I can take to get him to falling asleep independently in the crib. Without me leaving the room or doing anything abrupt. I want to transition him/teach him slowly & carefully. 🙂 Thanks again!
Hi @Jessica –
Thank you for writing to us and we hope that things are continuing to go well as you continue to gently teach your little one to sleep on his own! We’d love to help, and in a nutshell, both of your plans for how to handle when he pops up out of bed are good ones! Laying him back down at set intervals of time, as well as being quiet while you are there are great ideas. Some parents will move a bit away from the crib, to avoid the close and direct eye contact which may seem awkward. Ou can also think about using a few key sleepytime words at times too if this does not seem to engage him further.
If things aren’t going smoothly, and you’d like more help, I’d recommend that you consider our VIP Members Area subscription, or one of our email or phone consultation packages, where you can get expert help from one of our consultants. : )
Please contact us at any time for more info! Good luck Jessica!
What should I do for a five month old who wakes after 20 minutes? We’re currently using the PD/PU method. He puts himself to sleep just fine but then takes a short nap. Just start again as if it’s the beginning of the nap?
Hi @Liz, thanks for writing to us. I’m sorry you’ve been struggling with your 5 month old’s short naps! Here is a link to an article explaining different causes for short naps that you may find helpful: https://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-naps-2/short-baby-naps-explained/
You’ll find additional links at the bottom of the article as well that will take you to more helpful and related information. Should things persist and you need more focused help, please let us know! We have a TON of other resources and want to help you conquer these short naps because you all need it!! Feel free to contact us directly anytime at [email protected] and we would love to help more from there. Hope this helps!
I have a 1 month old who falls asleep in our arms after feeding because he has to be kept upright for 30 minutes due to acid reflux. Once he’s laid down he’s very fussy, grunting squirming. I’m guessing due to gas and possibly reflux, but I’m also wondering if he’s just going to be a colicky baby. Our reality is that his stomach keeps him up most of the day and causes very restless sleep at night. Does your team have advice or tips and tricks for helping baby with colic or that requires held upright and still managing to help them sleep well or begin to nap?
Hi @Jenn –
Thank you for writing to us! We have worked with quite a few parents of fussy, colicky babies, and also lots and lots with reflux, unfortunately. : (
We will definitely work within your babies schedule which require4s him to not be laid down right after a feed, and we will always work with his abilities and development, as well as take care to be careful not to aggravate his stomach/reflux. You may want to get a green light from your son’s healthcare provider first, just to make sure that he is able to begin learning some new sleep habits in gentle ways. I do believe you will benefit from one of our Sleep Consultation packages, where we will work with you on a detailed plan 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
We look forward to working with you and helping you and your family sleep! Please contact us if you need any help getting started!
Thanks for the great advice! When using PUPD is that just for the start of the night or every single night waking?
Hi @Chole, thanks for writing! Part of my answer is that it will depend on the age of your baby. Some of the night wakings may be a need to eat, so you’ll have to make sure you feed at the appropriate times (if applicable). Whatever you choose to do for the rest of the night wakings (or if you find that your baby doesn’t settle after a feeding) will be up to you. If it were me, personally, I would stay consistent with the sleep training method I chose for the initial bedtime. I hope this helps and good luck!
Hi. When could I start the gentel training? My baby is 3.5 months now. When she reached 1 month I tried very hard to make her take her naps without feeding and rocking in my arms and finally it works!! Now she falls asleep during the day in 5-10 min in her crib and barely fussed. She takes 4 naps.
But nightime is a different story. She would only fall asleep after being nursed and would wake up twice to be nursed which I consider normal at her age.
Since she’s just 14 week, should I start the training? I tried once, she fell asleep without breastfeeding but would wake up after 2 hours hungry. So if her last feed/bedtime is 9pm, what time should I give her her last feed so I could try putting her to bed at 9pm in her crib?
Hi @Ania, thanks for writing to us. Here is a link to a sample schedule for a 3 month old (we have 4 month old schedules as well if you want to compare) that may help provide clarity on wake ups, and amount of feedings that are considered age appropriate: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/3-month-old-baby-sleep-and-feeding-schedule/
Starting a gentle method of sleep training is easier to do at a younger age, but since sleep patterns change around the 4 month mark, many families wait to train until they’ve hit the common “4 month regression” and then they decide to get a little more intentional – this can still be done in a gentle sleep training method. But as you have done, there are certainly small things you can do from a young age.
I’ll also say – if you don’t feel like there’s any problems with her sleeping, then know you don’t HAVE to change anything. Waking 2 times a night to feed is super great at this age. Eventually teaching her to sleep independently is a great skill (not being nursed to sleep) but before night time it is often very beneficial to do a fill up right before bed, just putting her down awake afterwards so she can fall asleep on her own.
I hope that helps! If you have more questions let us know!
So should I do her last feed more “active”. She would just fall asleep as soon as she’s full and it’s hard to wake her up. We follow our night time routine, then I nurse and she gets the signal to her brain “time to sleep” and falls asleep in my arms and it’s hard to wake her up.
Ps. Would be great to receive emails once a comment is responded to.
Hi @Ania, thanks for getting back to me! I’ll reply to all of your comments in one. 🙂 First of all, here is the link to the 4 month schedule: https://www.babysleepsite.com/schedules/4-month-old-schedule/
All babies will have sleep patterns that change around 4 months, but not all babies will have this huge reaction to it, so if it seems like nothing is happening, then consider yourself lucky! My first was a very easy sleeper and then I was hit with a reality check when I had my second, ha! So all babies are different in how they react and adjust to changes in their little bodies.
In regards to that last feeding, it is totally up to you. I looked back at your original comment and saw after that feed she is only waking up about 2 times a night, which is normal at this age, so it doesn’t sound like there’s really anything wrong. With my first (easy sleeper) I nursed him to sleep until I weaned him from breastfeeding at 16 months, because he would sleep through the night and only wake up an age-appropriate amount of time. So nursing to sleep wasn’t a “problem” for him. With my second, that became a habit for him (“Sleep association” is what it’s commonly called) and he started waking up more frequently out of habit, needing to be nursed back to sleep, so I was getting up way more than I should! So I decided that was a problem for us, so I taught him to fall asleep on his own. So you may decide to wait a bit and decide. If she starts waking up more frequently, it may be time to take that step and put her down drowsy, rather than asleep. I hope this helps!
Hi I can’t find a link to 4month old schedule
I have two questions:
1) bed/nap-time routine: I want to try adding a book into the mix, but for about a week every time I tried to read to my 3.5 month old, he would start to fuss, then cry. I think it’s b/c he knew I was trying to put him to sleep. So I’ve stopped the reading, but it makes me sad. How can I add that in w/o him crying?
2) We’ve started using PUPD for 8 days now. Unfortunately, I’m still nursing to sleep at times, but often am able to put my almost 4 month old down when eyes are still open a bit. But definitely not wide awake. However, the past couple of days, he’s gotten very overtired in the afternoon and b/c we were out one day missed a nap completely. So then when trying to put down for nap he hysterically cried for a while. I eventually broke and let him fall asleep in my arms after 25 minutes as it’s never taken that long, not even the first night. I feel like it’s probably just from being overtired, but how can you follow your sleep method when baby is overtired?
@Beth – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for sharing with us! These are some great questions and figuring them out will definitely get you on the road to better sleep. From the sounds of things, you may want to consider working directly with one of our sleep consultants who can personalize your sleep experience and get your little guy on a great schedule and on the road to more independent sleep (without you being too sad!). Read about our ladies here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/about or contact our Client Relations Team for more support:https://www.babysleepsite.com/contact Hang in there, Beth!
Thank you! I will look into it!
@Beth – No problem, and you’re very welcome!
I am a postpartum RN and would like information on becoming a sleep consultant.
@Janice – Thank you for stopping by our sleepy little village and for expressing interest in joining our team. You can read more about our job openings as they become available here:https://www.babysleepsite.com/careers I have appropriately forwarded your contact information as well. Thank you again!
The post is very good and I will think about I should buy or not the sleep consulting package. Thanks for sharing!
@Vivian, Thank you for reading! We are happy to have you and let us know if you have any questions selecting a package. You can always email our Client Relations Team at [email protected] and they would be happy to help you find the best fit for you. 🙂
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