When should I start sleep training?

It’s no secret that babies like to wake up crying in the middle of the night a lot, and they very much enjoy sleeping as close to mom and dad as possible. After several months (and sometimes even years) of sleep deprivation because of a little one that won’t sleep through the night, parents can become understandably desperate.

What Is Sleep Training?

Sleep training means that you’re ready to start teaching your baby how to sleep by themselves, to get them to stay asleep all night long, and to fall back to sleep on their own should they wake throughout the night. There are various different ways that this can be accomplished, so you’ll want to read up on the various techniques before you start sleep training so that you can be completely sure that you find the perfect fit for your family. The method that works best for you will depend on what you’re comfortable with and how your baby responds to different techniques.

How Sleep Training Works

Once you’re ready to start sleep training and get down to the business of doing research, you’re going to find that there is a lot of information out there and no shortage of controversy surrounding the subject! The first question you’ll want to answer is when to start sleep training your new baby. When you start sleep training will depend on your baby and the method you settle on, but you’ll want to get started sometime around 6 months when babies stop needing to feed at night. Once you’ve decided that it’s time to start the sleep training journey, you’ll need to decide which method you want to apply. You might even find that pulling different techniques from various methods is the best option for you. When you’ll be able to stop sleep training depends on the method you choose and on how well your little one respond to it.

No-Cry Methods

At one end of the sleep training scale are techniques that aim to avoid having babies cry as part of sleep training. This can be done in a number of different ways; some methods involve bed-sharing and breastfeeding, while other methods encourage rocking your baby to sleep and then putting them in their own crib. At the start of sleep training, parents are encouraged to develop a gentle routine that promotes bonding between a baby and his or her parents to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. You don’t necessarily stop sleep training at any particular point with methods like this, as you would continue to offer your baby what they needed until they are “weaned” from your help at bedtime for as long it takes.

The Chair Method

You start sleep training with this method by sitting in a chair next to your baby’s bed after you’ve put them down while they’re sleepy but still awake, and stay there until they’ve fallen asleep. You then move the chair closer and closer to the door over time until you’ve eventually moved the chair out of the room altogether. This method requires dedication, as you’ll have to stay in the same room as your baby until they’re asleep every night. Parents are usually able to stop sleep training with this method after about two weeks.

The Ferber Method

This method encourages parents to teach children to fall asleep all by themselves without the aid of soothing techniques like breastfeeding, holding, or rocking them to sleep. You start the sleep training process by putting the baby down in their own (dark and quiet) room and checking on them at increasing intervals throughout the night without picking them up. You then extend the intervals on the next night, and so on. Ideally, you should be able to stop sleep training after about a week once your baby has gotten the hang of this routine and is sleeping on their own without being checked on at all.

The Wake to Sleep Method

If you have a baby that is waking up periodically throughout the night, and you’re able to detect a pattern to how often they wake up (keeping a sleep diary will be helpful), then you may find it fitting to start sleep training with this technique. It involves anticipating when your baby will be waking up and preemptively rousing them about half an hour before then. Once you’ve done this, you leave the baby alone to soothe themselves back to sleep. This works because it resets the sleep cycle and lengthens the amount of time between wakings. You should stop sleep training with this method after three nights if it hasn’t worked so that it does not replace the old habit.

The Cry-It-Out Method

As opposed to the Ferber Method, which encourages checking on a baby periodically, the more stringent Cry It Out (CIO) Method stipulates that parents should leave a baby in their room until they are asleep even they are crying the entire time. It can be very stressful for parents who start sleep training with this method. It’s hard to know that your baby is crying and not run to their side! However, parents often report that they are able to stop sleep training after only a few days when using this technique consistently. Letting a young baby cry themselves to sleep is controversial as a sleep training technique, but parents who have used it successfully swear by it.

The Dos and Don’ts of Sleep Training

  • Don’t start sleep training before your baby is four months old. Before at least fourth months of age, babies haven’t developed the self-soothing skills that they need in order to successfully and safely sleep alone. Babies also need to eat during the night until your little one is a few months old, so starting sleep training too soon could be bad for their development. If you get started too soon and realize you’ve jumped the gun a bit, then stop sleep training for a month or two to give your baby some time to develop the necessary skills for independent sleep.
  • Do talk to your baby’s doctor before you start sleep training. Your pediatrician knows your baby’s health well, and they will be able to guide you and help you determine when to start sleep training (and when to stop sleep training) better than anyone else based on your baby’s unique needs and situation.
  • Don’t sleep train while your baby is sick. If your baby happens to get sick before you’re finished, then you may have to stop sleep training until they are feeling better and try again. Illness are stressful for babies and parents by themselves; if you start sleep training when your baby is already especially needy, it can create more problems than solutions.
  • Do find a routine that works well for your family and stick to it. It’s important to be consistent once you start sleep training. When you stop sleep training and pick it back up again, you run the risk of confusing your baby and of making it more difficult for them to learn good sleep habits in the long-run. Developing a soothing and consistent routine is key for any method. If you try something new and truly feel that it isn’t right for you, stop sleep training with that particular method and try something different. Once you settle on the perfect technique for your family, however, stick to it!
  • Don’t quit. Sleep training may prove to be difficult, but sleep deprivation isn’t exactly a walk in the park. If you stop sleep training every time it gets a little uncomfortable, you’ll be robbing yourself of the long-term benefits of having a baby that sleeps peacefully through the night. Knowing when to stop sleep training can be tricky when you’re feeling discomfort. As long as your baby isn’t in danger, however, being a little uncomfortable for a few days or weeks will pay off in the long run when you’ve gotten through it.

Conclusion

When and how to start and stop sleep training will be different for everyone, as will the method that works best, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Once you’ve found your own groove and gotten into the hang of things, you’ll be glad you dedicated yourself to the sleep training technique that works for you. You’ve just got to keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your first full-night’s sleep in months will make it all worth it!