Sleep training is the process of teaching babies how to fall asleep and go back to sleep independently. It usually begins when the baby can sleep for 8-10 hours at a stretch without needing to wake up and feed. Many babies reach this milestone at around 4 months of age, making this the perfect time to start sleep training.
Ideally, before sleep training, you will have already established a predictable sleep routine that includes daytime naps as well as a consistent bedtime ritual and bedtime. The main idea behind all forms of sleep training is to teach your baby to better manage sleep needs independently, hopefully avoiding extreme measures like having to drive around for an hour to put your baby to sleep.
Some of the more popular sleep training methods include:
- Crying it out—Richard Ferber, the director for Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston, developed the sleep training method of “crying it out” (although in reality, parents have been practicing this for centuries). This is the process of teaching a baby to fall asleep on their own by self-soothing. Parents can go into the room after a baby cries for a while, but they can never pick up the baby. They simply pat baby on the back, and then walk away.
- The no-tears solution—Elizabeth Pantley, parent educator and author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and William Sears, pediatrician and author of The Baby Sleep Book, believe babies should be trained to sleep with comfort from their parents. When a baby cries after being laid in the crib, the parent offers comfort immediately.
- A combination of these two—Some experts recommend combining these two approaches, depending on how your baby reacts.
Dr. Mark Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, advises parents to anticipate and respect when their baby will need to sleep, just as they anticipate when their baby needs to feed.
Weissbluth also recommends matching the time when you soothe your baby to sleep to the time when you baby naturally needs to sleep. Learning to recognize your baby’s drowsy signs will help determine when to begin soothing your baby to sleep in a consistent fashion, with the idea that soon your baby will be able to self-soothe.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to train your child to have healthy sleep patterns as long as you have consistency. Different methods of sleep training may seem more natural or more acceptable for each parent, and different methods may work better according to the temperament of your child.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- Studies suggest sleep training is an effective way to teach babies how to fall asleep.
- You can usually start sleep training you baby around 4 months old.
- Crying it out, or self-soothing, is a main practice to teach children a sleep routine.