It’s 3 am in the nursery. Heavy-eyed, yawning, and craving the comfort of your own bed, you recall that it’s already the sixth time you woke up tonight. Rocking the wailing little one. Pacing up and down. You wonder how many more wake-ups you will have to face, and what in the world you can do to get your baby to fall back asleep.
Many parents find the interrupted—or lack of—sleep is the hardest thing about parenting. If you’re looking forward to the time when your little one finally sleeps through the night, read on, as we embark on a journey of baby sleep training!
With science-backed guidance, let’s sleep train your baby toward longer sleep periods, fewer night wakes, so they can get the sleep they need to grow and thrive.
What Is Baby Sleep Training?
Sleep training is any strategy used to help improve the overall sleep quality of your baby. Sleep training methods often involve limiting or changing a parent’s response to their crying child.
Newborns and toddlers have much shorter sleep cycles than adults. This may make them wake more than 10 times a night. By adopting an effective sleep training method, parents can help their little ones join these sleep cycles together.
And when Baby does wake up during the night, sleep training also teaches them how to drift off again without the need to be cuddled, nursed, or shushed by parents.
Is Sleep Training Necessary?
While some parents consider sleep training practices too stressful for babies, others think of successful sleep training as the key to a good night’s rest. When a crying baby and broken nights become overwhelming, frustrated parents may want to give sleep training a shot.
In fact, a baby’s poor sleep can be fixed or improved way before it negatively affects the entire family’s wellbeing. Just as Wendy A. Hall, a pediatric sleep researcher, points out, “Don’t underestimate the abilities of children to self-regulate.”
Through baby sleep training methods, parents are giving their little ones a learning opportunity to calm themselves down from a stressed state. And by encouraging good baby sleep habits, new parents can finally catch up on sleep.
When Is the Best Time to Start Sleep Training Baby?
There isn’t a definite “sleep training age”, as the answer would be different for every baby. That being said, as a rule of thumb, 6 months old is a good starting point for your baby to learn how to fall asleep and self-soothe.
And even if your little one is past the 6-month mark, it’s still not too late to sleep train. Sleep training can be done with babies at any stage—even into toddlerhood.
On the other hand, experts don’t recommend starting baby sleep training too young (any time before 6 months old). Not only is this ineffective, but can also risk unintended outcomes, including increased crying, an early stop to breastfeeding, or worsened maternal anxiety.
Sleep Training 6-month-old Babies
To sleep train a baby successfully, first and foremost, you need to set realistic expectations of what’s considered good baby sleep. According to the report Sleep: What Is Normal at Six Months, here are some facts about a 6-month-old baby’s sleep:
- Only 16% of babies slept through the night at 6 months old
- 50% of babies woke occasionally
- 17% of babies woke up more than once per night, ranging from 2 to 8 times
- 16% of six-month-olds had no regular sleeping pattern
- 61% of babies slept in a room on their own by six months old, but 15% were usually or always brought into their parent’s bed if they woke up
So it’s safe to say that even when they reach 6 months old, most babies wake frequently during the night. Remember, sleep training’s main goal is not to keep babies from waking or to help them get more sleep. But rather to teach them how to fall back asleep independently.
We know that you’d need different sleep training advice at your baby’s different developmental stages. That’s why we covered Healthy Sleep Training Tips for Months 6-12 earlier. Don’t forget to check it out!
How Do I Start Sleep Training My Newborn?
Below are the 3 things you can do to help prepare your little one for a smoother sleep training experience. Pretty soon, they would no longer wake at midnight demanding a breast, bottle, or cuddle but soothe themselves and drift back to sleep.
- Keep a Sleep Log: By tracking your baby’s sleep during the daytime and at night, you’ll notice some patterns and learn their ideal bedtime. This increases the likelihood of sleep training success.
- Create a Bedtime Routine: Soothing bedtime rituals such as reading or singing lullabies will help ease your baby’s mind, prepare them for a peaceful night, and develop their internal clock.
- Set the Nursery Scene: A baby should sleep in a room that is quiet, dark, and at a slightly cooler temperature. Consider installing room-darkening shades if your little one has trouble with naps and early wake-ups.
Now you have only one thing left on your to-do list: choose a sleep training method. What’s considered an effective sleep training tactic would vary by a family’s lifestyle, a baby’s personality, and your parenting style.
In the next section, we dive into a few popular options and provide the information you need to pick out the best sleep training method for your baby and family!
How to Sleep Train Baby: 3 Most Popular Sleep Training Methods Explained
Ferber Method of Sleep Training
In 1985, Richard Ferber, a pediatric sleep expert, published the best-selling book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems—which he later updated in 2006—that detailed his method of letting a child cry for longer and longer periods before comforting them.
Also called the “controlled crying” or “graduated extinction” method, the Ferber method of sleep training has been around for more than 3 decades. It’s helped countless little ones learn how to self-soothe and fall back asleep independently if they wake up in the middle of the night.
So should you also give “Ferberizing” a try and (finally!) get some shut-eye?
Firstly, while some books suggest a form of controlled crying even for newborns, most sleep researchers caution against it. Even Dr. Ferber himself said that he’d been misunderstood and, contrary to popular belief, that he wouldn’t suggest this approach for every child that doesn’t sleep well.
But if your baby has reached the widely-suggested 6-month-old mark, implementing the Ferber method is quite straightforward. We divide it into 3 steps:
- Following a set bedtime routine, place your drowsy yet awake infant in their crib then leave the room.
- Wait for a period of time—Dr. Ferber suggests 3 minutes the first night—before returning to the room to briefly comfort them.
- During the check-ins, you’ll go to your baby at timed intervals that gradually get longer until they fall asleep. The check-ins also get longer on subsequent nights. Dr. Ferber calls it the “progressive waiting approach.”
Overall, the Ferber method is considered a gentler sleep training method because it involves periodically checking in on your baby when they’re crying. But remember that it’s only effective if the parents are committed and consistent.
Cry-It-Out Sleep Training (Extinction Sleep Training)
To implement the cry-it-out method, all you need is to put your baby to bed with a full tummy and let them cry until they fall asleep without any comfort or help from you.
Not surprisingly, it’s been the most controversial sleep training technique: Some parents deeply regret using it with their little ones and think it’s downright harmful. Others believe that with consistency, your crying baby will learn to self-soothe and return to sleep within a few nights.
In spite of the criticism it has received, the cry-it-out sleep training method is a reliable approach to promoting independence in your little one.
But don’t force yourself to adopt this technique if you feel it’s against your instincts. After all, you would not be able to give your baby the love and parenting that they need if you do not wholeheartedly support your sleep training approach.
Gentle Sleep Training (No-cry Sleep Training)
Baby sleep training doesn’t have to be shutting the nursery door and letting the little one cry all night—gentle sleep training can be just what your family needs.
Gentle sleep training addresses baby cries from a different perspective. “If you look at the research, what we know is it’s entirely normal for a child to wake regularly at night until about two-and-a-half years of age,” says Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Sleep Book.
Dim lights, a soothing song, a comforting rub, all followed by a sweet ‘Good night’. Gentle sleep training will take longer than if you were to use a more intermediate method. But If you can’t stand letting Baby cry for minutes straight, a gentle sleep training method is the way to go to raise a little, independent sleeper.
If you wonder what other baby sleep training options are there, we’ve covered in detail the Top 5 Most Common Sleep Training Methods, including some popular gentle sleep training methods to help you make up your mind!
Not catching enough z’s is harmful to both babies and parents. But here’s the good news: with or without sleep training, most children eventually stop requiring a caregiver’s help at night.
Therefore, parent in the way that you feel is right! No parents in 10 years’ time would regret having hugged their babies so much. If you enjoy rocking your little one and humming a lullaby before you put them into the crib, then keep on doing it for their sweet dreams.
If you are looking for the perfect baby monitor for when you are sleep training your little one, check out the CuboAi Baby Monitor. This reliable and discreet baby monitor will provide you peace of mind during the sleep training process!