The most common baby sleep training methods
Once a family has decided to sleep train, the next step will be to determine which method to use.
Here’s the good news: Once they’re developmentally ready, most children can learn the skill of falling asleep independently, regardless of the chosen method.
The not-so-good news: If the strategy that’s chosen isn’t a great fit for the child and/or parents, many families will give up before progress is made and assume that sleep training isn’t going to help them.
Here are some of the most common sleep training methods.
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Fading aka the Gradual Method
These gentle techniques involve slowly weaning away from helping your child fall asleep (usually over a couple of weeks or more) until they can fall asleep independently. This tends to be the preferred method for parents who want to avoid tears as much as possible and don’t mind the process taking longer.
It might go something like this: A parent normally feeds their baby to sleep, so they start the process by helping their child learn to accept rocking to sleep instead. From there, the parent starts to reduce the amount of movement until the baby gets used to falling asleep while being held, without movement.
Then the parent can progress to putting their child in the crib while awake but staying close by to pat or stroke the baby until they’re asleep. Once the child gets used to this, the parent can work on removing their touch, and eventually their presence, as a sleep association.
Ferber aka Controlled Crying or Check and Console Method
The Ferber method is often mistakenly referred to as “cry-it-out,” likely because the baby is left for periods of time, and crying is expected. However, with the Ferber method and its variations, parents tend to their baby in set intervals and attempt to calm them before leaving to try again.
The Ferber method focuses on implementing longer time intervals gradually. On the first night, the parent visits after 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then every 10 minutes until the child is asleep. Each night thereafter, the intervals between visits get longer.
Similar methods use a static interval and encourage visits after every 10 - 15 minutes (for example) until the child falls asleep on their own. Some parents will pick their baby up to calm them, while others will keep them in their sleep space. In some variations, parents have the option to remain in the room rather than leave.
This method is preferred by parents who want faster results and are comfortable with allowing their baby to cry for specific periods.
The Extinction Method aka Cry-It-Out (“CIO”)
The extinction method involves leaving a child to fall asleep on their own without interventions to console them. This method is often preferred by parents who want a fast solution but find that check-ins for calming tend to upset the child more than if they left them alone.
This method should only be used when all of the child’s needs have been met — the child has been fed, is dry, is not in physical discomfort, and is developmentally able to fall asleep without help. We recommend the use of a video monitor with this method to ensure the child remains safe throughout the process.
When it comes to sleep training, it’s important to understand that time and consistency are essential parts of the process. We’re talking about learning a new skill. Just like we wouldn’t expect our children to master shoe tying or bike riding immediately, we’ll want to give our kids time to learn to fall asleep solo while understanding that there may be some bumps along the way. If we begin with a method that takes into account the temperaments of the family members, we’re more likely to see the family stick with it and see improvement.
If your first attempt doesn’t go well, you’re not doomed! Keep in mind that families can always start out with one method and then progress to another if needed. The key to success is ensuring that the child eventually gets practice falling to sleep on their own.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.