Understanding Common Sleep Training Methods

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Your baby isn’t born knowing how to sleep through the night. Sleeping through the night is an acquired skill, one we need to teach our children, once they are old enough (4-6 months or more). What exactly is sleep teaching? Our recent blog outlines the basics. The most important factor in sleep teaching is consistency. There are many methods you could use, but the key is to find the one that you can use consistently.

Consider these factors:

  • Age of the child (older children often take longer to adapt)

  • Temperament of the child (Is your child stimulated or calmed by your presence? Is he strong-willed?)

  • Medical considerations

  • Ability to use the method consistently

  • Needs and limitations of the entire family (are parents working and need baby to sleep through the night within a few days? Are there other children sleeping so nighttime crying must be limited?)

Before working on any “sleep training,” it’s important to shore up your sleep foundation. We want to make sure that your child has a sleep-conducive environment, is sleeping at biologically appropriate times, has addressed any medical issues, and has sleep associations she can rely on in your absence. Once all of these elements are in place, the final step is sleep teaching.

Here are a few of the basic sleep teaching approaches. There are many variations of each of these methods, so once you choose which approach you plan to use, you can determine how to best implement it for your family.

  1. Extinction – this is a method most commonly associated with Dr. Marc Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child). In this approach, you focus on creating healthy sleep environment, positive sleep associations, and watching for sleepy signs so you get your baby down to sleep at the biologically correct times. You will ensure your baby is well fed, changed, and sleepy. Then once you have completed your nap time or bedtime routine, you leave the room and do not return for an hour at naptime or until morning at nighttime. Dr. Weissbluth feels this is the quickest and least frustrating method for your baby to learn to sleep on her own.

  2. Graduated Extinction – this method is most commonly associated with Dr. Richard Ferber (Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems), and sometimes called Ferberizing. In this approach, after putting your baby down to bed, you leave the room and if the child is crying, you return at specified intervals that increase each subsequent visit (go in after 3 mins, then after 5 mins, then after 10 mins, etc.), sometimes called Progressive Waiting. Each day, the intervals increase in time. When you go in, you spend no more than a minute or two, checking to make sure baby is OK and reassuring baby that you are there and it’s time to sleep. You will not pick up the baby. This method works well if your child is comforted and relaxes when you enter the room. If your child becomes more upset when you enter, this may not be the best approach. One common variation of this approach is timed checks, where the interval is a fixed time that does not change (e.g. you go in and check every 15 minutes during crying).

  3. No-Cry Approach – sort of mis-named, because there is always going to be some protest crying when making a change. Crying is how our babies communicate with us. But these approaches, most commonly associated with Dr. Sears (The Baby Sleep Book) or Elizabeth Pantley (The No-Cry Sleep Solution), involve very slowly teaching children how to fall asleep on their own by reducing interaction and withdrawing incrementally, over an extended period of time, often weeks or even months. These approaches can be very comforting for parents who are used to having very hands-on involvement in their children’s sleep. Versions of this approach include the chair method (or Sleep Lady Shuffle) and the pick up/put down method.

There is no right or wrong way to help your child learn to sleep independently. In our opinion, any work you do with your child that encourages healthy sleep is positive.

If all of these choices are overwhelming, don’t worry. We can help! Visit our Packages page to learn more about our one-on-one sleep consultation services.

What methods have you used? What did you like or dislike about the approach? How long did it take you to sleep train your child? Share your experience with us in the Comments.


One Response to “Understanding Common Sleep Training Methods”

One Response to “Understanding Common Sleep Training Methods”

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