About sleep training and age /what is sleep training?
Sleep training is a general term referring to different approaches used to help a baby learn to fall asleep on their own. It involves different sleep training methods that were developed by pediatricians and sleep experts such as Dana Obleman who developed the renowned Sleep Sense program. These methods require different kinds of parental participation and produce different reactions from the baby. Some sleep training methods are perceived as gentle, and with others, crying is expected.
Doctors recommend that sleep training be done for babies who have reached four months of age and older.
History of sleep training
In earlier centuries, families used to have large settings where they lived with extended families with grandparents, aunties, uncles, and siblings. There were more hands to help raise a new addition to the family. But then families transitioned to being just dad, mom, and kids, and with so much to do especially with a newborn, sleeping hours became less available. That’s how sleep training was born as a means of coping.
The earliest method was the Cry-It-Out, documented by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1894, in his book The Care and Feeding of Children. It would later be popularized by Dr.Marc Weissbluth, as the Extinction method. Most people view this technique as cruel because it involved letting your child cry themselves to sleep without checking on them until the following morning.
With time another gentler version of the Cry-It-Out method called the Ferber method was developed by Dr.Richard Ferber. It is also called Gradual Extinction, where the parent gradually increases the duration of time they leave the baby to cry before coming to check on them until the baby finally learns to self soothe.
Many critics argue that these methods are cruel, although there is no evidence to show any long term harm caused to children or their relationship with parents.
Nowadays, there are gentler training methods developed by sleep experts and pediatricians, which seek to minimize crying. The techniques focus on parent responsiveness and consistency in the set bedtime routine to lead to a child finally learning to sleep without help.
Benefits of sleep training/ sleep training good?
Most people agree that sleep training has its benefits. Below is a highlight of these benefits:
- Helps with the baby’s health and development
Studies have shown that sleep is vital for the brain to grow and mature, which happens during infancy and childhood. Children need long hours of sleep to reinforce and imprint all they have been seeing and learning during their wake times. Besides brain development, growth hormones are released to help your baby gain weight, cytokines are also produced to fight off infections and produce antibodies, and all kinds of intricate systems are working during sleep.
- It helps with the baby’s temperament
If your baby sleeps better and is well rested, they will be more patient, less cranky, and have a lighter, happier mood than a baby that is sleep deprived. And you will have easier parenting time with a well-rested baby.
- Parents also get better rest
Better sleep for your child means more rest and better sleep for the parents too. It also gives parents more time to have time alone to invest in their relationship. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause stress, maternal depression, and marital discord. Sleep training gives parents better mental health and a better relationship.
When sleep training is harmful
Sleep training doesn’t harm babies. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, even methods that include crying weren’t shown to cause physical or emotional harm to babies.
Why Bedtime Routines Are Critical to Sleep Training
Sleep experts advise that your first step in sleep training should be developing a bedtime routine. This is because infants and babies have chaotic sleep patterns at first, and they are also not able to tell the difference between day and night. A bedtime routine will give them cues as to what to expect next. When implemented right, your baby will, with time, start to associate certain actions of the routine with going to sleep. They can tell the day has come to an end, and they should relax and get ready to sleep.
A bedtime routine also helps when you are away from home on vacation or special outing because the actions are the same.
The cues could include a warm bath, brushing teeth, a book, a lullaby, going to the bathroom, prayer time, cuddling, lights out, etc. This is customizable to what is workable for you and your baby.
6 Sleep Training Methods
Below are the 6 popular sleep training methods you can try out with your baby:
- Ferber/ Graduated extinction/ Interval method/ check and console method
This method involves going in at timed intervals to check and comfort your baby. You go through your bedtime routine, put your baby to bed, and leave the room. If the baby cries, you return to check and comfort her (without picking her up) at progressively increasing intervals, until she finally falls asleep. For example, on the first night, you can go in after 3 minutes, then after 5 minutes, then after 10 minutes, and so on. On subsequent nights, you will return at longer intervals than the previous night. You keep at it until the baby finally sleeps without any visits from you.
- Cry-it-out/ Extinction
The difference between this method and the graduated extinction is that you completely do not respond to your baby’s cry. Like all the rest, you start with your bedtime routine, put the baby in bed or crib while awake, wish them a good night and let them know you are leaving and walk out the door. And you do not return till morning, despite their cries.
It is the most controversial method by parents and experts alike, but parents who have tried it see progress within three days. However, this method is not suitable for babies below six months who still need night feeds.
- Chair method
With this method, you prepare your baby for bed and then sit in a chair next to her and comfort her, if necessary, until she falls asleep. On the following days, you keep moving the chair further from their crib until one day you will be out of the room.
- Pick up, put down, and shush-pat
This is a great method for young babies below seven months. You prepare your baby for bed and put them down to sleep. If they start fussing, you let them be, but when they cry a bit too much, you can pick and comfort them until they are calm and then put them back down. You could also stand over the crib and gently pat their tummy to calm and reassure them until they fall asleep.
- Bedtime routine Fading
This is a no-tear method but might take a long time to work. With the fading technique, you continue with whatever tricks you were using to help your baby fall asleep, decreasing the amount of time you spend doing them until the baby sleeps without them. For example, if you rocked your baby for five minutes, reduce to four, then to three, to two, to one, and finally stop.
- Bedtime-hour fading
With bedtime-hour fading, you learn the time when your baby tends to naturally fall asleep (you can keep a diary and use a monitor), and set it as the new bedtime. After several nights using that time, move bedtime to 15minutes earlier the next night, and continue moving bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night, until the baby starts sleeping at your desired bedtime instead of the one they used to.
Best sleep training method for separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can starts for most babies when they are between 6-10 months old. They become clingy anytime you hand them over to a baby sitter or another person, or when you want to leave. It can also happen at naptime and night time. Usually, the child shows anxiety, clinginess, sobbing, and major tantrums. It can also appear when they are 18 months and again at 2 years.
Separation anxiety can badly affect your child’s sleep and leave you stressed. It can be really hard to sleep train during this period. That’s why it is advisable to establish a bedtime routine and sleep train earlier on. That said, you can still sleep train, but expect drama, and full-blown temper tantrums.
Our suggestion would be to start with a gentle method where you can comfort and reassure your child, and then leave the room. Also, when leaving, it is not wise to sneak out when you notice they are drowsy or distracted because it will only make your child’s fear even worse, by making them feel like if they turn the other way, you will literally vanish. Rather, say night night lovingly and firmly, and let them see you walk out of the room.
When your child wakes up after a nap or in the middle of the night crying and screaming, it is alright to comfort him. It will help reassure him that you are nearby, and he might fall back to sleep faster. However, try to keep these interactions gradually shorter and boring.
How to get baby to sleep without nursing
If your baby only sleeps at the breast, below are some tips you can use to stop this dependency:
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment
If you create a conducive sleeping environment, it will help your baby fall asleep faster, even without the need to nurse her. It is recommended that babies should sleep in a dimly lit and quiet room. Playing some white noise or lullabies can also go a long way. Also, keep that air quality clean and the temperatures cool for optimal comfort.
- Start a healthy napping routine
Establish napping sessions where you don’t nurse or feed the baby. That might mean nursing or feeding the baby like an hour before napping, or after. If your baby can nap without the bottle or nursing, then you will have broken the nursing-sleeping association.
- Prevent nipple dependence
Your baby could also have developed a reliance on your nipple; this is natural for most breastfed babies. They associate it with feeding, comfort and sleeping. The only way to stop this dependence is to pull out your nipple from their mouth before your baby falls asleep. Chances are that they will wake up. However, if you repeatedly remove it, they will reach a point where they sleep without nursing.
But remember, babies below 6 months need to feed a few times at night.
- Let daddy help with night time feeding
You can also teach your child that food can come from another source but your nipple. Pump out some breast milk and store it in a bottle. Let daddy fed the baby during night times. Your baby will enjoy the experience of bonding with daddy as well.
- Keep a clear line between playtime and naptime
Although playtime is important for a baby to grow, learn, and develop in all aspects, it should not be encouraged when nap time is almost. It causes overstimulation, which makes it hard for the baby to sleep. Stick to your bedtime routine and ensure playtime occurs earlier in the day, with prolonged relaxation before bedtime.
Sleep training methods For one 0 to 4 months old (mostly 4-month-old)
Wake and Sleep technique- this method is great for little babies who still need to be fed at night. It is a very gentle technique, and no crying is involved. You can rock or nurse the baby to sleep and put them down in the crib. Next, try waking them up by tickling their feet or shaking the crib a little bit. You will find that after about just 10 seconds, they will fall right back to sleep. During those few seconds, your baby will be learning to fall back to sleep at night without your assistance. This method is from Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block.
At four months, you can also use the Pick-Up-Put-Down method. It is also a gentle method and as simple as it sounds. This is what to do: if your baby cries or fusses when putting them down to sleep, pick, and comfort them until they are calm and drowsy. Then, put them back down in their crib to sleep and repeat until the baby finally falls asleep on their own.
Sleep training methods For 5 and 6 months old
Babies this age still require parental presence, so we recommend the same gentle technique we recommended for babies below four months, Pick-Up-Put-Down method. As earlier explained, you pick and comfort your baby until they are calm and drowsy, and then put them down to sleep. Then you repeat until the baby sleeps.
This method requires patience and might not work for all babies. Some babies might find the repeated process of picking up and putting down too stimulating and cause them to be aggravated rather than comforted.
Alternatively, you can use another gentle method called Fading method. It is a great choice for families that want to minimize crying as much as possible, and can also work for even younger babies.
With this method, you can help your baby to sleep by rocking or feeding, for example, but you reduce the help gradually overtime. For instance, if you rock your baby until they sleep, you keep shortening the amount of time you rock them each night until they can sleep without rocking.
Sleep training methods For 7 to 9 months old
For this age group, we recommend another gentle technique called the Chair method.
You sit in a chair next to your baby’s crib and comfort your baby with words until he falls asleep, but do not pick him up. Each night, you move the chair further away until one day you will be out of the room. While the method is comforting for the parent, especially, it might make crying worse, because the baby is watching you not acting on their cry the way they expect.
Sleep training methods For 9 and 10 months old
We would recommend the Ferber method for toddlers this age. You put your toddler down to sleep, wish them night, and then leave the room. If they cry, you can come back to the room after some timed interval to check and console them, but do not pick them up.
Then continue to leave and check on them at increased periods between the visits until they fall asleep. In the following nights, keep increasing the lengths of time you let your toddler cry before you check in until they finally fall asleep by themselves.
Sleep training methods For 12 months old
For this age, we would also recommend the Ferber method. If that fails, then you can upgrade to a less stimulating method, Cry-It-Out.
Sleep training methods For 12 to 18 month old
For this age group, we recommend the Cry-it-out method. Though most people might not have the heart for this method, it might be the only method that will work with children above one year. This is because every other approach will involve having a parent in the room, and the child will mostly find it rewarding enough to continue putting up their tantrums.
Cry-it-out involves doing your bedtime routine, putting your child to bed while still awake, and then leave the room without returning to check on them. If they cry, you should not go back in to comfort her until they soothe themselves to sleep. Many parents who have pushed through with this method find that they only have to bear the painful experience of hearing their baby’s cry for just about three days, and after that their children can sleep unaided.
If that is too uncomfortable for you to bear, then go by the Ferber method.
Tips for Keeping Kids Asleep
- Establish a bedtime routine that starts with a winding down period of about 30 minutes and relaxing activities.
- Create an ideal sleep environment where your child’s sleeping room is quiet and dark or dimly lit. You can also play a noise machine if your child doesn’t like total silence.
- Turn of electronics because these are stimulating and promote wakefulness
- Make sure you include playtime during the day for your baby while older children get regular exercise
- Don’t give your child a filling meal, caffeine, or sugary drinks three hours before bedtime. Instead, let them have a light snack or a glass of warm milk.
- If you have put every measure in place, and your child is still having difficulties sleeping, they may have a sleep disorder that can be treated by a pediatrician or a sleep specialist.
Best sleep training method for breastfed babies
Best sleep training method for high-needs/cry babies
When to start putting baby down awake
Although there is no set time, it works best when you start as early as six to eight weeks.
Baby restless at night but not crying/what causes tossing and turning in sleep in babies
The main reason babies toss and turn in their sleep is that they have short sleep cycles, of which half of it is in the REM phase. The REM phase is characterized by light sleep with rapid eye flickering, vivid dreams, and increased movement. This is a critical phase in which the baby’s brain processes and imprints memories of all they have seen during the day and develops cognitive skills.
The REM type of sleep becomes shorter as the baby grows until they are about one year old. After one year, the baby starts having about 8 to 10 hours of deep uninterrupted sleep.
While it is tempting to pick your baby when you notice they are tossing and turning or even whimpering, it is not wise because it interrupts their sleep cycle.
Other factors that could cause your baby to have restless sleep could be illness, discomfort if they are too cold or hot, or even a sleep disorder.
Baby tossing and turning teething/baby teething pain worse at night/baby teething sleep regression
When a baby is teething, they experience discomfort on the gum and sometimes even pain. This could also cause them to have disrupted sleep with tossing and turning, among other symptoms like irritability, swollen gums, excessive drooling, fever, gum rubbing and biting, and more.
Sometimes it appears that pain from teething becomes worse at night, but sleep experts say it is no different during the day, and that it is only more pronounced at night for the baby because there are few distractions. If your child is experiencing pain that is messing with their sleep, you can help her by doing the following:
- Massage her sore gums with a clean finger
- Give your baby a clean toy which she can use to rub the gums or bite on
- Keep teethers in the fridge (not the freezer); the cold will numb and soothe the gums.
- Give her a comforting cuddle to lull her back to sleep, but stop once teething is solved.
- You can breastfeed to provide a distraction and soothe the baby back to sleep, but only for the limited time while the teething problem last to prevent dependence.
- You could try a soothing gel for temporal relief
- Give her a cold washcloth dipped in chamomile tea to chewing on
- If the pain is so bad, you could give her infant painkillers, but don’t make it a habit and consult a doctor first.
Sometimes, parents wonder if the baby is not sleeping well due to teething, sleep regression, or both. Teething starts for most babies anywhere between 4 to 7 months, although it can occur later. You will also notice some of the teething symptoms we have mentioned above. Also, in most cases, teething pain or discomfort does not cause frequent wakings.
On the other hand, sleep regression happens at 4 months, 8 to 10 months, and at 18 months, and not to every baby. Symptoms of sleep regression include difficulties for the child to fall asleep, frequent wakings, and crankiness. There is nothing anyone can do to prevent it, but it is temporal, lasting between 2 to 4 weeks. The wise thing to do when your child is going through a sleep regression is maintaining consistency with the sleep training method and bedtime routine you had already put in place.
3 best sleep training alarm clocks
One of the problems parents are faced with after successfully getting their children to sleep through the night is their toddlers waking up very early, forcing parents to wake too. Also, kids do not understand the aspect of time very well. That is where sleep training alarm clocks come in.
These clocks are built with fun, friendly designs and are easy for young children to understand. The warm colors serve as visual cues to tell kids when it is okay to get up and sleep.
Our three best choices are easy enough for the little ones to understand, and some have additional features that are useful for the parents and kids as well.
Little Hippo Mella is a cute-looking clock that is very easy for young toddlers and older ones to use. It uses colors and digital facial expressions to let them know when it is time for bed and when it is time to rise and shine. Thirty minutes before wake up time, Mella glows yellow and then smiles widely and glows green to say it is time to go. When it is bedtime, Mella closes it’s little eyes to show it is time to sleep. Little Mella also has a digital clock display, a built-in sound machine with three settings (rain, ocean, and white noise), night light with five colors and a nap timer, and is available in four color options.
The Hatch Baby is the best for tech parents who would like a clock to connect and control from their smartphones. It is also elegantly designed to match any home style. When you buy Hatch Baby Rest, you get a night light, sound machine, and an alarm clock in a convenient all-in-one device.
Although it comes with preset color and sound combinations, we love that it allows you to customize everything from the color, brightness, sound, and volume remotely from your phone via an app.
With this Hatch Baby device, you get to soothe your baby thanks to the sound machine, have gentle light for late-night feeds, and let your child know it’s okay to wake up. And it will grow with your child.
UrbanHello Remi is one of the best clocks you can get because of how versatile it is, plus it is designed to grow with your kids. If you want a package that combines a clock, night light, monitor, Bluetooth speaker, and more, this is it.
Remi makes faces to let your little one know is time to get up or time to sleep. It also has an app where you can set up your child’s bedtime routine for the week and weekend. Additionally, it has sensors for temperature and sound and sends notifications and sleeping stats on the app. Unlike the Hatch Baby clock, Remi gives you the ability to play music from your smartphone and have a two-way talk with your child via a Bluetooth speaker. It also has a night light feature so you can comfortably feed your baby late at night.
Sleep training books
Sleep training is one of the most debated topics by parents, with a wide variety of methods and approaches to choose from. Generally, Sleep training methods fall into two categories: Cry-it-out and No-tears techniques. These categories then have different variations, which are documented in books and other materials. On this list, we highlight the best books that explain different techniques.
The method covered: Cry-it-out
Available formats: Hardcover, paperback, audiobook, Kindle, MP3 CD
Dr. Marc Weissbluth is a popular pediatrician, and his book has already sold a million copies and has a 4.3 rating by over 3086 customers on Amazon. In his book, Dr. Weissbluth provides a step-by-step guide for establishing beneficial habits within your child’s natural sleep cycles. Also, he addresses other sleep-related topics, including sleep needs for different temperaments, how to get your baby to fall asleep naturally, mistakes parents make trying to get their children to sleep, how to stop the crybaby syndrome, nightmare, bedwetting, dealing with nap-resistant kids and more.
Method Covered: A variation of Cry-it-out
Available formats: Kindle, paperback, MP3 CD
This next book is also by another renowned pediatrician, Dr. Ferber, and his method is one of the most widely used methods all over the world. It is the gentle version of the Cry-it out, which allows you to check on your child at increased intervals. On Amazon, you can tell it is a favorite of many with a 4.6 rating by 1195 customers.
In the Solve Your Child’s Sleep problems book, Dr. Ferber teaches parents about the nature and development of sleep and body rhythms throughout childhood. He also provides solutions to sleep problems faced from infancy to adolescence. Other topics covered include effective strategies for naps, sleep schedule abnormalities, co-sleeping, sleep terrors, sleep apnea, bedwetting, and more.
Method covered: Calming newborns and helping them sleep
Available formats; hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback
This next book is a top favorite of many parents and pediatricians included. It has also sold a million copies and has a 4.4 rating on Amazon by 2174 customers. Dr. Harvey’s book is focused on understanding newborns, improving their sleep, and calming their senses. He introduces a thought-provoking concept that newborns are not fully ready for the world hence needing a womb-like environment, aka the Missing Fourth Trimester. He also explains the 5 S’s swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking that help to calm a fussy baby. If you want to know how to calm a baby in minutes, this is the book to get.
Method Covered: seven different sleep training techniques
Available formats: Kindle, Audiobook, paperback
Alexis Dubief is a popular sleep expert, and her book the Precious Little Sleep is expertly written with a hilarious tone that will keep you captivated as you read.
Precious Little Sleep is a compilation of seven different sleep training methods, which are very well explained to help you identify which one is suitable for your family. She covers topics like how to navigate the newborn phase like a pro, how to get your child to truly sleep through the night, weaning off nightly feed, mastering napping, and solving toddler and preschooler sleep struggles. The book has a 4.7 rating on Amazon.
Method covered: Limited Crying Solution
Available formats: audiobook, hardcover, MP3 CD
If you have twins, triplets, babies with special needs, colicky babies or even singletons, Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks old is the book for you. The book is authored by a sought after infant sleep specialist, Suzy Giordano.
Her amazing book gives you a step by step plan that ensures any baby sleeps twelve hours at night and three hours during the day by the time they are twelve weeks old. This book has sold over 150k copies and has a 4.3 rating on Amazon.
Best sleep gear
Below is a list of all the things you will need to make sure your child has quality sleep:
- Swaddle blanket- keeps the baby snugly wrapped like they were in the womb, and great for newborns
- Merino sleepsuit- suitable for babies above 3 months who are transitioning from swaddles. But, it is only to be used with back sleepers.
- Wearable sleep blankets/ sleep sacks- designed to provide warmth, for babies age 4 months and above, who have begun rolling on their tummies.
- Sound machine- provides a relaxing sound to lull the baby to sleep while drowning other noises in the house
- Video and smart baby monitors- you get to watch and listen to your baby with video monitors, be alerted when your baby moves, or rolls over with some smart monitors. Also, other functions like sensors for room temperature, air quality, breathing, motion, true cry detection, etc. monitors give you peace of mind at night.
- Rockers, swingers, and vibration mats- they help to calm and relax the baby
- Snoo- a bassinet that comes with a swaddling system that automatically sways rocks and shushes the baby to sleep.
- Halo Snoozy pod- it is a vibrating soother that attaches to the crib to provide soothing sounds and soft amber glow to help the baby fall asleep.
- Night light- provides a dim soothing light for the baby, and also for nighttime nursing.
- Books- bedtime stories help children to relax, stimulate their imagination, teach them sounds, and more.
- Teethers- they help to soothe sore gums and help children that are teething to fall asleep.
- Diapers and booster pads- keep the baby dry and comfortable throughout the night
- Cuddly stuffed animals and toys- help the baby develop attachments, which helps to soothe them at night. However, the American Association of Pediatrics discourages using soft toys until the child is one year old and above to prevent SIDS and suffocation.
- Blackout curtains-blocks light from entering your child’s room and messing with their sleep rhythms.
- Sleep clocks- they tell children when it is time to get up from the bed and when it is time to sleep.