When it comes to sleep training, there is an abundance of information out there. This of course comes along with a lot of misinformation so I want to help clear things up for you!
What is sleep training NOT:
First things first, sleep training is not letting your baby cry so hard they eventually get tired and fall asleep.
What sleep training IS:
When I work with tired parents, our goal is to get all of the pieces to the sleep puzzle in place. Because let’s face it, baby sleep is certainly a puzzle! We talk about sleep environment, safe sleep, sleep routines, and most importantly, we talk about wake windows. Once you have all the pieces to the sleep puzzle in place, a consistent sleep training routine is all that’s left to leave you with a baby who loves sleep!
In a nutshell: we set up your little one for sleep success by placing them down for sleep BEFORE they are in overtired mode (which triggers the release of stress hormones) and we do this by creating an environment for them that is conducive of sleep as well as by following age appropriate wake windows.
The goal of sleep training is to place your baby in their crib happy – they fall asleep within 15 minutes – and they wake up happy.
At what age can you start Sleep Training?
We can start sleep training at 16 weeks adjusted age (which is calculated from their due date, not necessarily from the day they were born).
Here are a few reasons why:
(1) By this time, baby’s brain has developed enough and their sleep becomes rhythmic.
(2) By 16 weeks old babies have gone through the 4 months sleep regression. [read more about The 4-month Sleep Regression in my Blog Post linked here]
(3) They are now aware of their surroundings, and can thus pay attention to routines.
(4) They can go a little longer without feeds and you no longer have to feed them on demand. *Please ensure you speak with your Pediatrician before making this decision, we will talk more about this together.
“Regardless of the method you choose, there are bound to be some tears.”
A baby who relies on a crutch to fall asleep needs time to learn how they can soothe themselves – and thus, unlearn loving the comfort of their sleep crutch. Nobody likes change, so if your baby currently relies on a bottle to fall asleep for example, there are bound to be some tears when removing this barrier. Sleep training involves setting your baby up for success and giving them time and space to learn self-soothing techniques. The key here is to use proper wake windows because things can go sideways if you are off by even 15 minutes! This is where I work with parents and analyze daily sleep logs and adjust where needed to make the sleep training journey less bumpy.
THE 4 SLEEP TRAINING METHODS
There are a variety of sleep training methods to choose from ranging from direct to more gradual. I choose to not to use the term more “gentle,” because the more gradual the methods are, the more potential they have to confuse baby – which can cause more tears. Let’s take a deeper look into each method below.
Method One – Extinction Method:
This is often referred to as the ‘cry it out method’. Please keep in mind that as mentioned above, when you have all the pieces to the sleep puzzle in place, the potential for tears is drastically reduced. Parents choose this method because it is the least confusing to your baby therefore, it works the quickest. When you finally operate with the correct wake windows for your baby, your child can be a wonderful sleeper in as little as 3 nights.
With this method, you essentially do your bedtime routine and put baby in their sleep space and then leave the room. You can re-enter the room only during times for age-appropriate night feeds (see chart below). You can watch from a monitor and ensure your baby is safe. I always tell my clients that safety is #1. If at any point you feel that your little one is in distress or danger, I would never suggest you leave him or her alone.
Method Two – Timed Interval:
With this method, you can go in and help soothe your baby with words or touch by using timed intervals. The first night your times would be: 5,7,10,10,10. Night two would be: 7,10,12,12,12 and so on. This method sounds fabulous however there are a few downfalls.
(1) Your baby is confused because they are crying for a bottle and instead you come in and mumble something which they can’t understand yet, and then you leave.
(2) When you do leave the room, brace yourself for a meltdown.
(3) Consistency is key. Are you able to commit to setting your timer in the middle of the night?
(4) This method takes a little longer than the first, on average about 1-2 weeks.
Method Three – Pick up/ put down:
I combined two methods to create a more gradual option for parents. This method takes about 2-4 weeks to work, so gradual is they keyword here. You would do timed intervals like the above method, however, you can pick up your baby until they stop crying. You would then repeat, repeat, repeat until they fall asleep, and do this all over again when they wake in the middle of the night.
Method Four – Chair Method:
This method works better with older children whom you can explain the process to. With this method, you would sit in a chair next to your little one’s sleep space. You would continue to sit in the chair until they fall asleep and return to the chair during night wakings. Every 3 nights you gradually move your chair further out the door until the chair is no longer in the room. At this point, problems can start to arise (although not necessarily) but baby is now confused why you are not in their room at all.
The Sleep Training Verdict:
All of these methods have the potential to be very effective. Some just take a little bit longer than others to fully work. Sleep training as a whole is worth the few nights of short-term stress for long term gain. I am a mama to 3 children and a kindergarten teacher as well. I can tell you first hand the negative impact that a lack of sleep has on behavior, social skills, and learning. Having all of the pieces to the sleep puzzle is crucial. If even one piece is missing, you cannot create a full picture. I work one on one with families to make the process of sleep smooth, manageable, and stress-free.
I know it doesn’t seem possible, but it is … I promise. Let me show you how. Sleep is on the way, Sarah.