Sleep training methods and finding the one that works for you

I have been thinking about writing this post for a while now. Whenever I see someone post in a facebook group that they desperately want to sleep but are scared to do cry it out, or when I talk to a parent that has pre conceived notions on sleep training, I wish I had the time to sit down with each person and explain to them… there are many different approaches to sleep training, and the important thing is finding what works for you.

Before I had kids, I think I maybe had heard of the ferber method. When I had Alessa, I only knew of the method that was outlined in the online course I purchased, and it wasn’t until I certified to become a sleep consultant that I realized there were other options! I WISH I had known, as I think it would have saved me alot of anxiety in my personal sleep training process.

But first…

When can you actually sleep train?

Below I will share with you the different methods that exist, but what I want you to understand is that they all technically work, but the key factor in ALL of them is consistency. You will need to apply the method that you can be consistent with. You also need to understand that when it comes to sleep training, it isn’t only about the sleep training method. Sleep is a puzzle. An appropriate schedule, sleep environment, parental response, and in many cases , guidance when things don’t go as outlined- is what will ultimately lead you to sleep training success.

You cannot truely start sleep training until your baby is developmentally capable of self soothing. This usually happens around the 4 month mark after the 4 month sleep regression happens, but for every baby, this developmental milestone will be different.

Signs your baby is ready: 

  • The way you were comforting them as a newborn and getting them to sleep isn’t working anymore
  • They are more alert
  • You are playing paci ping pong, or cannot get longer than a 3 hour stretch of sleep after the 4 month mark
  • As soon as you rock them to sleep and lay them down, their eyes POP back open

So lets discuss the most popular methods from least parental involvement to most:

Top 5 Sleep training methods

Extinction:

This method is what most people think of when they think of training, and I would probably wager that it is the LEAST used. I personally do not use this method with my clients because I find most parents would have a hard time actually consistently following it. In this sleep training approach, you follow your usual bedtime routine, and once it is finished, you place your baby in the crib and leave the room for the rest of the night. You “extinct” whatever sleep prop has been happening until then (feeding, paci, rocking etc.) and you wait the whole night for your babe to discover their independent sleep skills.

pros & cons:

This method is recommended in the book moms on call. This method is also probably the fastest working method because there are no parental interventions delaying sleep learning (done appropriately, it should take 2-3 days) . However, this method is the most difficult to actually follow.  I know many parents who reach the end of their rope and decide to no longer go in when baby wakes up. When I asked my mom how she got us to sleep through the night, she said she stopped going into the room when we turned one. Ha! I am an extinction baby I suppose. (For the record, I have zero recollection of this or emotional scars or abandonment issues).

Interval Checks

One of the most popular methods is Interval checks. Made famous by Dr. Richard Ferber, this method involves doing your bedtime routine, laying your child in their crib, leaving the room, and checking in on them after a set time. The Ferber method uses gradually increasing intervals for checks, but you can also just have a set amount of time to go in (i.e. every 5 minutes, 10 mins, 20 mins). When the parent goes in, they comfort their child, assure them everything is ok, let them know they are still there, and then once again leave the room. These checks should last under one minute. The process is repeated as many times as necessary throughout the night.

pros & cons:

This method is very successful, and provides parents the opportunity to comfort their child. Because you are allowing unstimulating space for your child to learn to self soothe, you tend to see results in 3 days. For some parents though, it is too difficult to leave their child unattended for 10 minutes which can leave space for a lot of inconsistency. If you leave your child to cry for say 30 minutes, but then go in and feed them to sleep, you just taught your child to cry for long periods in order to be fed.

The Chair Method

This is the method I wish I had known about when I started my personal sleep training journey. While it is also successful, it takes a little longer to see the full “sleep through the night” effects. However, the parent is able to sit with their child the entire time. I often use this method with toddlers as the parent is usually their sleep prop and a gradual fade out of the parent while the child becomes confident in their sleep skills works wonders.

In the chair method, a chair is placed by the crib or toddler bed, the child is placed in their sleep space, and the parent sits beside them. During a 2 week period, the parent gradually moves the chair further and further away from the crib, until the chair is no longer in the room. The interaction with the child also decreases as the days go on. Initially the parent beside the bed can offer words of affirmation, patting, or back rubs, but as the chair is moved away, the parent is encouraged to stay in the chair and give the baby more space to discover their self soothing abilities. Sleeping through the night generally happens once the parent is out of the room.

Pros & Cons:

Between this method and Interval checks, the parent needs to decide what they would feel most comfortable with, and that is going to be the most positive experience. I have worked with families that have started with the chair method, and found it to be more anxiety inducing than comforting, and quickly switch over to interval checks. There are also babies and children who will respond better to one versus the other. Some babies may find their parent nearby in a chair too distracting while others may find it calming. The key with this method is to make sure the parent makes it entirely out of the bedroom. If the parent stays in the chair by the door, that position will become the new sleep prop.

Pick up / Put down method

This is a very gentle method that works best on young babies in the 3-4 month range. In order for this method to work though, you need to be sure your baby has gone through the 4 month sleep regression and therefore can learn to self soothe.

In this method, you place your baby in the crib and either leave the room or stay. When the baby cries, you pick them up and comfort them until they stop crying. As soon as the baby stops crying, you put them back into their sleep space, allowing them 5-7 minutes to self soothe. If they do not self soothe in that time, you pick them back up and repeat.

The reason this method works best for young babies, is becomes this would generally be overstimulating for a 6 month old and above. However, for 4 month old babies this is a great way to encourage self soothing skills while still providing comfort.

In General..

Something that is important to remember is that whatever you do at night, you will need to do for naps as well. Every sleep situation needs to be the same so that your baby is able to practice their sleep skills consistently.

You will also be most successful if you are certain that your child is on an appropriate schedule for their age, and if your response is consistent every single night.

The worst mistake you can make in the sleep training journey is to constantly change your approach and send confusing messages to your child.

I hope this gives you a better idea of the options out there. There are many ways to support your sleep journey and there is not a one size fits all, for the parents OR the child. Even with many options, the journey can be unpredictable and unnerving, which is where I come in! If you need any guidance at all, please don’t hesitate in reaching out. I will hold your hand every step of the way towards restful sleep.

Love,

Steph