What is sleep training?
Sleep training is the process of helping a baby learn to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
Some babies fall asleep (and stay asleep ) quickly and easily, some have trouble settling down to sleep and others struggle to get back to sleep once they’ve wakened, most babies need ‘training’ to sleep like us adults. We describe a few different approaches to sleep training below: from ‘no tears’ to ‘cry it out’.
When is my baby ready for sleep training?
Most experts recommend starting to sleep train when your baby is between 4 and 6 months old, we think parents are the experts, every baby is different, and your baby might not be ready until they are a much older. Typically, a more regular sleep-wake cycle or sleep pattern and a reduction in night feeds are both signs your baby is ready for sleep training.
How do I prepare for sleep training?
Preparation is key, here are some suggestions to preparing your little one (and yourself) for a good night sleep:
Introduce a bedtime routine- You can start this much earlier than sleep training, a routine could include a relaxing bath, a story or lullaby or even something simple like a ‘mad-hour’ followed by half an hour of calm.
Choose a consistent bedtime- Experts recommend a bedtime between 7 and 8pm, again, this will vary from family to family, and ultimately it is down to you to choose a time that suits you and your baby. Be conscious not to leave it too late or your baby may become overtired and start fighting sleep.
Follow a predictable daytime routine- What we mean by this is trying to get your baby up around the same time each morning, try to keep to a rough feeding and nap time too. This will help your baby feel more relaxed and secure, which will help him/her settle down more easily.
If your baby has a sleep condition such as sleep apnea we suggest speaking to your GP before sleep training.
The different approaches to sleep training.
There are various sleep training techniques. You should choose the technique that you think your baby will respond well to, that you believe you can consistently maintain and feel comfortable with.
Researchers have been debating the pros and cons of various sleep training options for years but they all agree that consistency appears to be more important than the actual method.
A review of 52 sleep studies using various methods published in the journal sleep found that almost all techniques worked if there was consistency.
Not every sleep training method will work for every child or parent, even if it worked for your first child it might not work for your second so observe how your child is reacting to the sleep training and if you really feel like it isn’t working then stop for a few days before changing your approach.
Most sleep training techniques follow one of these basic approaches:
Cry it out!
The idea here is putting your baby to bed awake and letting him/her cry for a short period before going in their room to reassure them, tuck them back in, wipe their tears, show them that your are still around and leave the room, do this consistently until your baby falls asleep, let your baby cry but don’t let them get overly distressed, try not to pick up your baby when you go in to reassure them because the aim is for them to self-soothe and fall sleep without your input, over a few days/weeks of consistently doing this you will likely find that the time it takes for them settle gets shorter and shorter.
This option isn’t for everyone, it can be very difficult to listen to your baby cry but if you feel like it’s something you are able to manage then go for it, the result will be a much more rested, well slept, happy baby and that is the goal. You might find some comfort in telling yourself this when you feel like giving up.
The no-tears approach
The idea here is to put your baby to bed awake and reassure them when they start to cry. The key is knowing the difference between a sleepy whimper and an actual cry. Again, like the ‘cry-it-out’ approach you enter the room reassure your baby without picking them up and leave them again.
This approach may take longer but for parents who can’t or don’t want to sit and listen to their baby cry then this is a much gentler approach.
The fading approach
The fading approach or camping out approach as it’s also known consists of the caregiver gradually reducing their input in their babies sleep routine. The idea is to sit near your baby’s crib until they fall asleep, gradually moving your chair further and further away from the crib each night. The goal is to give your baby time to work out how they are going self-soothe without getting upset.
Do I have to use a sleep training method for you baby?
No. Some babies need little help sleeping through the night and some parents just don’t feel like they need to train their babies to sleep. These techniques are for parents who are exhausted or frustrated by their child’s sleeping habits. If you are happy with the way things are then continue what you are doing. Every family has different tolerances and expectations, a 1 year old who wakes up twice a night may have their parents pulling their hair out while another family wouldn’t change it for the world.