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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Baby sleeping in crib

Sleep Training Your Baby – Is It Right for Your Family?

Is your otherwise healthy baby keeping you up all night? If so, you’re exhausted and so are they. If your baby is over 4 to 6 months, it may be time to consider sleep training the baby – so everyone can get some rest!

Sleep training won’t hurt your baby physically or emotionally. Most parents who sleep train their children are glad they did! The additional sleep they get helps them be the best possible parents for their family.

Consider this – sleep deprivation hurts your ability to be a great parent. Why? When we’re tired we aren’t as patient or in tune with our children’s needs. We certainly aren’t as much fun. Ongoing lack of sleep also puts parents at risk for depression and affects their driving skills.

Given this, sleep training isn’t a selfish move – it’s one that parents make with their child’s best interests at heart. But the decision to sleep train is one only you and your partner can make. If it doesn’t feel right for you – and you know your baby best – trust your instincts.

There are several methods to help babies over 4 to 6 months learn to fall asleep on their own. All are safe when done correctly and consistently. There’s no one method that will work for all babies.

Here are 5 methods to consider.

Method 1: “Cry it out”

No soothing from parent; your baby self-soothes.

How it’s done: 

  • Follow your usual pre-sleep routine. Make sure your baby’s needs are met (they’re fed, not in pain or ill, have a dry diaper).
  • Put your baby in the crib while still awake, but drowsy. Say goodnight and leave the room.
  • Don’t go in to check or comfort at all if your baby cries.
  • They will eventually stop protesting and fall asleep.

What to think about
When done consistently, this method can help your baby learn to fall asleep alone within a few days. Resisting the impulse to go comfort your baby can be very difficult, and “giving in” reinforces the association you’re trying to break.

The first 2 nights tend to be the hardest. Crying can last anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes the first night. Over the next several nights, crying decreases (30 minutes on average by the 2nd night; 10 to 15 by the 3rd night) and protests are less intense. In general, the older the baby is, the longer they cry.

Many parents find this technique too upsetting.

Method 2: “Check and Comfort” (“Ferber Method” or “Graduated Extinction”) 

Limited soothing from parents; lengthening the time between checking on your baby.

How it’s done:  

Follow your usual pre-sleep routine. Put your baby in the crib while still awake, but drowsy. Then:

  • Sit with them for a few minutes. You can lightly pat their belly, talk, or sing quietly.
  • Say goodnight, leave the room, and set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Wait until the timer goes off before going in to check and soothe if they cry. Don’t pick up your baby. Keep the lights off. Reassure them with your voice, say goodnight, and leave the room.
  • Set the timer again for the same amount of time and repeat the steps above.
  • Increase the amount of time you stay out of the room by about 5 minutes the next night.
  • Continue to add time between each “check” every night.

What to think about
This method is effective when done consistently. It’s a good fit for parents who are okay with some crying, but don’t want their baby to cry alone for too long.

Method 3: “Camping Out” (“Moving Chair”)

Limit soothing; gradually decrease your presence.

How it’s done: 

  • Place a chair right near your baby’s crib before you start your bedtime routine.
  • Do your usual getting ready for sleep routine. Put your baby in the crib while still awake, but sleepy.
  • Sit quietly until they fall asleep. With this method, parents are there just to reassure the baby with their physical presence.
  • Try responding to any crying the same way every time: “It’s time to sleep. I love you. Good night.” This “broken record” is boring, but it still allows you to respond instead of “ignoring” your baby altogether.
  • Move the chair a little farther away from the crib every 2 or 3 nights. Continue moving the chair each night until you’re at the door, and then outside the door.

What to think about
This method takes patience and consistency. It can take babies from a few days to a few weeks to fall asleep without you in the room.

Some parents find it very difficult not to interact – they worry that they’re “ignoring” the baby.

This is usually considered a “no cry” or “less crying” technique.

Method 4: “Fading” (“No Cry”)

Usual soothing; gradually shorten routine.

How it’s done:

Stick to your usual pre-sleep routine (see below). If you usually rock, nurse, or sing your baby to sleep, do that. Note how long it takes them to fall asleep. Place your baby in the crib.

  • Follow your pre-sleep routine the next night but shorten the amount of time by 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Continue to reduce the amount of time you read, rock, or nurse a little each night.

What to think about
This method is effective when done consistently. It can take a long time to set up.

Parents who don’t want their baby to cry alone at all may find this method is a good fit for them.

This method is less effective in helping your baby manage middle of the night awakenings.

Method 5: “Bedtime fading”

Push bedtime back to later.

How it’s done: 
This method temporarily shifts usual bedtime to later. Your child is more tired, and falls asleep more easily.

  • Do your usual pre-sleep routine, but start it 30 to 60 minutes later.
  • Keep evening activities calm and relaxed. (Don’t actively try to “tire them out.”)

What to think about
This method is effective when done consistently. It can be combined with other techniques above.
Some children can get over-stimulated and be more difficult to settle.

Whichever method you try, all sleep training should begin with a bedtime routine you consistently follow every night. Start at the same time with soothing activities to calm your child – bath, books, quiet songs, cuddles. It should be a short process – about 30 to 45 minutes.

During this time, gradually dim the lights and make your movements slower and your voice calmer. Don’t play with your baby in any way that might stimulate them.

Avoid nursing or feeding your baby as the last thing you do before putting them down – you want to lay them down drowsy but awake, and give them a chance to figure out how to soothe themselves to sleep.

Understanding these options will help you find a way to help you and your baby get more rest. Sleep well!

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