When should I start sleep training?
The decision to begin sleep training is personal, and while there is no magic age to start, there is an optimal window of opportunity that will lead to a smoother transition. Evidence shows that the best time to begin sleep training is when babies become aware of light and dark cues, which typically occurs at 4-8 months old.
Though awareness of these cues varies from baby to baby, it is important to develop a routine that involves regular exposure to sunlight and darkness — even during the day to mimic nighttime — so that babies can start to develop a greater sense of awareness of their surroundings. The key is to associate daytime and sunlight with being awake and darkness and nighttime with sleep.
Along with sunlight, there are other cues that can help develop a routine sleep-wake cycle including noise levels, feeding times, and touch (swaddling). The use of these cues is based on a psychological phenomena called classical conditioning, where the baby is conditioned to have a biological and physiological sleep-wake response to sunlight/darkness, noise, food, and touch. Before parents begin sleep training, they should be aware of what developmental stage their baby is in because different ages require more or less sleep.
“Sleep training is not an easy task; it involves patience and consistency from parents,” says Zschech. “I always suggest that parents do a lot of homework before getting started so that they are prepared and committed to the process.”
Questions to ask yourself before starting
Sleep training is many things, but easy is not one of them. Truth be told, sleep training can be emotionally and physically exhausting. So before you begin, it’s important that you take some time to really reflect on whether or not you are ready and ask yourself the following questions:
- What does my schedule look like?
- Have I done the proper research and determined the best sleep training method for my baby and me?
- Am I ready to commit to sleep training?
The importance of a consistent bedtime routine
Consistent bedtime routines are crucial to effective sleep training. Not only do babies have the most chaotic sleep rhythm known to man, but they also don’t know the difference between day and night. A solid bedtime routine normally includes a set of cues to your child that the hullabaloo is over and bedtime is near. The most common signals that it’s time to wind down are warm baths, a bedtime story, and even dimming the lights.
A sound bedtime routine builds the foundation for good sleep. When these activities are repeated consistently, your child will associate them with sleep, and they will continue to relax with each subsequent activity. Getting your child to understand the transition from awake time to bedtime is crucial to successful sleep training. If you’re struggling with a bedtime routine, Moshi can help you create a soothing bedtime routine with magical stores and meditations created just for the little ones.
Popular sleep training methods
Sleep training is often used synonymously with letting your child cry it out, but the truth is that crying it out is only one method, and sleep training, on the whole, is so much more than that.
Sleep training is an all-encompassing term that refers to the process of teaching your child when and how to sleep. And as we mentioned earlier, it is not any one method. In fact, regarding the varied methods of sleep training, the list is long. For the purposes of this article, we will examine a few approaches to sleep training, simply to offer parents a jumping-off point for their research. Moshi does not advocate one approach over another, and parents are always encouraged to consult their pediatrician as they explore the best method for their families.
“Parents need to know not just the ins and outs of the sleep training method they choose but their baby ‘s sleep needs and schedule, their ideal sleep environment, and how to best gauge if they see improvements on their sleep training journey,” says Zschech. “This is the best way to ensure that they have sleep training success.”
Pick up put down and shush pat
The pick up, put down and shush pat method works exactly as it sounds. Like most sleep training methods, parents are encouraged to put their baby down while he or she is drowsy but awake. When the child inevitably fusses, parents are encouraged to pick the baby up, soothe him/her, and put them down again once they are calm. These steps are repeated throughout the night as needed. The pick up, put down and shush pat method is considered one of the gentler forms of sleep training, and according to Zschech, it “works best for babies under six months because it’s very stimulating.” Zschech also reminds parents that the pick up, put down, and shush pat method is a slower process. “Parents will find that it takes time to see 100% success.”
The bedtime fading method, also known as camping out, is where parents gradually distance themselves (physically) from their babies, and this progression takes place over a period of time. Unlike the cry-it-out method, parents initially remain in the room, near their child and offer a minimal amount of verbal and physical comfort.
“It can be stimulating for some babies to have their parents be in the room as they learn independent sleep skills because they can see their parents but can’t have them help like they used to,” according to Zschech.
Over a period of nights or weeks, parents gradually increase their physical distance while remaining in sight. Should the baby begin fussing or crying, parents are encouraged to offer reassurance in hushed tones, again, with little physical contact. “For some kids and babies, having that connection can be calming and comforting,” says Zschech.
Camping out is a slower process, but there’s less crying. “Bedtime Fading is slower because it is very gradual, and there are multiple steps before babies are completely independent and falling asleep on their own,” says Zschech.
Also known as “Ferberizing” or “graduated extinction,” timed intervals sleep training was designed to help babies learn to sleep on their own while allowing parents to comfort their child.
With timed intervals, parents should proceed as usual with their child’s nightly bedtime routine. When it’s time for lights out, put your child down in his/her room, drowsy but awake and then leave the room. If your child begins to cry or fuss, wait for a spell and then return to the room and comfort them.
Keep in mind that comforting your baby during interval training should be limited to patting them and soothing them in hushed tones. Parents should refrain from picking up their babies, offering a bottle, or engaging with them otherwise. Doing so will only confuse them.
In the early stages of timed interval sleep training, parents are encouraged to keep intervals short. Three minutes is a good starting point for your first attempt. You can gradually increase the length of these intervals throughout the night, progressing from five to ten minute wait times. Richard Ferber, a physician and the pioneer of “Ferberizing” refers to this technique as “progressive waiting.” On the second day, parents should begin with a five-minute wait time and increase the length of the intervals to ten minutes, twelve minutes, etc.
Ideally, after repeating this process for a few nights, your baby will learn to fall asleep on her own. “Like most sleep methods, timed intervals may work better for some kids and not for others,” says Zschech. “For some babies, timed intervals can be too stimulating while others may find it frustrating to have a parent come in, check on them, and leave.”
Zschech says that “timed intervals can be a fast method for sleep training, and parents will often see some great improvements within a few days to a week.” Moreover, timed intervals is a popular method because it gives parents an opportunity to soothe their crying child, and it prescribes a way for them to remain vigilant throughout the process.
Age-Specific Sleep Training Guide
Common sleep training questions
If your child doesn’t sleep well or doesn’t sleep through the night, it can have a ripple effect on everyone who lives under the same roof. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can cause stress in the family unit and also lead to maternal depression. Sleep training your baby can and will alleviate the strain on parents and other family members.
Your baby will cry during sleep training, and that’s probably because it’s something that they are not used to. How much or how long your baby cries, however, will depend on the method of sleep training you choose and your child’s temperament.
Sleep training can take anywhere from 1 week to 1 month, and it is not uncommon for sleep training to be accomplished in 2-3 days. The wild card here is the method you choose. Sleep training methods that attempt to minimize crying may take longer.
It’s also important to point out that a lack of consistency can significantly affect progress and outcomes. We cannot stress enough the importance of researching the best approach and choosing the one that’s right for you, your child, and other family members.
When it comes to sleep training, the chances are pretty high that you’ll want to run for the hills after the first night (or during, no judgment), but consistency is key. Give it a chance to work and trust the process.
Parenting is a team effort, and your partner should be an active participant when it comes to everything, including sleep training. Ideally, you and your partner should discuss the process and hash out the details well beforehand. The process will be significantly smoother when everyone is on board, and expectations are clear.
Remember that the ideal time for sleep training is between 3 and 6 months old, by this time, your child is old enough to make it through the night. When you begin sleep training, you should ideally put your child down on a full tummy, so that they can sleep through the night without waking to satisfy a hungry belly.