Sleep training or helping your baby learn good sleep habits and how to sleep more independently can be the source of many questions. One of the most pressing questions is what sleep training method is right for your baby.
One common misconception about sleep training babies (also called sleep coaching) is that there’s only one way to do it. But this could not be further from the truth! In reality, there are a number of ways many parents can work to help their babies develop healthy sleep habits and stop waking up in the middle of the night or taking short naps. Some methods involve crying, but others involve little to no tears and are very gentle.
So what methods should you try with your baby? To help you answer that question, we’ve created a baby sleep training ‘cheat sheet’, complete with a list of the most common sleep training methods as well as explanations of how they work.
If you aren’t sure, before you get started, you may want to review the 10-point Checklist You and Your Baby is Ready for Sleep Training, first.
5 Common Sleep Training / Coaching Techniques
- Fading (FIO)
- The Chair Method
- Controlled Crying/Ferber/Graduated Extinction
- Extinction/Cry-It-Out (CIO)
The Fading Sleep Training Method (FIO)
This is a very gentle, no-tears/no-cry (or very little cry) method of sleep coaching where you “fade it out” (FIO). With the Fading method, you continue to help your baby fall asleep (by rocking or feeding to sleep, for instance), but over time, you gradually do less and less of the ‘work’ to put your baby to sleep, and your baby does more and more. For instance, if you normally rock your baby completely to sleep, you may shorten the amount of time you rock each night until you are rocking for only a few minutes only as a part of the bedtime routine. This method requires quite a bit of patience on the parent’s part, in some cases, but it’s great for families who want to minimize crying as much as possible.
Q: What age for The Fading Method?
Our recommendation is any age over 6-8 weeks old. Since it’s a gentle method, you can try it with any age baby or toddler and you can go as fast or slow as you want for younger babies. That said, a mobile baby will be more difficult in some cases. However, it never hurts to try!
The Pick-Up-Put-Down Sleep Training Method (PUPD)
This is another gentler technique. The PUPD method works just the way it sounds: when it’s time to sleep, and your baby is fussing or crying in his crib or bassinet, you pick him up and comfort him until he’s calm and drowsy. Then, you put him back in his crib to sleep, repeating this cycle until your baby is finally asleep. PUPD is another method that requires quite a bit of patience, depending on your baby, and it won’t work for every baby; some babies find being picked up and put down so often over-stimulating, and they gradually become frustrated and worked up, instead of relaxed.
Q: What age for The Pick-Up/Put-Down Method?
Our recommendation is any baby over 6-8 weeks old. Since it’s a gentle method, you can try it with any age baby or toddler. That said, a baby who is getting heavy can hurt your back to pick them up over and over, of course! For some temperaments, this method makes them angry, though, and is more irritating and frustrating than comforting.
The Chair Sleep Training Method
This method involves more tears than the previous two; however, you don’t leave your baby unattended in the room at all. Here’s how the chair method works: start by doing your normal bedtime routine. Then, put a chair very near the crib, bassinet, or bed and sit on the chair as your baby falls asleep. The goal is not to help your child fall asleep, nor to help her calm down necessarily, depending on how you implement it. You are generally not supposed to give your child any attention. The reason you are in the chair is only to reassure them that you are there with them and have not left them alone. Each night you move the chair farther and farther away from the crib until you are right outside the door until eventually, you no longer need the chair at all.
As you might suspect, this method can be very difficult, depending on temperament, and can take many days or weeks. It can be difficult to avoid engaging with your child (and “watching them cry” is very difficult), and it will likely be a little confusing to the child (particularly younger ones) when you don’t. However, with time and consistency, this can be a good option for parents who do not want to leave their child alone to cry but who haven’t had success with other methods, either.
There are variations to this method (such as Kim West’s Sleep Lady Shuffle) where you do tend to the baby periodically, verbally and/or physically, and then go back to your chair. As with many things, finding what works best for you and your child is key.
Q: What age for The Chair Method?
Our recommendation is over 3-6 months old, depending on how severe the sleep disruptions have been. Since it’s a gentler method, you can try it with just about any age baby or toddler. Of course, if your toddler is already in a bed of which he can get out, this might not be the easiest to use.
Controlled Crying Sleep Training Method aka Check-And-Console aka The Ferber Method/Ferberizing aka Graduated Extinction
This is considered a ‘cry’ method of sleep training. This technique entails allowing your baby to cry while checking on him at intervals. The goal here is to reassure him every so often that you are nearby and to reassure yourself that he is okay. When you go to check on your baby, you are not “supposed” to pick him up nor engage him much, but simply reassure him using your voice and a loving pat for 2-3 minutes, tops (watch the clock!). With this sleep training method, the goal is NOT to help baby fall asleep – that is what he is learning to do on his own! Instead, the idea is that he falls asleep on his own, in the same “environment” in which he will awaken periodically throughout the night. The knowledge of how to fall asleep unassisted at bedtime will pave the way for him/her to go BACK to sleep throughout the night. Over time, you gradually increase the amount of time between your ‘checks’. See a more detailed step-by-step explanation of this method here: The Ferber Method
Q: What age for Controlled Crying or The Ferber Method?
Our recommendation is over 4-6 months old and up to approximately 18 months old, depending on the situation, but encourage most families to try a gentler method first. Older toddlers and preschoolers, we recommend one of our unique methods, especially used for toddlers.
The Extinction Sleep Training Method (aka ‘Cry It Out’ or CIO)
This sleep training technique usually involves quite a bit of crying on your baby’s part for the first couple of nights but some say it tends to be less crying, overall, since sleep training is ‘done’ faster (for many, but not all, people). The way it works is simple – you do your bedtime routine, put your baby to bed awake, and then leave the room without returning for checks. If your baby cries, you are not supposed to go in to check on her; instead, you let her ‘cry it out’ on her own. The thinking here is that if you allow your baby to cry for a period of time, but then go in and ‘rescue’ her, you have all but guaranteed that she will cry for that amount of time the next night because she will expect you to come and “rescue” her again.
Q: What age for Cry It Out?
Honestly, in our personalized consultations, we try to avoid this method as much as possible. If you are going to use cry it out, we recommend your baby is at least 6 months old, but preferably 10 months or older, when we expect almost all babies to be able to get through the night without a feeding. It is not for the faint at heart. We find that laying a foundation in the beginning with other strategies and techniques can reduce crying even if this method is used in the end, however.
Reminders About Sleep Training
There is no right or wrong method of sleep training; it all comes down to your unique baby and your unique parenting style. What works well for some babies does not work well for others, so do not be surprised if the techniques your friends or family members recommend don’t work the same way for your baby. The bottom line is to choose a technique that you feel comfortable with, and that you think will work well with your baby’s temperament.
“There are many variations to any sleep training method. For example, you can do a cross between The Chair Method and PUPD with great success and fewer tears! There are also ways of breaking each method into smaller baby steps, which we recommend very often in our Personalized Sleep Plans®. Find what feels tolerable (because, frankly, no one ‘likes’ to sleep train), more comfortable for you, and what seems the gentlest, yet effective, on your baby, depending on his or her temperament and personality.”
No matter which method you choose, remember that you need to stick with it for at least one week (preferably two) before you decide it’s not working and give up. Some babies take a while to adjust to a new way of sleeping. And remember that, with ANY sleep training method, consistency is key!
NOTE: This is by no means an exhaustive description of each of these sleep training techniques! For more details about each of these techniques, or for personalized help in implementing any of these methods at home, check out the list of resources below.