As natural as sleep is, it sure doesn’t come naturally for most families. It’s actually a source of constant frustration for many, and it gets magnified when your child doesn’t sleep. Your foggin’ noggin goes into overdrive along with your nerves. So you turn to google. After much research, it’s decided: you want to try sleep training. But where to start?
First, know that the method itself is only about 10 percent of what you need to focus on. The key to your child’s slumber begins with good sleep hygiene, which means syncing his bedtime routine with his natural circadian sleep,aka his internal sleeping clock.
Not all sleep-training techniques are right for every baby and every parent, but all of them work to some degree. The most crucial aspect of sleep training is consistency. So it’s important that you take the time to review all options. Choose the one that feels right to you and your child and the one that you can stick with.
So if you’re ready to nip bad nighttime habits in the bud, now is the time to decide on a strategy. Here are 4 techniques to teach baby how to snooze on his own and through the night.
GRADUAL METHODS: I’d like to begin with the methods that have the least amount of protest (or crying). They do take longer to achieve sleep success, but they are particularly great for parents who cannot bear the idea of leaving their babies to cry alone. For fewer tears, try one of these techniques.
1. No-Cry method.
Also known as: Pick-Up/Put-Down Method
How it works: With the No-Cry method, you pick up baby everytime he cries and place him back in his crib when he stops crying. If he starts fussing again, you pick up and soothe baby again and repeat the process until he actually falls asleep -- which is why this method is also called Pick-Up/Put-Down. Make sure that baby is drowsy but awake. Not only will this teach him to self soothe, it will also keep him aware of his surroundings and allow him to know not to expect you when he wakes up. The No-Cry method can last an hour or so and even continue multiple times throughout the night. Needless to say, it takes a lot of patience, repetition and consistency.
Perfect for: This method works particularly well for parents who are trying to stop the rocking-to-sleep association or who want take it slow and be present throughout the whole process.
The book you need to read: The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, by Elizabeth Pantley and William Sears.
2. Sleep Lady Shuffle
Also known as: the Chair method, sleep-in-the-room-and-slowly-leave method, slow-and-steady method
How it works: The Sleep Lady Shuffle method asks that you use a prop, like a chair, that will be associated with sleep training. Place the prop by the crib or toddler bed for two to three nights. Gradually move your way out of the bedroom by slightly moving the prop away from the bed each two to three nights. Once you are out of the room and if needed, you can comfort baby with your voice, from outside the bedroom.
Perfect for: This method is perfect for babies that are used to having a parent sit by their bed or that are sensitive and have separation anxiety.
The book you need to read: The Sleep Lady®’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy by Kim West and Joanne Kenen
DIRECT METHODS: If baby is so spirited and strong-willed that he simply won’t give, you may want to opt for a more direct approach. Yes, it will involve more nightly crying, but it usually provides a faster response to achieve sleep success. Once again, you just want to make sure that it complements your child’s temperament.
Also known as: Check and console, timed intervals, the 5-minute man, and modified CIO
How it works: This method wants to gradually teach your child to fall asleep without your help or presence through a series of incremental check-ins. When you are done with your sleep routine, place your child in bed, give him a goodnight kiss and leave. If he starts to cry, come back in the room after three minutes and soothe him like you normally would (although it is best to try and avoid picking him up or feeding him). Leave the room, and if baby starts to cry again, wait 5 minutes before going back in. If the crying persists, repeat the process, gradually increasing the amount of time between your check-ins.
Perfect for: This method is very popular and, in my experience, is good for practically everyone. Plus, it’s a flexible technique that you can adapt according to what you think works best for your child.
The book you need to read: Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition by Richard Ferber
4. Cry it out
Also known as: Cold Turkey, Extinction, Go the f*** to sleep, and “love you and peace. See you in the morning.”
How it works: In this method, you finish your sleep routine, put baby down in his bed, give him a goodnight kiss and leave -- ignoring all cries until the morning. There is ongoing controversy about this technique, but it happens to work beautifully, especially for children that are stubborn or spirited.
Perfect for: If you start sleep training your child at an older age (9 months and over), Cry It Out may be for you. For this technique to work though, you need to be consistent: caving in and re-entering the bedroom is likely to give baby false hope and cause more shrieking. To make the process a little easier, you can use a video monitor and still “check” on baby from the distance.
The book you need to read: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 4th Edition: A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep by Marc Weissbluth M.D.
If you feel like baby’s behaviors are changing, you can start with a gradual approach and, later on, switch to a more direct technique. Again, it’s all about how baby evolves and what feels right for you as a family. Also, the method itself is not the end-all of sleep training. A healthy bedtime routine is in fact the foundation to raising a good sleeper. Reading a bedtime story singing a lullaby, softening your voice and dimming the lights are all great ways to get baby drowsy and ready for some ZZZs.
Photography by Jonica Moore for Well Rounded NY.