Your baby isn’t born knowing how to sleep through the night. Sleeping through the night is an acquired skill, one that you need to teach your children once they are old enough (4-6 months or more). The most important factor in sleep teaching is consistency. There are many methods you could use, but the key is to find the one that you can use consistently.
Consider these factors:
- Age of the child (older children often take longer to adapt).
- Temperament of the child (Is your child stimulated or calmed by your presence? Is he strong-willed?).
- Medical considerations.
- Ability to use the method consistently.
- Needs and limitations of the entire family (Are parents working and need baby to sleep through the night within a few days? Are there other children sleeping so nighttime crying must be limited?)
Before working on any “sleep training,” it’s important to shore up your sleep foundation. You want to make sure that your child has a sleep-conducive environment, is sleeping at biologically appropriate times, has had any medical issues addressed, and has sleep associations she can rely on in your absence. Once all of these elements are in place, the final step is sleep teaching.
Here are a few of the basic sleep teaching approaches. There are many variations of each of these methods, so once you choose which approach you plan to use, you can determine how to best implement it for your family.
- Extinction: This is a method most commonly associated with Dr. Marc Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child). In this approach, you focus on creating a healthy sleep environment, producing positive sleep associations, and watching for sleepy signs so that you can get your baby to sleep at the biologically correct times. First, you will ensure your baby is well-fed, changed, and sleepy. Then, once you have completed your naptime or bedtime routine, you leave the room and do not return for either an hour at naptime or until morning. Dr. Weissbluth feels this is the quickest and least frustrating method for your baby to learn to sleep on her own.
- Graduated Extinction: This method is most commonly associated with Dr. Richard Ferber (Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems), and is sometimes called Ferberizing. In this approach, after putting your baby down to bed, you leave the room. If your child begins to cry, you return at specified intervals that increase each subsequent visit (ex: go in after 3 mins, then after 5 mins, then after 10 mins, etc.). This is sometimes called Progressive Waiting. Each day, the intervals increase in time. When you go into your baby’s room, you spend no more than a minute or two checking to make sure that your baby is okay and reassuring your baby that you are there and it’s time to sleep. You cannot pick up the baby. This method works well if your child is comforted and relaxes when you enter the room. If your child becomes more upset when you enter, this may not be the best approach. A common variation of this approach is timed checks, where the interval is a fixed time that does not change (e.g. you go in and check every 15 minutes during crying).
- No-Cry Approach: This approach is a little mis-named because there is always going to be some protest crying when making a change. Crying is how your baby communicate with you. But this approach, most commonly associated with Dr. Sears (The Baby Sleep Book) or Elizabeth Pantley (The No-Cry Sleep Solution), involves very slowly teaching children how to fall asleep on their own by reducing interaction and withdrawing incrementally over an extended period of time, often weeks or sometimes even months. This approach can be very comforting for parents who are used to having very hands-on involvement in their children’s sleep. Versions of this approach include the chair method and the pick up/put down method.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to help your child learn to sleep independently. Any work you do with your child that encourages healthy sleep is positive.
About Our Guest Authors
Debbie Sasson is a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant, the co-founder of Sleep Sisters, and has a doctorate in clinical psychology. She is experienced in a broad range of methods and techniques, and works with each individual family to find an approach that suits their unique style and needs. All of her sleep work is informed by her knowledge about brain development, emotional development and family relationships. Debbie sees clients in person throughout the Philadelphia area and by phone/video around the world. She also speaks to groups and teaches seminars. Learn more about Sleep Sisters and book a consultation at www.sleepsisters.com.
Melissa Zdrodowski is a Certified Maternity and Child Sleep Consultant and the co-founder of Sleep Sisters. Melissa has been helping families improve their sleep for over three years. She is experienced in a broad range of methods and techniques, and works with each individual family to find an approach that suits their unique style and needs. Melissa understands how challenging everything feels when the family isn’t getting enough sleep, so she provides sisterly support to help caregivers make difficult changes. Melissa lives in Woodside, CA with her husband and two children. She sees clients in person throughout the Bay Area and by phone/video around the world. She also speaks to groups and teaches seminars. Learn more about Sleep Sisters and book a consultation at www.sleepsisters.com.