What is Baby Sleep Training?

You put your infant down for the night. About two hours later as you’re about to hit the hay yourself, the crying starts. “What are you, new here?”, you ask your baby as you enter their room. “Don’t you know that your parents need sleep too?”. Well, actually, yes, they are new here. They’re new to everything. That’s what being a baby is all about. You have to guide them night and day until they’re in college. After that, they’re on their own. We kid! 

As babies adjust to their surroundings, sleep is something that will come in spurts. You cannot expect your infant to sleep through the night right away but there are things you can do to help them get accustomed to sleeping for longer periods: sleep training. 

 Sleep training is a blanket term for methods designed to teach babies to self-soothe and go back to sleep at night after waking up. The goal is for them to learn that they don’t need you to calm them down before they close their eyes and let sleep wash over them… again. Babies wake up a lot. Moreover, sleep training helps establish a bedtime routine and gives you, the parent/caregiver, a chance to catch your own zzzs while your kiddo snoozes. We’ll also cover how our smart companion for kids, Snorble®, can provide assistance. 

*We do not champion one sleep training option over the other. It is up to the parent/caregiver to decide if/how they sleep train their kiddo. 

When should sleep training start?

Sleep training should start when your child is between 6-9 months old. Between the ages of 4-12 months, infants need to get 12-15 hours of sleep over 24 hours. This includes naps. At this age, babies are still developing their circadian rhythm (the 24-hour clock that makes our bodies run). 

What are the different sleep training methods?

Every baby is different, therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all method for sleep training. There are six types of sleep training styles: 

1. Cry it out: The CIO method involves putting your baby to bed and letting them cry until they tire themselves out and fall back asleep after waking. With CIO, you’re only going back into your kiddo’s room when it’s time for a feeding or to wake them up in the morning. For this method to be effective, make sure when you’re putting your baby down for the night, they’re well fed, and in a safe environment like their crib. You can also read them a bedtime story, play soft music, and ensure that the lights are dimmed or use only a nightlight. While this sleep training style may seem harsh, it’ll be harder on you than on your baby. Hearing your child cry, knowing that if you go into their bedroom it will defeat the purpose of the training, can be tough but, this method may be effective quickly. Some babies are able to fall back asleep on their own without your help within 3-5 nights. 

 2. Ferber method: Like the CIO sleep training style, the Ferber method involves letting your kiddo cry without giving them your attention for a set period of time. Instead of waiting until they tire themselves out, you allow them to cry for a bit before checking on them and consoling them. Each night you increase the amount of time you let them cry before checking in until eventually you don’t check in at all and your baby will self-soothe themselves back to sleep. 

3. Chair method: This approach is better suited to older infants (closer to nine months old) because at this point they should be somewhat accustomed to their nighttime surroundings. For this sleep training process, sit in a chair next to your baby’s crib until they fall asleep. Each night, move the chair farther and farther away until you’re near the door and eventually out of the room. By this point, your kiddo should be able to fall back asleep without you there. However, the chair method will only work if your baby doesn’t startle when they awaken and don’t find you in the room. There’s no guarantee that your child won’t cry with this method either. To help this process, you can use a nightlight and ambient noise to lull your baby back to sleep when they wake up. 

4. Bedtime fading: The bedtime fading method is good for children who shriek when you try and put them down for bed. Your child may not be ready for sleep at the bed time you’ve set. To keep your kiddo from sounding like they’re being chased by a monster every night, pay attention to their sleep cues (eye rubbing, yawning, fussiness, turning away, or trying to shield themself from lights and loud sounds). When you notice these sleep cues, then try and put your kiddo to bed. The end goal is that your baby will be tired when you put them down and fall asleep quickly. When they wake up in the middle of the night, you can pick them up and soothe them for a few minutes then put them back down. Over the next few nights gradually reduce the amount of time you soothe them until they learn to get themself back to sleep.

5. Pick up, put down: This is a sleep training technique where you go through your baby’s normal bedtime routine before putting them down. For this method to work, your baby must be drowsy, but awake. The goal is that they learn to fall asleep on their own in a drowsy state. If/when your kiddo cries once in their crib, wait a few minutes to see if they’re able to settle down on their own. If they can’t, pick them up and put them down again when they’re calm. As the nights go on, pick them up less and less until you’re no longer going into their room when they cry. This particular method of sleep training requires major patience on your part since your kiddo will first need to adjust to falling asleep drowsy and then adjust to you picking them up and soothing them less over time.

6. Scheduled awakenings: Although this approach sounds like the name of a fancy spa, it’s actually more of a preventative measure. Scheduled awakenings entail waking your baby up throughout the night before they would normally wake up to soothe them quickly and put them back to bed. This allows you to control when they wake up during the night to better align with your sleep patterns. But, be wary. Babies don’t always do what you want them to do and waking them up preemptively doesn’t mean they won’t wake up on their own as well. 

Are night weaning and sleep training the same?

The only thing night weaning and sleep training have in common is that they both occur at night. Night weaning is when you slowly stop feeding your baby at night. When sleep training, you will still need to take care of night feedings. Babies grow. They need fuel. Talk to your pediatrician/primary care provider about the right time to start night weaning as it varies from child to child.

Be consistent with baby sleep training 

Consistency is key when it comes to training your baby to get back to bed after they’ve woken up. A bedtime routine can work with any of the aforementioned sleep training approaches and help with keeping things as consistent as possible. A bedtime routine can consist of:

  • Bathing
  • Storytime
  • Lullabies or soothing music 
  • Nightlights 
  • Cuddling 
  • A light snack or bottle/breast depending on how you feed your kiddo

A clear and consistent bedtime routine sets your child up for the rest of their life by teaching them healthy habits. Sleep hygiene (teeth brushing, bathing), reading to your baby even though they don’t understand the story, and even cuddling are all important to your kiddo’s growth and development. Bedtime routines help your baby feel safe, cared for, and can make sleep training more enjoyable for you. Ok, maybe not that enjoyable since you’re still getting up in the middle of the night multiple times but at least your kiddo will feel loved when they’re screaming their cute little heads off.

Snorble and sleep training

Smart companions like Snorble can promote healthy habits in children and give you a leg up on sleep training. Our cute and cuddly buddy comes equipped with a Bedtime Experience that you can set for your kiddo complete with calming soundscapes and a nightlight that gives off a soothing glow. 

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash