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Sleep Training 101: What Is It, and Is It Right for You?
March 1, 2024

Sleep Training 101: What Is It, and Is It Right for You?

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Sleep Training 101: What Is It, and Is It Right for You?.
Sleep Training 101: What Is It, and Is It Right for You?

If you’re one of those people who are out like a light as soon as your head hits the pillow, consider yourself lucky. For many parents, a night with little to no disturbances is a rare occurrence, especially if your baby has difficulty falling asleep. While you may be familiar with common sleep hygiene tips and best practices, babies, on the other hand, haven’t learned that yet—if they wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes it’s not so easy for them to simply go back to sleep.

Whether you’ve already exhausted the endless sleep products and sleep books and are looking to try something new, or you’re just embarking on your baby’s sleep journey, you might be curious about sleep training.

Let’s be clear: sleep training won’t fix all of your child’s sleep problems, but it can be another method to add to the repertoire to help your child develop healthy and beneficial sleep habits now and into the future. Looking to learn more about it or give it a shot? We spoke with baby sleep experts about sleep training and why you might want to try it, how to start and the most common methods.

What Is Sleep Training?

At the most basic level, sleep training refers to teaching your baby how to sleep on their own. “During the process of sleep training, you are meeting your baby where they’re at and then using a gradual release of responsibility to guide and support them to more independence as they’re developmentally ready,” says Sofia Fuller from The Peaceful Sleeper.

Keep in mind that sleep training will look different for each family and baby as every child has different support needs. But the goal is always the same: to get your little one to sleep for extended periods of time without disruption. Laura Hunter, pediatric nurse and co-founder of Moms on Call, adds that at the end of the day it’s really the routines and good habits that will naturally extend sleep durations.

Why Should I Sleep Train My Baby?

Sleep training has benefits for both the caregivers and the child. First off, you’ll get more sleep with fewer interruptions from your baby during the night. More importantly, your child will get the benefits of an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

“Sleep promotes physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development in children,” Fuller says. “Sleep allows your baby’s brain to develop and grow, regulate their mood and emotional centers, elicit more social engagement with caregivers and promote intellectual development.”

When Do I Start Sleep Training?

According to Brittany Sheehan, pediatric sleep consultant and founder of Brittany Sheehan Sleep, there’s no magic age or time frame for starting sleep training. “What matters most is that the parents have a well thought through plan for what they’re going to do, and are able to be consistent with it,” Sheehan says. “I personally take on clients to formally start this process beginning as newborns at 10 weeks old, and I have clients all the way from that age up to seven years old.”

The best age for your baby to start sleep training will depend on their individual needs and your family’s needs. And it’s always a good idea to get your pediatrician’s advice before getting started.

The Most Common Sleep Training Methods

As mentioned before, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to sleep training. There are actually four different methods that you can try to see what works best for you and your child depending on how involved you want to be in the process.

Pick up, put down

This method is exactly what it sounds like—pick up your baby, calm them down and then put them back in the crib. This can be done in whatever way feels comfortable for you whether that’s rocking them or bouncing them.

The ‘Pick Up, Put Down’ method is suitable for those parents who don’t mind being more involved in the process. It may mean more sleepless nights for you, but over time the payoff can be rewarding.

Ferber

Developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, the Ferber method (AKA “graduated extinction”) involves leaving a child to sleep by themselves but also coming back to check in periodically. These “check-ins” generally aren’t lengthy and are solely to signal to your baby that you’re there and that they’re safe.

If your baby needs to be fed, Hunter says to keep it simple and boring to help your baby stay calm, sleepy and less likely to fully wake up.

Cry it out

If you’re more interested in teaching your baby to soothe themselves back to sleep, then letting them cry it out might be the option for you. “Also known as the ‘extinction’ method, this is where the parent shuts the door at bedtime and doesn’t return really for any reason until the morning,” Sheehan says.

For some caregivers, this method can trigger feelings of distress if you’re worried your baby is in pain or not sleeping safely. But resisting the urge to constantly check on them can eventually help them fall back asleep on their own.

Chair method

If you’re not fully ready to go cold turkey and let your baby cry it out, then you could opt for the chair method. “For this method, a parent starts off in the room with the child and over the course of some number of days, they move farther and farther away until they are out the door,” Sheehan says.

This option gives your child the reassurance that you’re still there, but allows them to self-soothe and ultimately fall asleep on their own.


Now that we’ve provided more context about sleep training and how it works, it’s a great time to decide whether or not you want to give it a shot. If you decide to try it, we recommend one of these books to give you complete guidance. And who knows? Maybe you and your baby will catch some more quality ZZZs as a result.


Casey Clark

Casey Clark is a freelance writer from NYC.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.