The 9 Most Common Sleep Training Methods, Demystified

There comes a time in every new(ish) parent’s life when the need to get some shut-eye trumps all else. That’s when you know you’re ready to sleep train. And whether you’re considering cry-it-out or a Japanese-inspired co-sleeping situation, there is an effective way to help you and your baby get your z's. You simply need to pick a plan and stick to it. Here, the nine most effective methods, boiled down to their essentials. (Just remember to check with your pediatrician before trying one of them out, OK?) 

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crying baby in bed sleep training

Cry It Out: It’s one of the most divisive parenting topics out there (your bestie swears by it; your colleague is horrified you’d even consider it). But while cry it out (CIO) may be potentially painful for parents, plenty of pediatricians support it—once the baby is old enough (at least four months old). The basic idea is simple: First, implement a loving, soothing, consistent bedtime routine, then put the baby down drowsy but awake. Next (and here’s the part that’s not for everyone), leave him alone to cry. How long you let the baby cry depends on the specific CIO method you're following (Drs. Weissbluth and Ferber wrote the books on this method—more on them below), but certainly not hysterically or indefinitely. The effect: He learns to self-soothe, stat.

The Ferber Method: With Ferberizing, parents put their baby down and leave the room—even if she's crying. But if your child fusses, you can go in and check on her and offer her comfort (by patting and offering soothing words, not by picking her up). Every night, you increase the amount of time between these check-ins, called "progressive waiting." So, on the first night, you might go in every three, five and ten minutes (with ten minutes being the maximum interval time, although you would restart at three minutes if she wakes up later) and a few days later, you might have worked up to 20-, 25- and 30-minute check-ins.

The Weissbluth Method: Possibly the most controversial sleep training method of all, the Weissbluth approach using a process called extinction (i.e., minimal parental interference) to help your kid get rid of any unhelpful sleep associations (like needing to be rocked to sleep). This technique means parents leave their baby in the bassinet or crib to cry it out, without going back in to comfort them unless they need changing, feeding or have some type of emergency. Warning: There will be tears (and not just from baby). It's not for everyone but pros say that you can expect to see results after just four days. 

baby girl sleep training in crib

Fading Out: Think of this gentle approach as the opposite of “cry it out.” With fading, you continue to use whatever method you’ve been using to put your baby to sleep (i.e., rocking, nursing, singing, pacifier, etc.), but gradually decrease the amount of time you spend doing it until, eventually, you won’t have to do it at all. The pace at which you “fade it out” is up to you, making this one of the most flexible sleep training methods out there—although it's probably not the fastest (experts say the fading method can take anywhere from three weeks to three months to work). 

The Chair Method: Also known as the Sleep Lady Shuffle, the chair method is another gradual sleep training approach—plan on blocking out two weeks in your schedule to do it. Parents like it because it allows them to stay in the room until their baby falls asleep, but know that it might not work for every child's temperament (some infants may find having a parent nearby but not responding confusing or stimulating). Here's how to do it: Using a chair (hence the name), sit next to the baby in her crib for, say, three nights without picking her up. (Stay strong: It can take up to 90 minutes for a baby to fall asleep this way, experts say.) Then, for the next three nights, move the chair farther away from her crib. The next three nights? Sit by the doorway until she’s asleep. Then move outside of the room but still within view and finally stay in the hallway or in another room.

The No Tears Method: Once again, a loving, consistent, early bedtime is key, but this method works under the assumption that you go and soothe every time she wakes. In other words, each time she cries, walk in, repeat the exact same go-to-sleep mantra (try “shhhhh” or “it’s sleepy time”) and wait with her until she calms down. One caveat: Use this approach only for true awakenings (bursting in for every minor whimper could disrupt her self-soothing process).

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mom sleep training her baby in bed

The Pick Up, Put Down Method: Popularized by Tracy Hogg in her book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with your Baby, the pick up, put down method aims to teach infants how to self-soothe without making them feel abandoned. After a calming bedtime routine, put your baby down while drowsy but still awake. If she doesn’t fuss, leave the room. If she starts to cry, follow a “stop, wait and listen” approach. If she continues to get worked up, go in and pick her up for a minute or two (the pick up part) and then lay her back down (the put down part), again making sure that she’s still awake. Repeat this process until your baby is fully settled and has fallen asleep—which could be a while (think: hours and hours). This gentle approach can take several weeks or even a couple of months to really stick. So yeah, you may want to book a back massage for mom for this one. 

The 5 S Method: Developed for newborns by pediatrician Harvey Karp (author of The Happiest Baby on the Block), the idea here is to provide all of the comforts of the womb: Sucking, Swaddling, Swinging, Shushing and comforting on the Side/Stomach. Then, once your babe falls asleep in your arms, gently wake him before putting him down in his crib so he understands the sensation of putting himself to sleep.

The Whatever-It-Takes Method: Some parents find crying it out leads to nuclear tantrums, or worse, the dreaded throwing up in the crib. For some families, any kind of sleep training is a nonstarter as it wakes siblings. Some employ a patchwork of methods or simply don’t mind getting up a few times a night to feed and comfort. Others fall asleep solo and then happily co-sleep from 3 to 6 a.m. As long as it works for your family, that’s about as perfect as parenting gets.

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