I am often asked, especially by desperate and exhausted parents, “What is the best sleep training method?” Many parents are surprised when I say there really isn’t a simple answer to that. Since every child is different, there really is no “one size fits all” method that works for everyone-although wouldn’t it make things easier if there was? You have probably noticed that there is a tremendous amount of information available these days-from books, to blogs, to advice from friends and family-on how best to get your little one to sleep. So much so that it can be overwhelming! So what’s a sleep-deprived parent to do?
Although there may seem like an endless number of resources out there claiming to have the best approach, they really all fall under 4 main sleep training methods. Let me break it down for you:
Cry-It-Out Method or Extinction
At one end of the sleep training scale, you’ll find the Extinction Method or true Cry-It-Out. Simply put, this method involves putting your child down awake in their crib, leaving the room and not going back in until wake up time the next morning. Although this method does work for some families, most parents (myself included) find it to be too upsetting-for both the parent and the child! However, this method does tend to have the quickest result due to the fact that you as the parent cannot go in and inconsistently reinforce your child’s crying. Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, is an advocate of this method.
Ferber Method or Graduated Extinction/Controlled Crying
The “Ferber Method” tends to be a very popular choice; however some parents often confuse it with the true Cry-It-Out method that we just discussed. Here’s what makes this method slightly different and the reason it’s called Graduated Extinction or Controlled Crying-although the Ferber Method does involve putting your child down awake in their crib and leaving the room, you are able to check on your child at timed intervals. Parents often wonder how long they should wait until checking on their child. The amount of time in between checks isn’t as important as making sure it is a length of time you can stick to consistently. Checking every 5, 7 or 10 minutes is a good place to start. This method allows you to offer some support and reassurance to your child, instead of leaving them in their room to cry themselves to sleep. This method was made popular by Dr. Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.
At the opposite end of the scale, you’ll find the No-Cry method. Supporters of this method, such as Dr. William Sears, feel that the Cry-It-Out method can create a negative association with sleep that could have lasting effects and that the only way to build positive sleep associations for your child is to implement a No-Cry approach. Basically, you rock, hold or feed your baby to the point of being very drowsy or totally asleep at bedtime. If your child wakes during the night, you respond immediately and in the same way as before.
Certainly, this method involves less crying than the other methods already mentioned, because the parent is right there to comfort and soothe the child to sleep. However, it is a bit misleading to suggest that this method will ensure you that no crying will be involved. Sure, they may cry less, but there will still be some tears involved. No parent likes to hear their child cry; however, crying is a normal part of childhood and is how babies communicate. Be aware that if your child is dependent on you to put them to sleep at bedtime, they will need you to do the same thing to get them back to sleep in the middle of the night. This can be tricky if you have other young children who should not be left unsupervised while you are having to put your baby to sleep at bedtime or during nap times. If you’ve taught your child that the only way to fall asleep is to be held, rocked or fed to sleep and then, for whatever reason, you decide to change it, know there will likely be some crying involved. Again, it is your baby’s way of communicating and in this case, protesting the new change!
It is important to note that it is totally fine to hold, rock or feed your baby to sleep, especially in the early months-where establishing feeding routines and creating a secure attachment should be the primary focus. Once babies are 6 months or older, they are developmentally capable of learning the skill of putting themselves to sleep and can benefit from a sleep training method. Sleep training babies younger than 6 months is not recommended.
The final method of sleep training is known as Fading and it falls in between the No-Cry and the Cry-It-Out methods. It is a gradual yet deliberate approach of helping your child learn the skill of putting themselves to sleep independently. You as the parent are still able to offer support and reassurance as they learn this new skill; however, you are no longer doing the work for them. As your child gradually becomes better at the skill, your involvement lessens. The goal of the fading method is to help minimize the amount of crying while allowing your child to learn how to fall asleep on his own. Kim West’s “The Sleep Lady Shuffle” is one technique that utilizes the fading method.
So, there you go- hopefully this will help you recognize which method something is the next time you come across another resource claiming to be able to solve your child’s sleep problems. Again, every child is different and so the best sleep training method should be the one that suits your child’s development, temperament and needs and is in alignment with your personal parenting philosophies and style. Regardless of which method you choose, consistency will be the key to your success. Sleep training is a process-it takes time, dedication and patience.
If you’re not sure which method is best for your family or if you are ready to start sleep training your child but the idea of doing it alone seems overwhelming, I’m here to help you! As a certified Gentle Sleep Coach, I will help you and your family create a customized sleep plan that is tailored to your child’s needs, as well as your parenting style and desired goals. I will be there every step of the way to help you stay consistent with your plan and make changes when needed during the process. As the term “gentle” sleep coach implies, my preference is to support families in gently training their child to become a better sleeper and to know that leaving your child to cry-it-out is not the only solution.
Click here to learn more about my services or here to contact me today!
©The Sleepytime Teacher, LLC All Rights Reserved