What exactly is sleep training?
Just like so many areas of development, children typically need help learning how to self-soothe to sleep. This process is often referred to as “sleep training.” Although there are multiple approaches, sleep training typically involves helping your child learn how to fall asleep and return to sleep on his/her own. Sleep training does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. You will want to use an approach that works best for you and your family. Regardless of the method you choose, there are some things that are consistent across most sleep training approaches.
In addition, whatever approach you use, being consistent is key. You don’t want to keep your little one guessing when it comes to where, when, and how they will sleep. Although there are exceptions (e.g., vacations, visitors, holidays), try to keep the sleep experience as consistent as possible for your baby.
First, sleep training involves setting the stage for sleep by creating a consistent bedtime routine. This helps signal to your little one that it is time to wind down and fall asleep. Bedtime routines should be about 15-20 minutes (a little longer if it includes a bath) and might involve such things as a feeding, diaper change, putting on pajamas, reading a book, and singing a song. These things can vary from family to family, though. It is never too early to start a bedtime routine; it is something you can start doing even before you work on other aspects of sleep training. A similar routine can also be used before naps.
Second, sleep training involves helping your baby learn to fall asleep on their own. Once you have cued your baby that it is time for bed through the bedtime routine, the next step is to put him in his bed while awake. What happens next depends on your baby and how you wish to approach this part of sleep training. Some families choose to use a gradual approach to this step. For example, you can leave the room and slowly increase the amount of time between when you check on your baby. Another way is to stay with your baby in his room and gradually move yourself farther away over successive nights. Other families decide from the start to give their baby long stretches to figure out how to fall asleep by themselves.
Regardless of the approach you take, it is important to know that for babies who are given a lot of love and attention during the day, letting them cry while they learn to fall asleep has no negative impact on their development. In fact, babies who learn to get a good night’s sleep tend to be really well adjusted, happy children!
Third, sleep training involves helping your child learn to fall back to sleep on their own during the night if they happen to wake during the night (which all babies do naturally). Often times, once they learn to fall asleep on their own at the start of the night, that skill transfers to the rest of the night regardless of how many times they may wake during the night. For other babies, you may need to do some sleep training during the night once they have mastered the skill at the start of the night. Balancing how to respond to night wakings and the need for night feedings is something to discuss with your baby’s health care provider when you are working on sleep training.
Check out the videos in our Sleep Training section for more details and ideas.