When And How To Start Sleep Training A Baby?

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Sleep training for babies helps them sleep at a stretch for several hours without waking up. It also trains them to sleep without the assistance of their mother or an adult. Babies may require up to 12 hours of sleep through the night and several naps during the day. However, they often do not sleep at a stretch and take time to adapt to the biological clock.

Read this article to understand how to sleep train a baby and what techniques could work.

What Is Sleep Training?

Sleep training refers to the process of teaching a baby how to fall asleep so that they can fall asleep without any assistance from their parents and sleep long stretches at night. It is important for the baby to get enough sleep to prevent health problems. Thus, sleep training can be highly beneficial to the baby’s development (1).

Is Sleep Training Safe For Babies?

Studies indicate that sleep training is both safe and effective for babies. Here’s what the proponents say:

  • The bond between the baby and the parents has no negative consequences due to sleep training.
  • Sharing the same bed with an infant is not safe. However, sleeping in the same room as your baby is advisable to assure your baby is well.
  • Sleep training helps a baby learn to self-soothe and it helps avoid nightly crying.

Scientific studies have not found any long-term risks associated with sleep training babies (2).

Tips For Sleep Training Your Baby

The following tips could help you sleep train your baby (3) (4):

  • Be patient as some nights can be tougher than others. It takes time for a baby to fall asleep by themselves.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine so that your baby always knows what to expect. This will make it easier for them to settle for sleep each night.
  • Choose a sleep training method that fits with your parenting style and is appropriate for your little one’s age and personality. All babies are different and some respond better to certain methods than others.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that sleep is “one size fits all”. Every age and stage requires different approaches.
  • Stay positive and consistent for best results. Some methods work more quickly than others, but consistency is key for all of them.
  • Follow sleep hygiene, such as turning off lights or electronics and keeping the room dark and cool. You can also bathe the baby before sleep.
  • During sleep training, a little soothing in the middle of the night may be required. Do not rush to pick up the baby; instead, try soothing from beside the crib if possible.
  • Keep the nighttime feedings as simple as possible. Avoid turning on the lights or playing with your baby during this time.
  • Use a set of soothing phrases before bedtime, so that the child will recognize them as part of the bedtime routine.

What Is The Right Age For Sleep Training A Baby?

You should wait until your baby is around four months old to start formal sleep training (5). At this age, it becomes easier for them to adopt new skills and be ready for sleep training. Also, their circadian rhythm develops at this age, which plays a role in helping them sleep at night. Most parents prefer beginning the training at the earliest possible age of four months, but six months is also not late, to begin with.

Sleep training could be effective at any age, but the sooner they get started, the better their baby responds. The sooner they get accustomed to the bedtime routine, the better it is for their temperament.

What Are The Ages And Stages Of Sleep Training?

The following are the usual nighttime sleep requirements for babies up to one year (6).

AgeStageTotal Nighttime Sleep Hours
0-3 monthsNewborns are not aware of day and night as they do not produce enough melatonin. Therefore, they need frequent feedings and parents can work on teaching healthy sleep habits but should refrain from formal sleep training.8-10 hours
4-6 monthsThis is a great age to begin sleep training. . At this age, babies are comfortable without being fed for 6 or more hours through the night.

10-12 hours

7-9 monthsBabies’ drop down to two naps at this age and that often helps nighttime sleep last longer (7)

10-12 hours

10-12 monthsBy this age, healthy little ones are no longer needing to eat overnight.10-12 hours

Credit: Stanford Children’s Health

How Long Does It Take To Sleep Train A Baby?

It depends on the method you use to train the baby. On average, sleep training could be effective after around three to four nights. However, if the baby cannot adapt to a sleep cycle even after a couple of weeks, it is advisable to seek help from a pediatrician.

What Are The Different Sleep Training Techniques?

Here are some methods of sleep training that might work for your baby (8):

  1. The cry it out method: This is an old approach to allow a baby to adapt to a sleep schedule. Many scientific studies have shown that there are no negative side effects related to this method. However, many parents worry about how much crying is involved and do not feel comfortable leaving their babies to cry alone for extended periods of time (3).
  2. The Ferber method: This is a cry it out method that allows parents to check in on their babies at strict intervals. These intervals increase between checks and also from day to day.
  3. The Pick-up, pick down method: This method involves picking up the baby when they cry and soothing them until they are calm and then putting them back in the crib awake so that they can fall asleep without being held. Pick up, put down method allows parents to actively soothe their little ones without actually putting them to sleep. (9).
  4. The chair method: After putting the baby to sleep in the crib, sit on a chair next to them till they are completely asleep. Once they are asleep, the parent can leave the room.
  5. The bedtime fading method: This method allows parents to use verbal or physical comfort to soothe the baby at bedtime. Eventually, the parent moves away from the child in the distance while remaining in their sight.

How Does Bedtime Routine Fit Into Sleep Training?

Following a pattern of calming activities before bedtime helps a baby realize that it is time to go to bed and helps him know what to expect. A great bedtime routine typically lasts anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes and consists of activities that are calming and enjoyable for both the baby and the parent. (3).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will my baby cry during sleep training?

Yes, your baby will most likely cry during sleep training as it is his way to express his displeasure with the changes you are making to the way that he falls asleep. But the crying should be short-lived. Studies have shown that the babies usually cry for the longest time on the first night of sleep training and that the crying gradually decreases over the course of the first week. (10).

2. Can I sleep train my baby for naps?

Yes. Babies can be sleep trained for naps. With a consistent bedtime routine, daytime naps can fall in place (3)

3. Does sleep training affect my baby psychologically?

While some say the cry it out method might be harsh, proponents of sleep training techniques say that it doesn’t affect the baby psychologically (2).

4. Is sleep training similar to night weaning?

Sleep training a baby is not the same as night weaning. Sleep training is the approach to enable a baby to fall asleep by themselves. This makes the baby an independent sleeper as they will not need the parents’ assistance to sleep (8).

Night weaning is the concept of feeding the child with replacements of breast milk whenever the baby wakes up in the middle of the night. It helps establish healthy eating habits and stops the child from crying at midnight (11).

Sleep training a baby is a good approach as it gives a better quality of life for the baby and the parents. It can also help parents attain an easier approach to bringing up the baby. But remember, sleep training takes a lot of patience and effort.

Key Pointers

  • Sleep training allows babies to enjoy uninterrupted sleep at night without assistance from parents.
  • It does not affect the bond between the baby and parents.
  • You may begin sleep training at four months since they can adopt skills more easily at this age.
  • Your baby may take three to four nights to adapt to this sleep cycle.

References:

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Emily Lau

Emily Lau is a certified infant and pediatric sleep consultant who helps little ones and their families get the sleep they need. She holds her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and is a certified teacher in general education and special education. After many years of working with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers as a professional nanny, Emily chose to combine... more

Manjari Srivastava

Manjari Srivastava is a graduate of psychology. She also holds certificates in Basics In Clinical Psychology and Identifying Early Signs Of Psychosis In Adolescents And Young Adults.  Previously, she volunteered with an NGO specializing in positive psychology, where she took up individual counseling sessions for students. She also taught English to underprivileged children and helped them with their studies. At MomJunction,... more