What Are The Different Approaches to Sleep Training?
It’s important to realize that sleep training does not always mean Cry It Out.
On the contrary, there are several very gentle approaches to sleep training. Cry it out, or CIO is by far the most rigorous of the approaches.
There are five major approaches to sleep training. Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks. None of them are easy, however the approaches that are most gentle for babies tend to require more hours of ‘work’ on the parent’s part.
We suggest beginning with a more gentle approach, and if it doesn’t work, move toward a more rigorous one.
Fade it Out (FIO) or Fading Method
This is also known as a “no-cry” approach.
With the Fading Method, you continue to help your baby fall asleep using the current sleep crutches that they already rely on. Examples of sleep crutches might be feeding, rocking, bouncing, or shush-ing.
Over time you gradually shorten the amount of time spent doing these activities, with the goal being that your baby learns to put himself to sleep.
The Fading Method is a good approach for young babies and parents who are afraid to let their child cry, however it is exhausting.
What age can you begin this method? Any age.
Pick-up-put-down method (PUPD)
The PUPD method is exactly as it is described.
You put baby down drowsy but awake. When they cry you pick them up and comfort them. After they have settled you put them down again. When they cry, you pick them up and comfort them and repeat as necessary.
This is another approach to sleep training that is gentle for the baby but exhausting for the parents.
The PUPD method is less effective for temperamental or colicky babies. It tends to just make them angry. It can be good for children with a mild temperament though.
Again, if you are afraid to let your baby cry for an extended period of time, this could be a good approach for you.
What age can you begin this method? Any age.
The goal of the chair method is to allow your baby to fall asleep on his own with the assurance that you are still there.
You begin by setting a chair next to the crib or bassinette. When your baby cries, you do not engage with them. Over the next weeks or months, you slowly begin to move the chair further and further away from your baby’s bed until they are falling asleep on their own.
This approach is less gentle the those mentioned above, and is by far the most taxing for the parent.
Children may be confused about the parent’s presence but lack of interaction or comfort, and parents are exposed to extended periods of crying, possibly multiple times a night, for weeks or months.
If this is an approach that you would like to try, I recommend noise cancelling headphones.
What age can you begin this method? 3 months.
Ferber Method/Graduated Extinction
Similar to the Chair Method, the goal of the Ferber Method is to teach your baby to self soothe while reassuring them of your presence.
The difference is that with the Ferber Method, you enter and exit the room at gradually increasing, predetermined intervals of time.
This is a popular approach when the more gentle methods are not effective, yet parents are too nervous or unable to implement the cry-it-out method.
One of the appeals of the Ferber Method is that it can easily be tailored to your and your baby’s emotional capacity.
There are no strict guidelines about how long the intervals must be or at what rate they need to increase.
Here is a sample schedule of the Ferber Method:
Night 1: (1st interval) 3 min, (2nd interval) 5 min, (3rd interval) 10 min. Continue checking in every 10 min until baby is asleep.
Night 2: 5 min, 10 min, 15 min. Continue intervals of 15 min.
Night 3: 7 min, 15 min, 20 min. Continue intervals of 20 min.
Night 4: 10 min, 17 min, 25 min. Continue intervals of 25 min.
What age can this approach be implemented? Can begin at 4 months, but 6 months is optimal.
Cry it out (CIO)/Extinction
This is the most rigorous form of sleep training, as it often involves a significant amount of crying for the first few nights.
The method is pretty straight forward.
After all of your baby’s needs have been met and you have gone through their bedtime routine, you put them in bed drowsy but awake, and leave the room.
If they cry, you do not go to them.
The reasoning is that when they “cry it out,” they learn to soothe themselves so that eventually they can put themselves back to sleep between sleep cycles.
The only time that you go to them is if they need to eat, and those times should be determined before you begin sleep training.
Critics of CIO argue that it causes emotional trauma, however there are no long-term studies to back this up.
Advocates of the CIO method argue that there is less crying overall because babies learn to put themselves back to sleep more quickly, however the total hours of crying can vary greatly from child to child.
For parents, cry it out is often emotionally brutal for a few days. However, most children begin sleeping for long stretches of time within 3-5 days, so parents who use this approach often state that they found the increase in sleep to be worth a few days of struggling.
Regardless of if you agree with this approach or not, it has been very helpful for many people, but is not recommended for everyone.
What age can this be used? Not before 6 months. If implementing at 6 months, do not expect them to sleep through the night without eating. Make sure that you schedule age appropriate feedings. Look back at past feeding records to determine when they ate larger quantities and plan to give them a “dream feed” shortly before those times.