Straight Talk About Sleep Training Methods

Are you thinking about sleep training your baby or child, but wondering what your options are as far as methods?

Many parents assume that “sleep training” refers to only one option – the approach commonly known as “cry it out.” But as a Family Sleep Institute Certified Child Sleep Consultant, I’m able to recommend a variety of methods for teaching independent sleep. Ultimately, the method you select depends on your parenting style and comfort level. And in case you were wondering…any method will work if you are consistent!

The goal of all sleep training methods is to teach your baby or child to fall asleep without relying on outside help. You’ve likely heard of the various method options already – they are easily found on the internet and in the many books written about baby sleep. My goal with this post is to provide an overview of how these methods work and their pros and cons, so that you can make the best decision.

So, without further delay…let’s review the options you have when it comes to selecting a sleep training method.

Sleep Training Method: The Options

You may be surprised to learn that there are only 3 sleep training methods. Different authors and sleep specialists may promise that they have their “own” methods for teaching your baby or child to sleep independently, but here’s the deal: All methods ultimately ladder up to one of 3 options.

These methods don’t have fancy names – they’re simply high, moderate, or no involvement. Their names describe how involved you – the parent – are in teaching your baby or child to fall asleep and return to sleep on their own.

High Involvement

The name “high involvement” means you are present as your child falls asleep and returns to sleep. It is considered the gentlest option. The idea is that you start with a great deal of involvement in helping your child fall asleep, and then you gradually (over the course of many nights) lessen the amount of work you do to help your child fall asleep.

This option is known as the Chair Method, but it’s also called Bedtime Routine Fading or the Sleep Lady Shuffle. When I work with a family who wants to use high involvement, we do use a chair.

High Involvement is a great choice if you prefer a gentler option for teaching your child to fall asleep. Perhaps you were previously co-sleeping, or you transitioned your toddler to a bed and are now staying with her until she falls asleep each night. You get to be present and see that your baby or child is fine throughout the process. Because it is a gentle option, there may be slightly less protesting.

The downside? For some children, having their parents in the room can be too stimulating and even upsetting. This can slow down the progress significantly. I find it’s also harder for parents to be consistent with High Involvement. I do see it’s common for parents to switch to less involvement to achieve their sleep goals. This method usually takes a bit longer than the other methods.

Moderate Involvement

Moderate Involvement is the method most of my clients use. You may recognize it by more popular names such as the Ferber method, Check and Console, or Timed Checks. With this method, you wait a set amount of time before checking on your child and briefly reassuring them. Over the course of many nights, you continue to wait longer before checking on your child. Eventually your child learns to fall asleep before the first check.

Most of my families choose moderate involvement because it’s a way for them to see and briefly reassure their child during sleep training. It works quickly in younger babies. However, sometimes I find that for older children this method requires more time. That’s because older children can fight sleep longer and may cry up to the time of each check-in. Your presence may also be more upsetting for your child. This method usually takes around 5 to 7 nights to see results.

No Involvement

The most direct method is No Involvement. This is the option commonly known as “Cry it Out” – which is NOT an accurate description – but it’s also called Extinction. With this method, you make sure all your child’s needs have been met. You place your child in their crib or bed and give them the time and space to fall asleep and return to sleep until morning. However, you should always meet your child’s needs. That means if it’s time for a feed, a diaper change, or there is a safety issue you meet those needs.

No Involvement works very quickly – we generally see results within 3 to 5 nights. I also find there is less overall crying with this method. It’s a method many parents switch to once they see that their presence is more stimulating to their child. However, this method tends to be the most difficult for parents. It also will not work as quickly or as well if the other components of healthy sleep (the right schedule, early bedtime, etc.) are not in place. And this brings me to a key point about ALL the sleep training methods…

Sleep Training is More than the Method

The term “sleep training” can be a loaded phrase, one that brings on a variety of emotions. Sleep training is commonly confused with only the method. It’s true that sleep training will involve one of the methods described in this article for teaching your child to fall asleep without outside help. However, it’s about so much more than just the method!

It’s important to look at ALL the components of healthy sleep before starting sleep training. Your baby or child should be on an age-appropriate schedule, with naps and an early bedtime. She should have a safe, consistent place to sleep, and the room should be dark and cool. Most importantly, you should be respecting her need to sleep before she becomes overtired. When you get the timing of sleep right, you will generally find that sleep comes more easily for your baby or child.

Remember: Your child was created to sleep well. Once all the components of healthy sleep are met and addressed, the sleep training method will just be the finishing touch to help teach your baby or child to sleep independently!

The bottom line: There are 3 Sleep Training Methods

Regardless of fancy names, all sleep training methods are either High, Moderate, or No Involvement. All 3 methods can work, but the method you choose ultimately depends on your parenting style and comfort level. The goal of all sleep training methods is to teach your baby or child new ways of falling asleep that don’t require outside help. But sleep training should never be done without considering all the other pieces of healthy sleep. Environment, schedule, routines, and early bedtimes all play a part in helping your child fall asleep on her own.

Which sleep training option do you feel most comfortable with? Tell me in the comments below!

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