(Is Sleep Training right for your family? Learn more about it over at Baby Monitors Don’t Have Snooze Buttons.)
Let me make this very clear: I am neither a doctor nor a behaviorist, okay? I’m simply going to tell you what worked for me. I’m basing my information on Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, but I’ve edited it a bit to fit my family’s needs.
To start, pick a bedtime (sometimes going with an earlier bedtime can help because, once a child is over-tired, it can be harder to get him to go to sleep). It will help if you already have a consistent bedtime routine in place. If you don’t, then get one. Your child needs something to signal to him that it’s time for bed. If you already have a consistent time and routine, you’re good to go. If you don’t, then it might be more helpful for you to pick a time and implement a routine for about a week before you start sleep training.
- Always use the same room. If your child sleeps in his own room, use it every night during sleep training. If he sleeps in your room, use that one. Do not switch them up. Consistency is so important. On that same note, it’s not a good idea to start sleep training if you plan on traveling out of town overnight anytime soon.
- Consider using a video monitor. It will put your mind at ease if you can lay eyes on your baby when he doesn’t actually know you’re laying eyes on him.
- When putting him to bed, remove any sleep association that you’re not willing to provide in the middle of the night. For instance, unless you want to nurse him back to sleep every time he wakes up, don’t nurse him to sleep to begin with. Put him in his crib while he’s still awake. We use a white noise machine and we opted to keep the pacifier (though we send him to bed with 3–1 in his mouth, and 1 in each hand–so there’s always one in easy reach when he wakes up at night).
- If he cries once you’ve put him to bed, or in the middle of the night, don’t respond right away. Respond at increasing intervals (see the interval schedule further down) and do not spend more than 60 seconds in his room. Do not pick him up, do not make eye contact. You can pat his bottom and reassure him that you’re still there and he’s safe. You can return a security item that he might have lost (or thrown out of the crib), but only once each visit. If he throws it again, it’s gone. Basically, you want your presence to be soothing, but not rewarding.
- Each time he wakes up, restart the schedule from the first interval time and work your way up to the maximum time for that night.
- Use an actual timer instead of trying to count it out in your head.
- Do not go in if he’s awake just making noise. Allow him the chance to put himself back to sleep. Only start the timer if he’s crying or (if it’s an older child) calling out for you.
- Do not continue past 6am as it is unlikely that he’ll fall back asleep at that point. If he does wake up early, make him stay up. Do not remove him from his crib only to allow him to fall right back asleep somewhere else.
- On the flip side, if he is still asleep at his normal wakeup time, wake him up.
- Do not allow him to take more naps, or sleep longer at nap time, during the day during sleep training.
Interval Schedule This is the interval schedule we used. It’s not the same schedule that Ferber uses, but he allows for flexibility anyway. The important thing is consistency, not necessarily the exact interval schedule. Ours makes the intervals shorter because that worked better for Bo and me. J, I’m sure, would have been fine with either schedule. But since he didn’t read the book, we didn’t allow him an opinion. Remember, start at the first interval when you put your child to bed and work your way up to the maximum interval for that day. With each wakeup, start over at the beginning again and work your way back up.
- Day 1 – 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes (then 10 minutes each subsequent visit until he falls asleep)
- Day 2 – 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes (then 12 minutes each subsequent visit until he falls asleep)
- Day 3 – 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 15 minutes (then 15 minutes each subsequent visit until he falls asleep)
We actually never had to go past Day 3, so I’ve never tried the increased intervals. However, had we gone past Day 3, these are the intervals we would have used:
- Day 4 – 10 minutes, 12 minutes, 15 minutes, 17 minutes (then 17 minutes each subsequent visit)
- Day 5 – 12 minutes, 15 minutes, 17 minutes, 20 minutes (then 20 minutes each subsequent visit)
- Day 6 – 15 minutes, 17 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes (then 25 minutes each subsequent visit)
- Day 7 – 17 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, 30 minutes (then 30 minutes each subsequent visit)
If your kid isn’t sleeping by now, give it up. He’ll never, ever sleep and neither will you. Totally kidding (ok, mostly kidding). If there is improvement after Day 7, Ferber recommends adding 1 minute to each interval after Day 7 (so Day 8 would be 18, 21, 26, 31 and Day 9 would be 19, 22, 27, 32, etc.). (Personally, I would never go over 30 minutes, but that’s just me.) If there is no improvement after Day 7, you should seek an alternative solution. In that case? You’re really going to wish you would have read the book.
Sleep Training and Naptimes After Baby has mastered the art of sleeping through the night, you might find that you have to work on naptimes. In my experience, if J sleeps well at night, he naps well during the day. And if he naps well during the day, he sleeps well at night. Sleep begets sleep. And a good, regular sleep schedule will help your baby fall into a regular everything schedule–which makes planning your day and understanding why your baby may be fussy, that much easier. If you need to use sleep training for naptime, keep in mind that it is different than nighttime sleep training. You can use the same interval schedule as noted above. However, if she still hasn’t fallen asleep after a total of 30 minutes, or if she wakes up again and begins crying, it’s not happening. Naptime is over. It’s way too complicated for me to explain (or even pretend like I remember all of what I initially learned while reading up on sleep training), but basically circadian rhythms dictate that there are more and greater windows for falling asleep at night than there are during the day. So if she hasn’t fallen asleep after 30 minutes, she’s probably not going to. Although if she’s quiet and not fussing, who cares if she’s asleep? Quiet time is beneficial too. But again, don’t fret too much about naptimes right now. After you both conquer nighttime sleeping, give it 2 weeks. If you don’t see your child falling into a natural schedule, including naptimes, then start naptime sleep training.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of commission.
- Baby Monitors Don’t Have Snooze Buttons (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)
- 5 Common Child Sleep Myths (babyzzzdotcom.wordpress.com)
- Lesson 38: Baby monitors don’t have snooze buttons (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)