The 5 Best Sleep Training Methods (Plus Tips From Parents)

Want your baby to sleep through the night? Learn about five popular sleep training methods, along with helpful advice from real-life parents.

Tired Mother Sleeping On Crib Baby Standing Up Bedtime
Photo: kryzhov/Shutterstock

Early parenthood comes with a wide range of emotions, from feeling your heart explode with love to feeling downright exhausted from sleep deprivation and around-the-clock newborn care. The good news is, while sleepless nights can be a challenge for any parent, most babies are capable of sleeping through the night by 6 months of age.

For babies who no longer need to eat overnight or have other special considerations, sleep training can be key to helping your baby learn how to sleep all night. Falling asleep independently (and staying asleep) is a skill that has to be learned, and there are many different sleep training methods aimed at helping babies master that skill.

The key is finding a sleep training method that works for your family and practicing it consistently. Keep reading to learn about five different ways to sleep train, with tips from other parents who've been through it.

5 Popular Sleep Training Methods

The best sleep training method for your family will depend on personal preference and your baby's temperament, so it may help to research the different options and talk to a health care provider before settling on the one that you feel is best for your family.

To help you narrow it down, here are five of the most popular sleep training methods.

1. Fading method

With the fading sleep training method, parents rely on soothing techniques to help their baby fall asleep independently, "fading" out reliance on you to fall asleep.

Some of the behaviors you may "fade" over time include feeding, rocking, or snuggling your baby to sleep. Over a period of time, you slowly "fade out" of whatever aspect of the nighttime routine that relies on you and gradually extend the independent time your baby spends falling asleep without you. Fading is considered a gentle sleep training method.

2. Pick-up/put-down method

The pick-up, put-down method of sleep training is a no-cry sleep training method. Simply pick up your baby whenever they cry, soothe them briefly, then put them back down, drowsy but awake. Repeat these steps until the little one falls asleep. The key is to gradually teach your child that you are close and they are safe, so they can fall asleep on their own.

3. Chair method

To start this sleep training method, the parent or caregiver sits on a chair near the crib until the baby falls asleep. They don't use soothing techniques to calm crying or fussiness. Each night, they move the chair further away from the crib. For instance, on nights one to three, you might have your chair right next to the crib, holding your baby's hand or patting their back.

Then, on night four, you might scoot your chair a little bit away and stop the hand-holding. You may even need to do a few nights at the baby's doorway or sitting in the hall, but eventually, by the end of the training, your baby should be able to fall asleep without you in the room at all.

"After running through our evening routine—playtime, supper, bath, toothbrushing, book, prayers—I put my child down for bed and sat beside him, not touching or talking to him. Then, over the next couple of weeks, I moved my chair progressively further from the crib until I was finally sitting outside a closed door." —Ledlow

4. Cry it out method

After completing the bedtime routine, parents leave the nursery. They don't respond to the baby's cries throughout the night, letting them fall asleep without any assistance. There are different levels of the cry-it-out method, from only letting your baby cry for a short duration of time, to more extreme levels that involve not coming back in until morning, so you can customize this method to what is best for you.

5. Ferber method

Named for the physician who developed the method, the Ferber method calls for caregivers to put their baby down for sleep and respond to the baby's cries at set time intervals that gradually increase each night. Advocates of the method say that the baby will eventually learn to self-soothe and fall asleep independently through "Ferberization."

Sleep Training Tips From Real Parents

No matter which sleep training method you choose, hearing advice from other parents can make the process easier—or at least make you feel less alone. Here, real-life parents share their best tips for sleep training babies, from bedtime routines and swaddles to soothing music and nighttime nursing.

Don't adjust the volume in your house

"Never let the house be dead quiet at bedtime. Babies should learn to sleep through a little noise—don't blast Metallica, but don't tiptoe around either. And if you're tempted to run to them whenever they cry, invest in a baby monitor with a camera so you can see if they are in distress, but let them whine or cry it out for a little." —Chemere

Put your baby down awake but drowsy

"Our baby is 10 months old and we start her bedtime routine at 8 p.m. We brush her teeth, give her a bath, and then she plays, plays, plays. After that, it's lavender bedtime lotion and a bottle. But the key is putting her down drowsy but awake, and she usually sleeps all night without a peep." —April

Plan your day around a good night's rest

"It's true what they say: 'sleep begets sleep.' Give your little one ample time to nap during the day, and try to spend some waking hours outdoors (even if it means bundling up). Fresh air worked wonders for us!" —Elizabeth

Nix unscheduled naps

Quick cat naps in the car, no matter how short, have a tendency of ruining any chance of a real nap later on, so stock some tricks in your car to avoid those sneaky sleeps. Try things like playing their favorite song, stashing safe snacks, coloring books, special car toys, or a tablet or even a game on your phone to keep them awake.

Increase sleep slowly

"The book On Becoming Baby Wise helped me get my newborn daughter on a routine. For every 3 hours around the clock, you feed for 15–20 minutes, play for 30–40 minutes, and sleep for 2 hours. At 3 or 4 months old, you begin to let them sleep longer and longer at the 8 or 9 p.m. feeding. Babies love routine, so the more disciplined the parent is about feeding, play, and sleeping the better the baby's sleep habits will be." —Dayna

Take shifts with your partner

"My older son just did not sleep—I wish I'd relaxed and accepted that sooner. I also wish that we'd listened to my mom when she told us we needed to divide and conquer by taking shifts to be 'on call' instead of trading off whole nights, which left us exhausted and unable to function." —Madeleine

Create a routine early

"My son is only 6 weeks old, and he naps so irregularly. But even at this young age, I've been able to implement a basic routine. I start with a bottle of formula at bedtime, and he falls asleep in my arms. Then I put him in his crib, turn his vibrating bassinet on the lowest setting, and wind his mobile. This usually puts him to sleep on the first try. Next up: Tackling his middle-of-the-night wakings!" —Samantha

Swaddle the baby

"I wrapped up my kiddo tightly in 'the miracle blanket' every night until she was about 4 months old. She slept great and is still a great sleeper at 3-and-half years!" —Amy

Let your baby fuss

"We tried everything we could think of and our baby still woke every two hours until 8 months. After one week of letting her cry it out, we were all sleeping better—my toddler now sleeps 13 hours at a stretch. We felt horrible doing it, but in the end, it was best for us all." —Cat

Give your baby space

"We kept our daughter's cradle in our bedroom for the first 5 months so I could keep an eye on her and nurse her easily. But moving her into her own room was the key to changing her sleep habits for the better and decreasing those nighttime feedings. I wasn't as quick to respond to her, and she didn't try quite as hard to get us up. While it took some time for her to get comfortable being in her own space, she started to sleep longer. As time progressed, all of us were happier for it." —Caren

Improve air quality

"Keep the sheets and air fresh. If the air quality in the home is bad or the bedding is dusty or dirty, that could affect the baby's breathing and make it harder to put them to sleep and keep them asleep." —Chemere

Send out bedtime signals

"We play the same lullaby CD every night and put it on before he gets into bed, so he knows it's that time. If he cries, we hold him until he calms. Then we place him in the crib and sit in the room—without touching him—until he falls asleep." —Pam Schwartz

Keep it consistent

"It's all about routine and schedule. Keep the same bedtime every night, regardless of what you have going on. You have to make sacrifices and realize these little ones thrive on routine, consistency, and schedules." —Alicia

Do what works best for you

"Pick a method that you're comfortable with. No matter how perfect the 'experts' claim a method to be, if you are not comfortable with it, it won't work." —Darcy

Know when your baby needs extra attention

"There are some nights when your baby is so out-of-sorts and overtired, no trick or method will save you. On those nights, rock your baby until they are in a deep sleep (I'm talking completely limp, no twitching). This might take half an hour. Don't rush it or you'll 'botch the handoff' (i.e., your ostensibly sleeping baby will shriek upon contact with the crib mattress), a cycle that could go on for hours." —Elizabeth

Be patient

"Sleep training may be frustrating or take more time than you would like, but enjoy the process—your little baby will be walking, talking, and graduating from kindergarten before you can turn around. You'll be glad you took the time to appreciate the little things along the way." —Pam Fenz

Updated by Nicole Harris
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