If you’re struggling to get your baby to sleep through the night, sleep training may be able to help. By establishing healthy bedtime habits and incorporating a sleep training method into your routine, your baby will go to sleep – and stay asleep – at night.
Eventually, all babies develop their own sleeping routines. Some are quicker to develop their routine than others.
If your baby has trouble sleeping the night through or getting back to sleep after being wakened, a little help and guidance can help her develop a healthy sleeping routine.
This is where sleep training comes in.
How does sleep training work? When can you begin? Before we answer these questions, let’s first take a look at how baby sleep cycles work.
Understanding Baby Sleep Cycles
During their first few weeks of life, newborns spend a lot of time sleeping. In fact, a newborn sleeps anywhere between 16 and 17 hours a day.
So, why do new moms never seem to get any sleep? The answer is simple: newborn sleep patterns are very irregular. Most babies don’t stay asleep for any longer than two to four hours at a time. This means that mom winds up getting up several times throughout the night to feed, change and comfort her baby.
Why do newborns sleep so much? Babies have a different sleep pattern than adults. They spend more time in the REM cycle, which is necessary for brain development. The REM cycle is easily disrupted too, which is why newborns wake very easily.
Most babies will start spending less time sleeping during the day and more time sleeping during the night once they reach six to eight weeks of age. While your baby may be sleeping longer at night, she’ll still wake up a few times to feed. At this point, your baby will also be spending more time in non-REM sleep, which means she won’t be wakened as easily.
4 and 6 Months
Most experts say that babies can start sleeping for 8 -12 hours a night somewhere between four and six months of age. Of course, every baby is different. Some will start sleeping through the night as early as six weeks. Others may take eight months or more to develop a regular sleep pattern.
If your baby is having trouble sleeping through the night, sleep training and teaching her good sleeping habits can help.
When to Start Sleep Training
When can you start sleep training? If you’re hoping you can get your newborn to sleep through the night, you may be disappointed. Experts don’t recommend imposing sleep training on newborns. Why? Because newborns need regular feeding, and short bursts of sleep are both natural and healthy for new babies.
Once your baby reaches 6 weeks, you can start encouraging healthy sleeping habits. A good place to start is by establishing a bedtime routine and following that routine every night at the same time. It also helps to wake your baby at the same time every morning and to establish a naptime at the same time every day.
Just keep in mind that your sleep training should be a work in progress at this point. As your baby’s sleeping patterns continue to change, you will need to continue to adapt your routine as well.
4 and 6 Months
Experts agree that between four and six months is the ideal time to start sleep training. At this point, your baby is ready to sleep through the night.
Before you start training, make sure that your baby doesn’t have any medical conditions that might interfere with her sleeping patterns. If you’re still unsure if your baby is ready for sleep training, consult with your doctor.
Sleep Training Methods
There are many different ways to approach sleep training, and no one method is right or wrong. Start out by choosing a method that you feel comfortable with and can follow through on.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common methods:
“Cry it Out” Method
With the “cry it out” method, you leave your child to cry and soothe herself back to sleep. Does this mean neglecting your baby or leaving her to cry endlessly? No! Here’s how it works (in a nutshell):
- Put your baby to bed when she’s drowsy but still awake.
- Allow for short periods of crying, but allow for periods of comforting too.
- Comforting should not involve picking your baby up.
Pediatrician Richard Ferber is credited with developing this sleep training method.
“No Tears” Method
The “no tears” method is recommended by advocates of attachment parenting, like pediatrician William Sears. Co-sleeping as well as nursing and rocking your baby to sleep are encouraged.
Instead of leaving your baby to cry it out and soothe herself back to sleep, you would immediately comfort her if she wakes and cries at night.
The goal with this method is to help create positive associations with sleep and establish healthy sleep habits in the long run. A gradual approach is recommended, and many experts also suggest establishing early bedtimes.
Most parents who have tried this method will admit that it can take longer than the “cry it out method”, but many believe that it’s less traumatizing for the baby (and parents).
The Five S’s
Pediatrician Harvey Karp recommends a method that falls between the “cry it out” and “no tears” methods. He calls it “the five S’s”.
The five S’s are:
- Side or stomach position – for comforting; not sleeping
Many parents use the “five S’s” to comfort and soothe their babies when trying to develop healthy sleep patterns.
Help – My Baby Won’t Sleep!
If you’ve been consistent with your sleep training but are still having trouble getting your baby to sleep, something else may be to blame. Consult with your doctor to make sure that your baby doesn’t have a medical condition that may be affecting her sleeping routine.
If your baby is perfectly healthy but still not sleeping through the night, try these tips:
- Send your baby bedtime signals. Play the same music each night before bed, or give your baby a bath at the same time before bed each night.
- Does someone in your home snore? If so, an antisnoring device like ZQuiet or a CPAP machine may be necessary. Snoring aids will help prevent sleep interruptions caused by loud noise.
- Avoid using sleep positioners. Experts are still unsure of whether positioners are safe to use. In fact, several infant deaths have been linked to sleep positioners. The only positioning product that experts recommend is a crib wedge.
- If your toddler is having trouble staying asleep, use a sleep trainer clock to help your baby establish a healthy sleeping routine. These clocks let your little one know when it’s morning and night, so she doesn’t wake too early in the morning.
Sleep training is a process that will take time…
Every baby is different, so yours may start earlier or later than four to six months. The key is to follow your baby’s clues and start developing a bedtime routine as early as four to six weeks. Even if your baby isn’t at a point where she can sleep through the night, she’ll grow accustomed to her bedtime rituals and will eventually develop healthy sleeping habits in the future.