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Five Popular Sleep Training Methods (Which One is Best for your Baby?)

Learn about some of the most popular sleep training methods there are to help your baby learn how to fall asleep independently. See the differences between the methods and decide which sleep training method is right for your family.

baby asleep with fingers in mouth, self soothing after sleep training

I think the term sleep training gets a really bad rap. After all, we all potty train our children, meaning we teach them how to use the toilet so they aren’t in diapers forever.

Sleep training isn’t a whole lot different. Parents use various sleep training methods to help them stop nursing to sleep, moving from room sharing to the crib, transitioning from SNOO to crib, and weaning night feeds!

There are plenty of misconceptions and mistakes made when it comes to sleep training!

What is Sleep Training?

Sleep training is simply the process of helping your little one learn how to fall asleep on her own. Many people equate sleep training with cry it out, but there are also no-cry or minimal cry sleep training methods that can help teach your baby to fall asleep on her own.

baby asleep in mom's arms before sleep training

When Should You Start Sleep Training?

Wondering when to start sleep training?

The best answer is to start sleep training when you are ready.

Formal sleep training can start as early as four months old or 12 pounds. At four months, sleep habits aren’t too established and will be easier to break. Before four months old, many babies still have irregular feeds and need to eat in the middle of the night.

Many parents decide to sleep train when they are ready to transition baby to a crib. Moving to a crib in their nursery is when many babies need to learn independent sleep habits.

Other times parents sleep train if their baby is going through a sleep regression or they’re dealing with short naps.

Even before you do any sleep training, you can help establish healthy sleep habits like following an eat / wake / sleep routine and avoiding sleep associations. We followed a modified version of the Babywise method from birth and never had to formally sleep train our daughter.

Which Sleep Training Method is Best?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to parenting. We all have unique personalities, and our little babies are no different! Even from a very young age, babies have different temperaments and will respond better to certain methods over others.

Different sleep training methods work best for different families. The best sleep training method for you will depend on your baby’s temperament, as well as your personality as a parent.

parents asleep on bed with baby before doing sleep training

Most Popular Sleep Training Methods

Below are some of the most popular sleep training methods.

When doing any of these sleep training methods, make sure you’re following your baby’s proper wake windows and that you aren’t putting your baby to bed overtired.

It’s also important that you and your partner are on the same page and that you stay consistent in whatever approach you choose.

Each method will take varying lengths of time to complete and how long it takes will also depend on your baby’s personality.

Note that night time sleep training is also different than sleep training for naps.

Pick Up / Put Down

The Pick Up Put Down Method is a popular sleep training method founded by Tracy Hogg, the author of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Pick up / put down (PU/PD) is one of the more gentle sleep training methods there is.

Mom doing pick up put down sleep training method with baby

How to do it

With PU/PD, you do your regular and put your baby down while she is still awake.

Once your baby starts crying, you pick her up and comfort her until her cry lessens. Once she’s calmed down a little—but not asleep—you put her back in her crib or bassinet.

Keep doing this cycle until your baby falls asleep, picking her up and putting her down as many times as needed.

Make sure you don’t hold your baby to the point of her falling asleep. The goal with pick up / put down is to comfort her until she calms down, but then to let her fall asleep on her own in her crib or bassinet.

If your baby is fine and doesn’t fuss when you put her down, you can leave the room.

If your baby wakes in the middle of the night you repeat the cycle of pick up / put down until she falls asleep again.

The Sleep Lady Shuffle

The Sleep Lady Shuffle, also referred to as the Chair Method, can be used for babies as young as four months, all the way up to toddlerhood. It can be especially helpful for toddler sleep training as a way to keep your toddler in their bed at bedtime.

Chair in baby's nursery to sleep train using the Sleep Lady Shuffle

How to do It

Do your typical bedtime routine and put your baby to bed awake. Make sure the room is dark, so your baby can’t see you. Have a chair ready next to your baby’s crib or bassinet.

If your baby starts to cry or fuss, you sit in the chair while she stays in her crib.

You are in the chair to be present and offer verbal reassurance, but not to be too exciting. Try to avoid eye contact and keep the room dark so you don’t stimulate your baby.

Choose a simple word or phrase that you can use to help soothe your baby, something short and simple like, “Shh” or “Mommy’s here” is perfect.

When your baby starts to cry or fuss you can use your word or phrase in a hushed tone to help soothe her. Keep it simple and short so she also learns to soothe herself to sleep with your presence there.

In the beginning, you can also pat your baby, but the goal is to not pick her up out of the crib.

Once your baby falls asleep, you can leave the room.

If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, resume your position in the chair and repeat until she falls asleep again. You’ll do this every time she wakes up. (So grab a comfortable chair!)

Repeat this same process with the chair in the same spot for three consecutive days. After three days, you can move your chair further away.

If you started with the chair right next to the crib, you can move it halfway between the door and the crib. At this point you won’t be able to physically reassure your baby, but continue to use your word or phrase to soothe her with your voice.

Once you move the chair further away, it’s important to not go back to a prior position. Every three days you will move the chair further away until it is outside of your baby’s room.

Your baby will learn to put herself to sleep during this process, while still knowing that mom or dad is there. Eventually she won’t need your voice at all to fall asleep!

It’s also a great sleep training method to use when you transition to a toddler bed or in combination with the Pacifier Fairy when you drop the pacifier with your toddler!

The Gentle Three-Minute Drill

The gentle-three minute drill is a favorite among many parents and sleep consultants because it allows the parents to be involved, without requiring the constant involvement that pick up / put down and the chair method require.

Baby standing in crib during sleep training

How to Do the Gentle Three-Minute Drill

As always, do your bedtime routine and put your baby down for bed while she is still awake.

Leave the room. You are going to stay outside of the room and listen to your baby. She may cry and fuss a little bit and then fall asleep.

If your baby begins to cry, listen for the cry to elevate to a loud level-10 cry. This is the cry that says “I want outta here!” but isn’t the cry your baby has when she is hurt or in pain.

Once your baby starts to cry at this level, start the timer for three minutes.

It might feel like an eternity at first mama!

If at any point during your baby’s cry, she simmers down to a whimper, you stop your timer. You then restart it when the cry elevates to that level-10 cry again.

As your baby simmers down and her cry lowers, she is learning to self-soothe! So while I’m sure you just want that timer to run out so you can rush into her room, it is actually a good thing if you need to stop and restart your timer frequently!

After three consecutive minutes of that level-10 cry, you can stop the timer and go into your baby’s room and soothe her.

When you go into her room give her a little reassurance and comfort. You can offer a soothing “Shhh” or “Mommy’s here.” You can give her a little pat on her bottom, but try to avoid picking her up from her crib. I know this will be tough, but stick with it!

Keep it short, about 10 to 20 seconds and then leave the room again.

Restart your timer and repeat the process until your baby falls asleep. If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, you will start your timer and repeat the process again.

Controlled Crying

Controlled crying is also known as Interval Crying, The Ferber Method, or Ferberizing. It’s been popularized by Richard Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.

How to do It

Choose an interval time that you are comfortable with. This is how long you will let your baby cry before going into her room. Common interval options are 5 / 7 / 10 and 5 / 10 / 15.

Do your typical bedtime routine and put your baby down for bed awake.

Leave the room and listen close by. Once your baby starts crying at that level-10 cry, set your timer for your first interval.

For our example, we’ll do 5 / 10 / 15. At baby’s level-10 cry, set your timer for 5 minutes and keep it going. You will go into your baby’s room at the end of the five minutes regardless, unless she has stopped crying or settled down.

After five minutes, go in and reassure your baby. Don’t pick her up but offer her a verbal phrase. Keep your visit short and just offer a quick reassurance, then leave the room again.

This time you will increase your timer. For our example, we’ll now set the timer to 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, if your baby hasn’t fallen asleep or calmed down, you can go into her room again and do another short reassurance with words.

After you leave her room again, set your timer for the third interval, 15 minutes for this example. If your baby is still crying after 15 minutes, go into her room for a short reassurance again.

If she continues to cry, you can reset your timer to 15 minutes and offer quick reassurance after 15 minutes each time.

If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, start your process again at 5 minutes and repeat the cycle from there.

Cry It Out

Cry it out, also known as extinction method, is the least gentle of the sleep training methods. Some may consider it cruel, but for others, the crying is short and works quickly.

Baby standing in crib upset during sleep training

How to Do It

This one is simple to follow, but can be very emotionally difficult on the parents. You follow your same bedtime routine with your baby and then put her to bed and leave the room. You don’t return until the morning.

Some babies will stop crying quickly and fall asleep, while others may cry for very long periods of time. This is usually the last-resort for sleep training, when other methods haven’t worked.

Did you sleep train your baby? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know which method worked well for you!

Baby Dream system mockup

Let’s Get your Baby Sleeping!

Want a step-by-step guide on how to sleep train and get your baby better sleep? Grab my Baby D.R.E.A.M. System. It walks you through all the essentials of sleep training so you can optimize your baby’s sleep for ages 4 months through 2.5 years old. Check it out here!

Amy Motroni

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