Are you wondering when to start sleep training with your little one? Here’s everything you need to know about timing and which methods to consider.
Sleep training is one of the best ways to help a baby fall asleep on their own. Independent sleep skills for baby are the key to a better night’s sleep for everyone.
Many people equate sleep training with “cry it out,” but there is so much more to sleep training.
When parents ask me when they can start sleep training, I tell them that even if it’s a little early to start some of the more common sleep training methods, it’s never too early to start establishing independent sleep skills.
Let’s talk about when to start sleep training and how it might differ depending on how old your baby is.
How Do I Know if My Child is Ready for Sleep Training?
Formal sleep training can start as early as 4 months old, or once baby reaches 12 pounds.
Babies 4 months and up can be sleep trained, but the most important factor is if the parent is ready to sleep train.
Sleep training is tough and often your baby’s sleep will get worse before it gets better.
Sleep training can also be an emotional process for mom and/or dad, so you have to be certain that you’re willing to work through it and stick with it. The key to success with sleep training is consistency.
How Long Does Sleep Training Take?
How long sleep training takes will take depend on the method you choose and your baby’s temperament. Sleep training can generally take anywhere from days to weeks to implement.
Some sleep training methods such as the Chair Method are a more gradual process, while methods such as Ferber Method may speed things up a bit.
In my experience, you can see measurable results within a few nights. With consistency, naps and nights can come together within 2-3 weeks.
Want Help with Sleep Training?
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The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System 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!
Can you Sleep Train A Newborn?
Newborn babies are super sleepy during those first few weeks at home. It feels like all they do is eat and sleep.
But eventually they start to “wake up” a bit, and while newborns are too young to formally sleep train, you can start laying the foundation now for independent sleep skills. I teach parents how to do this in my Newborn Sleep Course.
A lot of new parents assume that the only way to get their baby to sleep is to feed or rock them to sleep and then set them down after they’re asleep.
The reason I don’t recommend feeding or rocking to sleep is because that soon becomes the only way they can fall asleep. Overcoming these sleep associations can be tricky.
When baby falls asleep in mom’s arms and later wakes up with no mom or food in sight, it’s understandably confusing. In that situation, babies will have a really hard time putting themselves back to sleep, even if they’re still tired.
There are ways to help your newborn get to sleep with more sustainable sleep habits though.
The Shush-Pat Method
The Shush-Pat method is a technique you can use for young babies to help them fall asleep in their crib or bassinet.
Tracy Hogg is the author of The Baby Whisperer, and she developed the Shush-Pat Method as a way to provide comfort to sleepy newborns while also helping them to start developing skills to fall back asleep.
The Shush-Pat Method involves setting your baby down in their bassinet or crib, rolling them to their side, and patting their back/bottom rhythmically to soothe them. Simultaneously, you make a “shh shh shh” sound.
Continue patting and shushing until your baby’s body relaxes and their breathing deepens. This can sometimes take up to 20 minutes.
Sleep Training Babies 4 Months and Up
Once your baby is developmentally ready and you are emotionally ready, it’s time to pick a sleep training method.
You’ll need to do a little soul-searching first: how much crying can you realistically handle? And do you have the time and patience to stick with a method?
The key to sleep training is that once you start the process, you’ll need to stay consistent if you’re hoping to see results.
For parents who prefer a more “gentle” method, the Pick Up Put Down method is a good option for babies under 4 months old. The Sleep Lady Shuffle is also a favorite for parents who want to be present during sleep training.
There are ways to modify the cry-it-out method to make it less stressful for everyone involved, like Ferber’s Interval Crying method or the Gentle 3-Minute Drill. These methods allow for parents to soothe their baby after a predetermined amount of time passes.
When doing any of these sleep training methods, make sure you’re following your baby’s wake windows and that your baby’s sleep space is optimized for sleep. See my nursery must haves for sleep here.
Some parents wonder when to start sleep training for naps, and the answer is that you can sleep train for naps once your baby is falling asleep easier at bedtime.
Sleep Training Your Toddler
I sometimes have parents approach me who are worried that they’ve waited too long to sleep train.
While poor sleep habits can be a little harder to overcome when babies are older, it is never too late to sleep train. You can even sleep train toddlers.
By the time your little one has reached toddlerhood, they’re most likely to respond well to a sleep training method that takes separation anxiety into consideration.
For kids who have already transitioned to a toddler bed, the Chair Method or Reverse Sleep Wave method are both good options. Both methods involve a parent’s presence to remind them that you are nearby and they are safe.
While consistency is key at any sleep training age, you have the added bonus of being able to set and communicate expectations with a toddler. You can prep them on what to expect and reinforce those expectations by talking about it throughout the day, before things get crucial at bedtime.
Another great thing about sleep training with toddlers is that they can be motivated by more than just exhaustion—you can implement rewards for reinforcement.
Lastly, I always recommend that families use an okay-to-wake clock as an added visual reminder to differentiate awake time and sleep time with your toddler. I love the Hatch Rest!
Remember that sleep training is not a one-size-fits-all approach. When to start sleep training is really when is right for your family. It’s never too early to start establishing sustainable sleep habits and it’s never too late to teach your little one to sleep well.
If you want to help sleep training, choose your child’s age here and see how we can help.
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