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The 3 Most Popular Sleep Training Methods

Updated: Jul 11, 2023


As parents, we always want to do what is best for our children – sleep included! There were SO MANY questions we had surrounding sleep with our first children.. The three big questions being, “How do I get my baby to sleep at night?” and “What is sleep training?” and “How do I sleep train my baby?” However, now that we know more (much more!) about sleep than we did back then, we’d like you to focus on a different question: “What is the best sleep training method for helping my baby sleep?”


(OUR DISCLAIMER IS ALWAYS: THE SLEEP TRAINING METHOD YOU CAN COMMIT TO!)


In our combined 8 years of knowledge and experience in the world of infant and child sleep, we find that many families are aware of the term “sleep training” but aren’t certain of what that actually means. While sleep isn’t necessarily a skill, like learning to breastfeed, read a book, or ride a bicycle, it is something that our children can learn to initiate without assistance with time and development! Sleep training, if you will, is simply helping our child change their habits around sleep over time.


As sleep consultants, we look at the whole child to decipher what an appropriate schedule and routines should be and then choose a method that might work well for that child and family. It’s not just leaving a baby to Cry-It-Out, as many people might think. There are so many methods to how you might consider sleep training your child! In this post, we will go over the three most popular sleep training methods/camps of sleep training and which methods might align best for your family, child, and situation.


Sleep training methods vary greatly; some take more time than others; some have the parents present in the room while others don’t; some are more hands-on while others are hands-off; some are more successful than others due to age, development, and/or temperament. Simply put, there can be a lot to consider when trying to figure out what’s best for your baby or child.


Let’s get into it!


Soothing Ladder/Shush-Pat Method


This is a great method for younger babies, say 3-6 months, and can be tailored specifically to a baby based on his or her needs. It is a very hands-on approach. This method can take time (even a few months) and steps can gradually be removed as the baby becomes more independent with sleep.


A SOOTHING LADDER MAY LOOK LIKE THIS:


Essentially, the soothing ladder is a series of steps a parent goes through to help calm a baby down (and maybe even fall back asleep!) if they wake at night, before offering a feeding. The steps in the ladder usually start with less interaction, and over time, lead to more interaction as the baby needs it.

  • the parent is present in the room

  • the parent offers a soothing voice to calm the baby, talking, singing, or shushing

  • the parent offers or replaces the pacifier

  • the parent offers a gentle touch or light pressure on the baby’s chest

  • the parent gently jiggles or pats the mattress

  • the parent gently pats and shushes the baby in a rhythmic fashion

  • the parent picks the baby up and lays him or her back down

  • the parent offers the baby a feed

Ideally, you’d start at the top and give each step of the ladder a chance to soothe. Parents can go up and down the ladder based on how their baby is responding. The more the parent can practice the steps of a soothing ladder, the better the baby will get at learning how to sleep over time. Parents can also remove steps over time as they see their baby is becoming more solidified in the skill of learning to sleep!


Fading/Chair Method/Stay-in-the-Room/Camping Out


This method is great for babies who are experiencing separation anxiety, children who have previously shared a bed with a parent, and it is a great option for older children, as it releases the responsibility of sleep from the parent to the child over time and with support.


Basically, the parent goes through the bedtime routine with the child. Following the routine, they lay their baby or child down in their crib or bed fully awake and then sit next to them in a chair, supporting the child until he or she falls asleep. For a few nights, the parent sits in the chair right beside the crib or bed. Every few nights, they move the chair. Next to the middle of the room. Then to the door. Then the doorway. And, finally, out in the hall, continuing with timed checks if needed.


This method is a parent present approach but usually does take a few weeks. It can also be difficult to be in the room if the child is protesting, or if it is hard for the adult to be around a crying baby. There are stipulations with how to respond to the child if and when he or she gets out of their bed, and this is where having a consistent plan and coaching can be incredibly helpful. This method would not be a good fit for a mother experiencing some sort of postpartum mood disorder, either anxiety or depression.


Check and Console/Leave and Check/Timed Intervals


This is the quickest method and the most hands-off approach we are discussing in this post. This approach is great for babies who have an easy temperament or a more difficult one simply because it’s more hands-off and gives them the space they need to figure things out without getting interrupted.


Essentially, a parent picks a set time (for example, 10 minutes), or a time to build up to (for example, start with 5 minutes and build up to 15), and that is their marker for if and when they go into the nursery to do a bit of comforting, only staying present for a bit of time. The parent then removes themselves from the bedroom for another interval of time and continues this until the child falls asleep. Usually, after a week or two, the baby has the hang of it.

You might have two babies from the same family, being raised the same way, yet they both need different methods based on their personalities. It’s important to consider all of these things to make the process as easy as possible for everyone in the household.


Have you found this information helpful? Are you considering using one with your child?


Or…maybe you’re just reading this because it intrigues you! If that’s the case, and you’re into baby sleep as much as we are (it’s *not normal* to nerd out over sleep science on a Friday night, right?) – we’ve got something for you! Check out our free course module for our Sleep Consultant Academy! Get a sneak-peek into our certification program for future sleep consultants where you will learn the science and foundations of sleep, how to build and maintain a sleep consulting business, learn many more behavioral sleep interventions/modifications for changing habits, and additional training from experts to help you become a holistic provider.

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