Many people ask me: “when is it appropriate to start sleep training”?
Although I no longer do any “sleep training”, I felt it was still fair to offer my take on the popular methods; what, why, and when.
If you have decided that sleep training is for you and your family, my rule of thumb for the earliest age to start is no earlier than six months of age – although depending on the method used, sometimes as soon as four months. At six months, infants (in most cases) are “physiologically ready”. The average child of this age is receiving adequate nutrition during the day from solid food, and therefore, the need for overnight feedings is somewhat reduced. Also, they have the ability to sleep for extended periods overnight (between 6-8 hours at a time). This is also the age when infants begin to develop sleep difficulties that are “behavioural” (where as with younger infants, these sleep issues arise from a physiological need for food, warmth, affection).
There are many sleep approaches and options. Before selecting a sleep training method, it is important to consider the child’s temperament, and the parent’s philosophy – as well as their emotional bandwidth!
An independent, or spirited child may respond better to a ‘cry it out’ method of training – as they may become too stimulated if their parent constantly checks in or stays in the room with them whilst they are trying to go to sleep. Whereby a more needy or dependent child who thrives on affection and touch, may benefit more from a ‘no cry’ approach, or a method which involves increased parental intervention.
At the same time, a CIO approach is not going to be suitable for family who prefer attachment parenting, nor is a non cry approach going to be the ‘preferred’ method for parents who have a lower patience threshold or prefer a quicker solution without as much intervention throughout the sleep training process.
The most popular variations of the cry it out methods were pioneered by Ferber and Weissbluth. Weissbluth’s ‘Extinction’ method leaves the baby to cry up to an hour at nap times (indefinitely at bedtime), whilst Ferber’s method of ‘graduated extinction’ is a modified version of this – involves leaving the child to cry for intervals of 3, 5, 10 mins (up to 20 mins) whilst checking on them intermittently to resettle and offer comfort. There are many variations in between, however, these are the most popular – and if employed correctly, have a high success rate within a short period of time (commonly day three or four).
There are many advocates for attachment parenting, co-sleeping and no cry – including Elizabeth Pantley, Pinky McKay and William Sears. However, the most popular no cry approaches to sleep training include The Baby Whisperer (Tracy Hogg) Pick up, put down, and Kim West’s Sleep Lady Shuffle.
Both of these methods are more labour intensive than the traditional ‘cry it out’. These require more parental intervention, and usually results are slower than CIO (within 2-3 weeks) – dependent on the child’s age and how long the sleep problem has existed.
The pick up, put down method focuses on children from 4 months to 12 months. Although this technique needs to be adapted for different ages within the first year, the concept remains the same: you continue to pick up your child when they cry (for varying time), and put them down in their crib when they stop (repeat as necessary), all the whilst remaining in the room to provide comfort and ‘train’ your child to eventually fall asleep on their own.
The Sleep lady shuffle can be used for babies from 4 months to pre-schoolers, and is especially useful for children who have previously co-slept, and/or and moving into their own room. The basic premise of this method is that the parent will sit beside the child on a chair, and gradually every three days (over the course of 12-13 nights), the position of the chair is moved further away from the child until the parent is eventually outside the child’s bedroom. The idea is to instil confidence in the child that the parent is there, whilst helping them to eventually fall asleep (and stay) asleep on their own.
Because there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to sleep training, it is possible to execute a blend of methods – e.g. Pick up/put down or Sleep lady with Ferber intervals etc. This can accommodate for parents and children who may respond well to elements of both styles of sleep training.
If you want to know whether sleep training may be right for your family, feel free to get in touch via my Facebook page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org