What is sleep training? When should I start sleep training?

Sleep training is a common phrase used to describe the process of helping get a baby comfortable sleeping for several hours and/or through the night on their own, while learning to self-settle and fall back asleep if they do wake up. This includes building routines and helping guide behaviors, for both the parent and child. 

There are a number of popular methods and strategies that have been demonstrated effective in helping babies learn to sleep uninterrupted or without signaling through the night. Some sleep training methods, like “cry it out,” sometimes have a bad reputation, but there are also gentler methods, especially those that minimize crying. We will outline these methods, but please know that you do not have to sleep train your baby. It is an important distinction that while it is called ‘sleep training’, sleep is a biological function which means that it can’t be taught, and babies who are ‘sleep trained’ may still wake up as often as babies that are not, but will put themselves back to sleep without signaling. Sleep training may offer significant benefits to both children and parents, but even without it, babies will eventually learn to sleep on their own. Ultimately, every family should determine what method is right for them.

On average, babies aren’t usually ready for sleep training until they’re 4 months to 6 months old, although many aren’t ready until as late as nine months. Before four months, babies haven’t developed the circadian rhythms that will help them sleep through the night, so sleep training at 3 months and earlier is not recommended. Once they are at this point, though, they’ll naturally want to sleep more at night and be awake more during the day. For this reason, six months is generally agreed to be a good time to start sleep training if you choose to do so. Like potty training and other milestones, it’s probably best to get started well before or well after big changes or disruptions to your routine.

It’s important to remember that not all strategies work for all babies and parents, and some may even work later, after not working originally. The “right” way to sleep train is the way that works for both you and your baby. As your child grows, their routines will change and you may encounter sleep regressions, and you can revisit these sleep training methods to retrain them.

 

    This article has been reviewed by our team of experts.

    Disclaimer: The contents of this article does not constitute medical advice. If you have concerns about any health or medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment you should consult with your pediatrician or a licensed healthcare provider.

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