Gentle Sleep Training

gentle sleep training

There is lots of different literature with information and opinions online on how to sleep train a baby or toddler. It can be difficult for parents to know what to do with all the contrasting views, approaches and information to digest, all whilst being totally sleep deprived and desperate for better sleep!

Whilst some opinions suggest the only way to do this is to let a baby cry it out, others discuss the benefits of gentle sleep training. Conversely, some parents believe you shouldn’t sleep train at all and that parents should be completely baby-led; if that means they wake all night long, then so be it.

At The Daddy Sleep Consultant, we believe in infant-led, gentle sleep training to help a baby fall asleep consistently. 

 

WHAT IS SLEEP TRAINING?

Sleep training is essentially helping your baby learn to fall asleep independently without the support of any sleep associations, such as feeding or rocking for example. This involves your infant being put down in their sleeping space fully awake (not drowsy*) to fall asleep themselves.

The first night in sleep training is always the most difficult, but it can and will get better if you continue with the good sleep habits.

If a child falls asleep independently without requiring support from parent or caregiver, they will be much more likely to fall back asleep when they wake up during the night.

Whilst most parents strive for their child sleeping through the night, if your child can self-settle, they are more likely to do this. Therefore, my advice is always to focus on self-settling and the long stretches of sleep will naturally follow.

*When a child is drowsy, they are already in the early stages of their sleep cycle, so for them to be able to learn to fall asleep at n, they need to be tired but fully awake when they go down.

blue eyed baby boy in navy vest top

MOST POPULAR SLEEP TRAINING METHODS

Now that you know what sleep training is intended to do, how do you do it? Here are the most popular child sleep training methods for improving their sleep:

Cry It Out Method

After the bedtime routine is finished, the baby or toddler will be left in their room, on their own, to settle to sleep. Even when they are crying, no-one is expected to respond to their child, continuously leaving the child to cry until they settle to sleep on their own, irrespective of how long that takes.

Ferber Method

The Ferber method is very similar to the Cry It Out method, with the key difference being that instead of leaving your child on their own until they fall asleep, the parent would check in on their infant at timed intervals. These timed intervals – known as progressive waiting – gradually increase over each interval until the baby falls without any support. These intervals also increase each night during the process.

Pick-Up/Put-Down Method

This approach is trying to be a ‘no-cry’ baby sleep training method as it recommends that the parent picks up their baby from their sleep space immediately upon them starting to cry. Once the child has re-settled in their parents’ arms, the baby will be put back into their cot until they cry again, at which point they would be picked up and the process repeated until the baby falls asleep on their own.

The Bedtime Fading Method

This is a gentle sleep training method of improving sleep, with parents or caregiver using certain soothing techniques to help their little one accept the process of falling asleep without a certain sleep association, e.g. nursing to sleep. These soothing techniques include holding, cuddling, patting, singing or rocking to sleep and the aim is for parents to reduce their input with these techniques until the baby is less dependent on them and can go to sleep more independently.

The Chair Method

The clue is in the title for this sleep training method! The parent will sit in a chair near the child’s cot or bed, providing no physical or verbal comfort, until they fall asleep. Over the subsequent nights, the chair would be moved further and further away until the parent eventually leaves the room, allowing the child to fall asleep on their own.

 

SLEEP TRAINING METHODS: THE PROS & CONS OF EACH

CRY IT OUT METHOD

Pros:
  • Can lead to good night sleep for the whole family in around a week.

  • Can lead to children falling asleep independently very quickly and a good night’s sleep for the whole family.

  • A quick reduction in night wakings. 

 

Cons:
  • The crying can last a very long time, especially in the first few nights.

  • It’s not gentle as you let your baby cry on their own.

  • There is a strong perception from parents that using this method is harmful to a baby. Whilst we hate this method and would never use it, currently there is not enough evidence available to validate that it is indeed harmful.

  • More successful for younger babies than older babies or toddlers who are much more ‘wise’ to what is happening. They are also more prone to making themselves sick during the crying.

  • Babies who have went through this method can often just used to crying before every sleep, day and night, even if it’s only briefly. 

 

FERBER METHOD

Pros:
  • Can see significant improvements in your child’s sleep patterns and good night sleep for everyone in about a week.

  • Some babies are actually more irritated by their parent being in the room and can often respond better to them not being there.

  • There is an argument that this can teach your baby independence early on in life, though this is unsubstantiated.

  • It’s supposed to be less harsh than the Crying It Out approach. 

 

Cons:
  • The crying can last a very long time, especially in the first few nights.

  • It’s far from a gentle sleep training approach as you are leaving your baby on their own to settle to sleep for the majority of the time.

  • Very emotional for parents as you let your baby cry on their own.

  • It’s less successful for older babies and toddlers who are much more wise to what is happening.

  • Not recommended for babies younger than 6 months as there is no guidance on night feedings.

 

THE PICK-UP/PUT-DOWN METHOD

Pros:
  • Much less crying involved as the parent is expected to pick up baby as soon as there are any tear.

  • More gentle approach to changing a baby’s sleep patterns.

  • Age appropriate method for most babies with extreme separation anxiety.

  • Popular for parents with a very gentle parenting style. 

 

Cons:
  • The approach can lead to confusion for parents – on what to do and when – and for babies, specifically around why they keep getting put down.

  • It can be exhausting and time consuming to implement, for parent and baby.

  • Babies can learn that if they cry, they will get picked up rather than try to settle themselves to sleep.

  • A very difficult approach to use on toddlers. 

 

THE FADING METHOD 

Pros:
  • Very gentle approach to resolving your infant’s sleep problem, where there is always parental presence.

  • This is known as a graduated extinction approach to gently sleep train your infant.

  • It’s usually more closely aligned to what the parents are already doing.

  • Less crying than other approaches due to it’s gentle ways to change your infant’s patterns. 

 

Cons:
  • It can take much longer to see your child’s sleep patterns change.

  • There is less structure which can make it confusing for parents in how to implement.

  • This approach often just means a parent is switching from one sleep association, e.g. nursing to sleep, to another, e.g. rocking. This can result in the same sleep problems, just a different way to help your baby get to sleep.

  • Parents often find it difficult when they have more than once child to tend to at bedtime. 

 

SLEEP TRAINING CHAIR METHOD

Pros:
  • You remain with your child in the room until they are ready to do it independently. This is another graduated extinction approach.

  • You can step in much more easily if you become worried about your infant.

  • A more structured method with clear instructions at bedtime and each time your baby wakes at night. 

 

Cons:
  • Less gentle that other methods as despite you being with your child, no comfort is to be provided.

  • Can take longer to work than the extinction methods.

  • The child may become angry that they have their parent in the room but aren’t getting the attention they crave.

  • Parents often find it difficult when they have more than once child to tend to at bedtime. 

 

GENTLE SLEEP TRAINING – HOW DOES IT WORK?

At The Daddy Sleep Consultant, we are all about the gentle sleep coaching ethos. We would use the Crying It Out or Ferber method, or any other extinction sleep training method with our own children, nevermind another family’s precious little child.

baby help by parent over shoulder

In addition, whilst an extinction based approach may look simply at the process of falling asleep, it doesn’t look at the other factions which could be causing the sleep issues. This can mean issues re-surface in the future.

That’s why we take holistic view of a child’s sleep and look at coaching our clients to understand how things work, making it more likely they can handle any situations which arise in the future. It also means they have much more knowledge to ride the constant developments of a baby and the change in sleep patterns.

By working with The Daddy Sleep Consultant, we promise that each of the methods we use are based on being in the room with your baby boy or girl, to ensure that they are never being left on their own to cry. We also strongly believe in lots of comfort during any sleep training method we use.

We believe that the gradual and gentle ethos to helping your baby learn to fall asleep leads to much more long-lasting improvements to their sleep. This approach to self-settling allows a baby to be more accepting of the change and more likely to begin to sleep through the night and be more consistent with their sleep going forward.

 

ARE THERE BENEFITS TO GENTLE SLEEP TRAINING?

We believe there are significant benefits in the long-term for a baby by using a gentle sleep training approach. For example, we believe that:

  • The entire family will sleep much better meaning a much happier household.

  • Self-settling is a life-long skill.

  • Better sleep leads to better energy which leads to better appetite during the day.

  • A baby is much happier with better sleep.

  • Increased development, through more energy and better sleep at night, which is when all the development happens. 

 

WHEN IS IT OK TO START SLEEP TRAINING A BABY?

Whilst we believe that this is very much a decision for a family to make individually, we do start from 5 months (all the way up to 4 years) at our practice. In saying that, many families choose different stages, whether that be immediately at 5 months; once baby has started weaning at 6 months; once main parent or caregiver is returning to work; or simply when they can’t take it any more after 3 years of poor sleep.

Though, whatever age you do decide to sleep train will often determine the sleep training method you use. For example, the extinction methods are generally more successful for babies under 8-9 months when separation anxiety starts rapidly developing. Whereas, a more reassuring approach is better for toddlers who are more aware of what is happening.

 

CAN I TRY ANYTHING ELSE BEFORE I BEGIN SLEEP TRAINING?

There is so much – maybe too much! – information out there available to parents, with too many possible causes of poor sleep habits making it difficult to know where to start. There are also many different approaches and methods to improve baby sleep which can make it a minefield to know what to do to make positive changes.

Below are the key areas that we explore when we work with a family directly:

Daytime Routine: are they napping enough? Are their “wake windows” age-appropriate and reflect their needs?

Bedtime Routine: is the bedtime routine appropriate for your family? Is it helping your baby wind down before bed? Is there an opportunity for feeding and reading stories? Are you keeping it at the same time even though your baby’s more tired one day?

Sleep Environment: is the room blackout enough? Do you need white noise? Are you using white noise in the wrong way? Do you use a night light?

Nutrition: whilst we are from experts on the world of food, we have a goos sense of the foods which would be ideal or less than ideal before bed. We are also able to help with your baby’s milk feeding routine.

Sleep Associations: is your in child requiring a specific approach to get them to sleep and back to sleep each time they wake? For example, do they need to be nursed? Or rocked? 

 

HOW WE CAN HELP You

The moment your newborn baby arrives is the most wonderful feeling in the world– there simply is nothing better.

The next few weeks are incredibly difficult, often a complete blur, but you’ve never been so in love. The sleep deprivation is tough – the phrase “sleep when your baby sleeps” could never feel so inappropriate! But you knew this would be the case – this is what having a baby is all about. But it will get easier, right?

Several months down the line, you’re still madly in love but sleep isn’t any better, for anyone, and you are exhausted. You know your baby is exhausted too, given how irritable they are at times during the day and how much sleep they’re missing out on at night.

There must be something you can do to get your baby on track with a sleeping schedule that helps the whole family to feel happier and more energetic. As baby sleep consultants we can help you with these issues with our gentle sleep training approach. We do not believe, or use, the crying it out method or the Ferber method.

We will help your child using a method that doesn’t involve leaving your child until they are ready for independent sleep, allowing you to stay consistent, removing any bad habits and overall better sleep for the family usually around 2 weeks into the programme.

 

HOW DOES IT WORK YOUR SLEEP COACHING WORK?

Sleep problems are common in infants & toddlers, but it can be resolved despite many parents thinking there is nothing they can do to change the vicious cycle they are in.

But what does The Daddy Sleep Consultant approach actually look like?

  • Firstly, we get to know a little more about your baby’s routine by collecting 2-4 days’ worth of routine logs. This gives us a better understanding of what your family’s lifestyle is, your baby’s current routine and the positive changes that can be made.

  • We then sit down for an hour or more and discuss your child and sleep goals in detail. 

  • Based on the discussion, your baby’s age and your family’s lifestyle, we will build a routine that works for all of you. 

  • We will then decide on the best approach for you based on your child’s sleep problem and put together a gentle sleep training plan. The method used will always involve being with your infant at all times until they fall asleep. 

  • We will then provide you with the necessary sleep coaching support to guide you through the programme, making tweaks to the routine as and when needed. 

MAKE EVERY NIGHT STRESS FREE WITH OUR SLEEP TRAINING PROGRAMME

If you feel you are ready to begin a gentle sleep training programme for your baby or toddler, all you have to do is contact The Daddy Sleep Consultant or book a free initial consultation today to see if you would like to work with us.

Read more about the families we’ve helped in our Google or Facebook reviews.

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© The Daddy Sleep Consultant® 2022

Images by Estelle Thompson Photography

Company Name: The Daddy Sleep Consultant Ltd

Company Number: 13226982

2 Lakeview Stables/St. Clere, Sevenoaks TN15 6NL

chris@thedaddysleepconsultant.com