If you are reading this, you are currently sleep deprived and desperate for some relief. I know this, because I have been you. I am here to help.
When my son was roughly five months old, I was a zombie disaster. To make matters worse, we have a psychotic cat who likes to come in and out of the cat door, stomping on our faces throughout the night for his feline pleasure. One night (during what I used to refer to as my “random naps” instead of night sleep) I heard a louder than usual noise coming from the cat door. I jumped out of bed and ran into my kitchen. Followed by my own panic screams, I ran back to the bedroom and yelled in my husbands face “THERE’S A MONKEY IN THE KITCHEN!!!!!!!!!” I was so nonsensically tired, I thought there was an actual monkey in my house. I never thought to question how a monkey could have found it’s way into my home in Asheville, NC. I just assumed that of course, that’s what was happening (to be fair, it was actually a raccoon, but that is a story for another time). That monkey/raccoon helped me to realize that for sanity's sake and the well being of my family...we had to sleep train.
Now, sleep training isn't for everyone. You need to figure out what is right for your family. It is also important to note that below is merely research I have done throughout my own sleep training exploration. I am no expert, but I am happy to share my findings!
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You have survived the newborn phase. First of all, congratulations! You made it through a total blur of a time! Hopefully, these tips will help you find your way into a happy, restful future. At four months, your baby will experience what could be considered a sleep regression. Yet, it is not really a regression at all. This is the point where you need to decide how you will tackle sleeping. In sleep training, even the most gentle of methods are not for the faint of heart. Universal things that helped us:
~Make a plan and be on the same page! If that page is no sleep training, that’s okay as long as the whole family is on the same page. If the plan is to use the extinction sleep training method, then make sure you and your sleep training partner (and any caretakers) are on the same page in carrying out the plan. Personally, we used the 3 Day Sleep Solution. In roughly three nights, my son was pretty much sleep trained.
~Follow wake times. Wake times refer to the amount of time your baby should be awake between naps/bed. I cannot recommend this enough - it was a game changer for us and solved half the battle. One we started following age appropriate wake times, this put us on a solid plan to success. Base wake times on when you want your child to wake up. For example, if you want your baby to wake up at 7 am, all naps and bed should be based on this time.
~Establish a routine. We started with bedtime. Establishing a routine helps signal to the baby what they should expect to happen next. It may initially be met with some protest crying, but this usually gets better with consistency. Our routine consists of bath time, and only use soap every other day to prevent skin drying. From there, we put on a fresh diaper, PJs and a sleep sack while singing a lullaby. Then read a few books, nurse/bottle, and put down. The nap version of this is a fresh diaper, sleep sack, lullaby and put down. A sleep sack is a game changer and probably the only healthy sleepy crutch I can think of. We recommend these due to their breathability, comfort, and of course organic and flame retardant material.
~Consistency is key! This is arguably the most important rule. Whatever you do, make sure you do it consistently. Whatever sleep process you choose, results will not be instantaneous. They may take days, weeks, and have steps forward and steps back. Stay the course and be consistent. However, be prepared for non-consistency on behalf of your baby. Improvement may not be linear. You will have days that feel like day one all over again. Depending on the method you use, you may also see a burst (a day or two after about one to two weeks where, it feels like you are at square one) which is a final protest.
Below are some researched options that could work for your family:
Traditional sleep training options include:
The Ferber method: This method includes letting baby learn to self soothe in increments of time that increase as the sleep training progresses. For example, leave the baby for five minutes and return to soothe, then increase to ten minutes and so on.
- Relatively fast method that takes 1-2 weeks
- Middle of the road more gentle option that allows parental intervention and comforting
- Parental intervention can excite or stimulate the baby which can make the training ineffective for some babies
- Involves some crying which not all parents are comfortable with
- Can take longer than the average 1-2 weeks depending on baby
Extinction: The Extinction approach involves the parent not re-entering the room once the baby is placed down for sleep (until the desired wake time).
Pros: Arguably the fastest method - average takes 3 days
Cons: Least gentle, hardest on the parents (for obvious reasons!).
The 3 Day Sleep Solution
: A combination of Ferber and Extinction, this involves three days of following a very strict schedule based off of wake times. For night sleep, you can go in and soothe after an hour of crying. The crying usually decreases every night until it ultimately ends after night three.
Pros: The plan is very simply spelled out for the parent and goal is generally reached rather fast (hence the title)
- Can be restrictive to your life outside of baby (work schedule, social life, etc).
- Less gentle with more crying
Gentle Sleep Training Options:
Sleep Lady Shuffle: In this method, the parent puts their baby down to sleep while still fully awake. The parent then stays in the room and offers encouragement through verbal reassurance and gentle touch, slowly moving further and further away from the crib and towards the door, then into the hall, then away all together.
A variation of this method uses the bedside bassinet or a travel crib that starts out in your room and slowly is first moved away from the bed, and then into another room.
- Gentle sleep training method that allows your baby to feel reassured
- More effective on younger babies
- Parental presence can be very upsetting and stimulating for some babies so this method may not work
- Can take very long - up to a month
Pick Up Put Down:
In this method, the parent puts their baby down to sleep while still fully awake. They then leave the room. If the baby cries, they return to the room to very briefly pick the baby, comfort it and put it back down and repeat as needed.
- Most gentle sleep training method that allows your baby to feel reassured at each cry
- More effective on younger babies
- Parental presence/pick up can be very upsetting and stimulating for some babies so this method may not work
- Can take very long - up to two months
Note: Although these are “gentle” methods they do still involve some crying.
Helpful principles if you move forward with any sleep training journey:
-One nap at a time. If one nap doesn’t go well, or one night of sleep is a disaster just remember sometimes this happens even if you do everything “right” or even if you are not sleep training at all.
-Find a support system! Whether it’s a Facebook group of like minded-moms, a sleep consultant, a friend group text, find someone who can talk you through the process.
-Take breaks for sickness, do not take breaks for leaps and/or teething. Leaps are like growth spurts... but for the mind. They can take weeks to get through, but sleep training should actually help normalize leaps. Taking breaks for leaps leads to regressions. The general rule of thumb is that it takes three days to create new habits or break old ones.
It is important to note, that sleep training is not for everyone. Not because it is hard, but because it is simply not part of the journey for some families. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a restful night sleep as a family! Practicing safe co-sleeping (through bed or room sharing) can be a great experience for all. We highly recommend the organic lounger for bed-sharing or safe co-sleeping bassinet for room sharing. Many families use the lounger or bassinet for the fourth-trimester until the four month sleep regression hits.
Whatever you should choose, remember: you are the parent. You know what is best for your child. Whether that is one of the methods listed above or seeing monkeys in your kitchen, this community of parents is here for you! And remember: There's always wine!
Readers we ask you:
- Was there a sleep training method that worked best for you and your family?
- Do you have any (dare I ask) funny sleep related stories/nightmares?
- Any tips for spouses possibly less on board with the whole sleep training process?
Kari is a mother of two boys residing in Asheville, North Carolina. She loves putting her literature degree to good use by devouring novels and editing web content. When she isn’t parenting or using her brain, Kari enjoys mindlessly streaming television shows with a nice cold beer (or three).
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