Wondering when your baby will start sleeping through the night? Overwhelmed by all the various “sleep training” methods you’ve heard about, and don’t know where to start? In this post we’ll break down the basics for you.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “by about three months of age, most babies sleep six to eight hours through the night with no disruption,” and “by about eight months old, [his nighttime sleep] should last from ten to twelve hours.” Layering in a dose of reality though (just ask your parent friends), many babies don’t sleep through the night consistently until a year or even older.
Don’t have one of those magical babies who naturally sleeps through the night? 🙂 The key is teaching him how to fall asleep independently, so he can not only fall asleep on his own, but also self-soothe and put himself back to sleep when he inevitably wakes up in the middle of the night (as all people do). Here are some quick tips on setting your baby up for sweet sleep success:
- Establish a regular bedtime (not too late, when he’ll already be cranky) and enforce a peaceful, consistent bedtime routine (e.g., bath, quiet book, then bed)
- To help your child learn to fall asleep independently (which many experts say is key to avoiding sleep problems later), put your baby to bed when “drowsy but awake.” Do your best to avoid crutches like nursing or rocking him to sleep (at least on a consistent basis)
- Consider a sleep aid (e.g. light/sound soother, pacifier, or lovey) to help your baby learn to self-soothe
- If your child’s natural sleep habits aren’t working for your family, you can consider “sleep training” him around age 4-6 months. Below is a high-level summary of the various methods — try whichever seems most consistent with your personal parenting philosophy.
- No matter what approach you try, the most important thing is to BE CONSISTENT: “just about all the techniques work, so pick one you are comfortable with and stick with it” (see NYT article). Also make sure that other caregivers (including nanny, grandparents, etc.) are also on board.
Overview of Sleep training methods
“Cry it out” (CIO), a.k.a. “Extinction” is the extreme version of CIO, where you place your baby in bed, close the door, and ignore all crying until wake-up time (unless baby is in physical distress). It’s remarkably effective, but most parents find it too emotionally grueling, and some find it cruel/undesirable for such a young child.
“Graduated extinction” or “Controlled crying,” promoted by Ferber and Mindell, is a less extreme form of CIO. Instead of ignoring crying entirely, it allows you to “check and console” (but not pick up) your child on a regular basis for just a few minutes at a time, at intervals that gradually increase in length, until your baby finally falls asleep on his own.
“Fading” methods, promoted by West of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight and Wright & Turgeon of The Happy Sleeper, provide sort of a middle ground between CIO and “no tears” methods. They instruct parents to provide a reassuring presence, but to diminish that presence over time and gradually shift responsibility for falling asleep from the parent to the child. There are two basic flavors of “fading”:
- “Camping out” entails initially sitting next to your baby crib and comforting him as needed until he falls asleep, then gradually moving halfway across the room, into the doorway, outside the door, etc. until he can finally fall asleep by himself
- “Timed check-ins” involve leaving the room, but returning at short, regular intervals (e.g. 5min.; unlike in “graduated extinction,” they don’t get longer over time) to reassure your baby as needed
“No tears” methods, promoted by Pantley and Sears, take the perspective that crying it out can cause long-term damage and seek other means to help baby learn to fall asleep on his own. Proponents of “no tears” methods instruct parents to prime baby for bed via comforting nighttime rituals, respond promptly to any crying, and provide as much comfort as needed until you’re able to put him back in bed (and repeat as needed) until he finally falls asleep. This is no doubt the gentlest approach to sleep training, but it’s also likely to take the longest.
Here are also some other top picks from our editors and our community for sleep aids (e.g. soothers/sound machines, loveys) to help your baby learn to sleep through the night.