Sleep Training Guide

Sleep plays a crucial role in your baby’s healthy development. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to help your baby get the best sleep possible, including providing a safe sleeping environment, establishing consistent bedtime routines, and helping your baby develop good sleep habits. Read on to learn about sleep training, how to start sleep training, and what sleep training methods might be best for you and your baby.

What Is Sleep Training?

Sleep training is the process of teaching your little one to soothe himself so he can go to sleep around certain routine times. The process of sleep training also involves helping your baby learn how to fall back to sleep on his own if he wakes up in the middle of the night—provided he isn’t sick, and doesn’t need to be fed or have his diaper changed. It’s helpful to know that sleep training starts with recognizing your baby’s natural sleep patterns and creating a regular routine around bedtime.

How to Start Sleep Training

Your baby will function best with a reasonably regular schedule and dependable routine for naps and nighttime sleep. Here are some tips on how to start sleep training:

  • Consistently follow a calming sleep time routine. Creating a good foundation for sleep training involves doing certain things in a certain order, which eventually becomes predictable to your baby. Try to begin your routine at the same time every day. It could include, for instance, giving your little one a bath, if that’s soothing for him; dimming the nursery lights; and soft singing, reading, or cuddling. Start doing these things each night before your little one is overly tired.

  • Once your baby is drowsy, but still awake, put him in his crib. This allows him to associate the crib with the relaxing feeling of falling asleep. Make sure you follow the safe sleep guidelines by putting your baby down on his back, using only a fitted sheet on the mattress, and keeping the crib free of loose bedding and blankets, bumpers, pillows, and toys. The only thing that should be in the crib is a firm mattress covered in a fitted sheet.

  • Give your baby a little time to settle down. After you leave the room, your baby may fuss or cry a bit. Give your baby a few minutes to calm down on his own, but if he keeps crying, check on him, give him some soothing words, and leave the room again. The comfort of your presence might be all he needs to fall asleep.

  • Consider offering a pacifier. A pacifier may help soothe and calm your baby, which helps him drift off to sleep. If you give your little one a pacifier, make sure it doesn't have any sort of cord or string attached.

  • Keep things calm at night. In the time before bed, or during nighttime feeds or diaper changes, keep the lights dim, use gentle and slow movements, and speak softly. Avoid screen time or even background television noise around your little one at this time.

  • Share a room in the early months of life. In the first few months, it’s safest to keep your baby in the same room as you, but in his own bassinet or crib. This helps reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The sleep clothing he wears should keep him warm but not too hot.

  • Change sleep times gradually. If your little one is typically going to bed at 10 p.m. and you want to change his bedtime to 8 p.m., plan on taking at least several days to gradually make this transition. Consider changing his bedtime by, for example, 20- to 30-minute intervals per night. Plus, whenever you make a change in your baby’s sleep schedule, take a few days to observe and figure out whether the change is successful or not. If you determine things aren’t working well, then consider adjusting the sleep times again. If the change is successful, your little one will probably be sleeping well during the new times and be alert and happy during waking times.

When to Start Sleep Training

Usually when your little one is around 4 to 6 months old, you’ll start to see your baby’s sleep patterns emerge. He’ll slowly begin to learn to soothe himself to sleep when you put him to bed or if he wakes up in the night and doesn’t need to eat or have his diaper changed. This stage might be a good time to start sleep training. In the early weeks and months of your baby’s life, it’s important for you to recognize and cater to your baby’s sleep patterns rather than expect your baby to sleep according to your schedule. Creating a bedtime routine around your baby’s sleep rhythms when he’s an infant will mean that when your little one is older, and sleeping for longer intervals, it might be easier to start making adjustments to sleep times with more formal sleep training.

Which Sleep Training Method Is Best?

There are a number of different sleep training methods. When you’re deciding which method may be right for you and your little one, consider whether or not you’re comfortable with letting your baby cry it out and for how long you feel it’s OK for her to cry. Although your baby’s healthcare provider can offer personalized advice, here are some of the fundamental sleep training methods:

Sleep Associations

This is a gentle sleep training method. With this one, your baby will start to associate her crib with the good feelings of falling asleep. Put your baby in the crib while she’s sleepy, but still awake, and then check on her at intervals of about 5 to 10 minutes if she cries. If she does cry, give her gentle pats, but don’t pick her up.

  • Pros: It’s an easy method to use and helps establish good sleep habits early in life. With this method, you can feel more comfortable knowing your baby won’t cry to the point of being very distressed because you’ll be there to help calm her before she gets to that point.

  • Cons: Your baby may find it difficult to settle if she’s anywhere other than her crib, as she’ll associate sleep with that place. Your baby may come to expect regular visits from you and get upset if you check on her fewer times.

Cry It Out

This method involves not going in to soothe your crying baby unless it’s an emergency.

  • Pros: Your baby will likely fall asleep eventually. When she gets closer to the 1 year mark, if you’re giving her less attention at bedtimes when she cries, she’ll learn to stop anticipating you’ll come when she cries, and the chances of her soothing herself will increase.

  • Cons: If your baby cries for too long, she may become too distressed to sleep. You might also find it can be very stressful to hear your baby cry for a long time, and the noise can be hard to tolerate.

Room Sharing

With this method, your baby sleeps in the same room as you, but in a separate crib with a crib mattress that’s suitable for babies.

  • Pros: Room sharing allows you to be closer to your baby and may make night feedings easier.

  • Cons: You may disturb or wake your baby if you go to bed at a different time, and your own sleep may be interrupted frequently.

Bed Sharing

When your child is at least 1 year old, you could try this method, which involves your toddler sleeping in the same bed as you. Remember, though, that for the first 12 months of your little one’s life, bed sharing is not recommended, as it can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), suffocation, and other accidents.

Sleep Training and Naps

Naptime can also play a role in sleep training because your baby’s daytime naps can have an impact on the quality of his nighttime sleep. It’s a good idea to create a routine around naps as well. Here are a few things to keep in mind about your baby’s naps:

  • In the first few months, you’ll become familiar with what times your baby typically wants a nap because your little one will get drowsy or possibly a little fussy as he tires. If you notice these signs, let your baby nap.

  • Allow your little one to nap for as long as he wants unless he has a hard time falling asleep at night. If you find that your baby doesn’t sleep well at night, but takes long naps in the daytime, talk to your baby’s healthcare provider about waking him up a bit earlier during a nap so he’s more tired at night.

  • Keep things bright during the day. This will help your baby’s internal clock learn the difference between daytime and nighttime sleeps.

  • In the day, have your baby nap in a more active area of your home that might have background noise.

  • Be sure that the last nap of the day isn’t too close to nighttime sleep time, to make sure your little one is tired by bedtime. Remember that as your baby gets older, he’ll need less sleep. When he’s about 9 months old, you could try eliminating the late afternoon nap; if that works, bedtime can be brought forward a little.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The amount of sleep needed can differ from baby to baby and from age to age. Although your baby’s sleep requirements are unique, typically, the amount of sleep your baby needs will slowly decrease as she gets older. Letting your baby sleep according to her own biological sleep rhythms is probably more important than targeting specific sleep amounts. You’ll notice that there will be times throughout the day in which your baby is a little drowsy. Let your baby snooze a bit during these times, and the quality of her sleep will be better. Although your baby may need a little more or a little less snooze time, here are some average total sleep amounts for babies in their first year:

  • Newborns. At least 16 hours in a 24-hour period. A newborn doesn't know the difference between day and night and will probably sleep for shorter intervals—about 2 to 3 hours at a time—for the first few weeks, because she’ll need to be fed and changed.

  • 4-month-old babies. From about 4 months on most babies need 2 to 3 naps a day, as well as longer stretches of sleep at night. The total amount might be slightly less than 16 hours in a 24-hour period. The first two naps of the day are usually around mid-morning and then at midday, with many babies needing another in the late afternoon. In the first 6 months, most babies don’t sleep for longer than 5 to 6 hours as their longest sleep of the night. These night sleep times will gradually increase with time.

  • 6-month-old babies. Just over 14 hours per day. When your little one reaches about 9 months old, try to cut out the late afternoon nap, if she’s been taking one. This way, she’ll be ready for bedtime a little earlier than she was before. By the time she’s around 8 months old, her nighttime sleep might last about 10 to 12 hours without her waking up for a feeding.

  • 12-month-old babies. Just under 14 hours per day. Around this time, your baby may taper off from taking a morning nap. If this happens, you can consider moving her bedtime about 20 or 30 minutes earlier. Once your baby is about 15 months old, there’s about a 50 percent chance that she will only need 1 nap a day.

Should You Let Your Baby Cry It Out?

Crying is how your little one communicates her needs and wants. Within the first few weeks of your baby’s life, you’ll begin to differentiate one kind of cry from another. For example, you’ll come to recognize the differences between the “I’m a little stressed” cry, the “I’m hungry” cry, and a colicky cry. In the early weeks and months, try to avoid letting your baby cry for long periods if she wakes up during the night or from a nap. To help soothe your baby, try singing quietly, rocking her gently, keeping the lights dim if it’s nighttime, or playing soft music. If needed, pick her up for about 5 or 10 minutes, and then put her back in her crib. In these early months, by reducing her discomfort however you can, you can help her get more and better sleep. Plus, you help her form good associations with the feeling of falling asleep. Keep in mind that it’s not unusual if your baby cries when you first leave her bedroom. Your baby may be doing this to unwind or let off some steam after a day full of stimulation. In some cases, it can actually be helpful to give your baby a minute or two to cry a little before checking on her, as she may just need some time to process all the new experiences she’s had. After the newborn stage, there are times when it’s OK to let your baby cry a bit longer until she falls asleep. This helps her learn to soothe herself rather than depend upon you to rush to her side. She’s also learning that she’s loved and that you haven’t abandoned her.

Things That Can Cause Sleep Habit Problems

It’s not always easy to create the “perfect” schedule or instill optimal sleep habits. Keeping these points in mind may help you avoid accidentally undermining all the sleep training you’ve been doing:

  • Don’t let your baby fall asleep while you’re rocking or holding her. Put your baby in her bed before she falls asleep; otherwise, she will likely become dependent upon being held or rocked to fall asleep.

  • Try not to let your baby fall asleep in your bed. This increases the risk of suffocation and SIDS. Plus, it inhibits your baby’s ability to learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on her own in her own bed.

  • Don’t let your baby fall asleep while feeding. Dropping off to sleep with a bottle of breast milk or formula in her mouth can cause tooth decay that can affect baby teeth as well as permanent teeth. It also increases the risk of ear infections. If your baby falls asleep while feeding, she can become dependent upon this practice and not be able to soothe herself to sleep otherwise.

Temporary Sleep Disruptors

No matter how well your sleep training is going, your baby won’t be able to fall or stay asleep if she needs her diaper changed, is hungry, is too hot or cold, or is in any way uncomfortable. Plus, there are certain periods in your baby’s life in which her sleep patterns will change simply because of developmental changes. Here are some other things to keep in mind that might be causing occasional sleep difficulties for your little one:

  • Illness or pain. An ear infection, colic, or maybe teething pain will certainly cause disruptions in your baby’s sleep. If you think your baby may be sick or in pain, talk to your baby’s healthcare provider for guidance on what you can do to help reduce the discomfort. These times will pass and your baby can relearn how to soothe herself back to sleep.

  • Your baby’s temperament. Your baby may simply be sensitive to stimulation like noise or activity, or she might be a little harder to calm down. Changes in your parenting style may help, or maybe just a bit of extra patience could do the trick. Your baby’s healthcare provider can help you figure out what to do, or you might be interested in finding counseling or a support group with other parents in a similar situation.

  • Separation anxiety. Around the time your baby is 6 to 8 months old, her nighttime sleep might be affected by separation anxiety, a normal phase in your child’s emotional development. She’ll realize that you’re gone, but she hasn’t yet learned that you’ll return. This will cause distress, but she’ll eventually be able to remember and rely on past experience that you’ll return. The best way to manage it is with consistency and love. Separation anxiety usually starts to pass around the time your little one turns 2 years old. Here are some ways to help relieve separation anxiety:

  • Let your little one know when you have to be away. Even if she’s just a baby, tell her “I’ll be right back” if you have to leave the room for a minute.

  • If you leave your little one with a babysitter, try to make sure it’s a babysitter your baby is used to. If you need to use a new babysitter, have this person come over when your baby is awake (and while you’re still home) and let your baby become familiar with her. Try to create a diversion for your baby when you have to leave. For example, hand your baby a toy or have the babysitter engage your baby in a game. Then clearly say goodbye and leave quickly.

FAQs at a Glance

Try not to let your newborn baby cry for prolonged periods. When he’s a little older, it’s OK to let him cry for about five minutes or a bit more—unless it’s an emergency situation, such as if he’s sick.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to sleep training, don’t be hard on yourself if things aren’t always perfect. There will be times when your baby finds it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. What you can do is try to be consistent and create routines. Changing sleeping times and habits is a gradual process, so be patient with your baby and with yourself. Make sure your baby is in a clean diaper before putting her to bed to help her get the best sleep. Turn those diapers into rewards and savings today. Just download the Pampers Club app to start!

How many diapers has your baby used?

Swipe to select your baby's age:

Please select your baby's age: