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Sleep training methods: 4 different strategies to try

Welcome to my most requested blog post where I break down each of the 4 main sleep training methods! If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve heard all about sleep training. You might have people suggesting to you that you give it a try. Or you might have people telling you that you shouldn’t sleep train at all. When it comes to motherhood and sleep training, things can get confusing and overwhelming fast!

My goal with this post is not to convince you to sleep train. You probably have enough unsolicited parenting advice in your life already. Instead, I want to provide you with information so that you can make the decision that is right for your family. Not every family needs to sleep train and that’s okay! But if you’re curious, this is a good place to start.

In this blog post, I’ll share: 

  • Why you might decide to sleep train

  • What the purpose of sleep training is

  • 4 sleep training methods

  • Pros and cons of each method

  • Why you need more than just a sleep training method to be successful

Why make the decision to sleep train?

Most families end up deciding to sleep train because they know that their current sleep strategies are unsustainable. They may be rocking spending 30-60 minutes rocking their child to sleep, only for the baby to wake up again an hour later and start the process all over again. Some families have been bedsharing (either planned or just out of desperation for some rest) and they want to start moving away from that. Or maybe mom needs to nurse the child before they can fall asleep and this burden that only mom can shoulder is becoming too heavy. In some cases, families may not feel like they are at the end of their rope but simply want to cultivate independent sleep skills. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for wanting to make a sleep change. 

If you are experiencing the following sleep struggles, it may be time to consider sleep training:

  • Frequent or prolonged night wakings

  • Taking longer and longer to put your child to sleep

  • Short naps that your baby wakes up crabby from

  • Early morning wake ups that leave the whole family exhausted

  • Difficulty transferring an asleep baby into their own sleep space

  • Your child, yourself, and your family as a whole is not getting the rest they need to thrive

What is the purpose of sleep training?

Simply put, sleep training is just teaching your child to fall asleep in a new way. Most often, this means working towards them learning to go into their sleep space fully awake so that they can learn to regulate their own sleep. But sometimes it may even mean teaching your baby to accept dad’s help to sleep instead of just mom’s. Or to accept rocking to sleep instead of needing a feeding each time your baby wakes up in the night. It can mean different things to different people. But for the purposes of this post, we will assume that sleep training is specifically teaching your child to fall asleep without any outside help.

Speaking of, what is the point? Why does sleep training help with the above scenarios? Let’s dive into a little baby sleep science below to help you understand.

After the newborn phase is over, your baby’s sleep cycles look very similar to adult sleep cycles. Adult sleep cycles are longer (about 90 minutes) while your baby’s sleep cycles are shorter (about 45 minutes) but they are composed of the same 5 stages: Lightest sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, deepest sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. They will cycle through these stages on a loop. However, when they are ending one sleep cycle and transitioning into the next one, there is a potential that they will partially or fully wake up.

We all go through these brief wakings overnight. It’s a survival mechanism. We quickly scan our surroundings and if all looks good and safe, we settle back to sleep. But if your baby scans their surroundings and realizes they are alone when their last memory was of you holding them, they will not feel safe and they will not be able to fall back asleep without you.

These wakings are normal and natural but they can be very disruptive for everyone- especially if your child needs help to fall back asleep. Sleep training won’t get rid of these brief wakings but it will make them quicker and seamless if your child is practiced at falling asleep on their own! This is a way of handing them the baton of sleep so that they can regulate it themselves instead of needing to wait for your help to settle back to sleep.

4 main sleep training methods

During sleep training, your goal will be to put your baby down fully awake at sleep time. Obviously, if this is unusual for your baby, they are going to have some feelings about this change. The various sleep training methods are your roadmap to responding to your baby and offering comfort without doing the work for them and assisting them to sleep. Let’s break down the 4 main strategies below:


This method is ideal for younger babies. Once you pass that 7-9 month mark, this method can become a little overstimulating, though. 

With this method, you would lay your baby down awake in their crib and then step away (while still in the room) to observe how they respond. If they start to cry, you can go over to the crib and offer crib-side soothing. If the soothing doesn’t seem to help, then you move to the next step of picking your baby up and holding them until they settle. It’s important here that you don’t hold them until asleep or drowsy, just until their crying settles. Once settled, place back down awake in the crib and repeat the process as needed.


This is another great hands-on method that starts to work best around the 7-9 month mark and this method can be effective for many years to come- even older kiddos! 

With this method you would lay your child down or tuck them into bed and then sit next to them as they fall asleep. Once they are asleep you would creep out of the room. If they wake again, you resume your position and repeat the process. Each night you move a little further from their crib or bed until you are out of the room as they fall asleep. 


This method is a good option for parents who are comfortable giving a bit more space but still want to be active participants in the process. This method can work for babies all the way up to older kiddos too.

With this method you would lay your child down or tuck them into bed and then say goodnight and leave. If they start to cry, you will set a timer and then wait until that timer runs out before you head back into the room. The length of the timer will vary based on your comfort level and your child’s needs. When the timer runs out, you will return to their room for a check to offer brief comfort and reassurance before leaving again and waiting again. 

EXTINCTION (also known as CIO)

This final method is one that I don’t use much when I work with families- mainly because families who come to me want to take a more hands-on approach. However, this is a valid option as long as you feel comfortable with it.

With this method you would lay your child down or tuck them into bed and then say goodnight and leave. If using try extinction, you will not return to the room until it’s time for a scheduled feed or until morning. This is the most direct approach to sleep training.

Pros and cons of the different methods

While each of these methods are valid options, that doesn’t mean they will all be the right fit for every family. 

For example, if you are looking for an option that is more direct and will produce quicker results, you’re best off going with Interval Checks or Extinction. The downside with these methods is that they are less hands on and some families don’t feel comfortable with that.

If you’re looking for an option that allows you to be more involved and present, then Pick Up/Put Down or The Chair Method would probably be a better fit. These methods do take longer to see results though so you’d need to be prepared for slower progress.

It’s also important to note that some families want to be in the room with the more hands-on methods but then may end up discovering that these methods frustrate their child more and actually lead to more crying than if they were to choose a more direct method. In this respect, it’s okay to start with a method that involves more support but then switch to one that requires less support if necessary. We don’t want to flip flop back and forth a bunch but initially you may need to feel out what the right fit is for your unique situation.

Why a sleep training method alone is not enough

If you’ve ever heard someone express to you that they tried sleep training but it didn’t work, it’s likely because they were missing something important. Sleep training is multi-faceted and about more than just a method. Baby sleep is kind of like a big puzzle and you need all the various pieces to complete the beautiful picture. These pieces include things like: sleep environment, nap scheduling, bedtime and naptime routines, timing of bedtime, a plan for handling night wakings and feedings, consistency, follow through, patience, and most importantly confidence that what you are doing will work so you can see the process to completion!

Looking for support as you sleep train your little one?

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed right now, please know that it’s completely normal to feel this way! Many families find that they benefit significantly from working with a professional to sleep train. When you work with me, you not only get the sleep plan you know you need, but you also receive the honest advice, open communication, and daily support needed to see the plan through to independent sleep. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, let’s chat!


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