The Secret To Gentle Sleep Training: Plus 5 Sleep Tips You Need Today

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6 minute read

Like thousands of other new parents, you’re probably desperate to get a good night’s sleep… But sleep-filled nights may seem like a pipe-dream when your little one needs to be rocked to sleep or wakes up in the middle of the night crying for a bottle. 

You want your child to go to sleep through the night — in their own bed — and wake up rested in the morning. And if your baby is over 4 or 5 months old, they can and should be able to sleep on their own through the night. 

But how do you get from point A to point B and enjoy blissful nights of uninterrupted sleep? Here’s where you learn the secret to gentle sleep training success. Plus you’ll learn 5 sleep tips you can start using TODAY! 

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Benefits Of Baby Sleep

You know how important sleep is for YOUR health. And your baby is no different! There’s a reason that your newborn needs to sleep all hours of the day and night. Sleep has some important benefits for your little one.

Most importantly — sleep helps your baby physically develop (Nature & Science of Sleep). This includes helping their brains mature so that they can process memories better (Infant & Child Development Journal). 

And when your baby gets better quality sleep with less disruptions — think longer stretches at night — this has a direct effect on your baby’s cognitive development and can even lead to higher IQ scores (Early Human Development Journal). 

Plus, studies have found that babies who sleep more at night are more approachable, less distractible, and more adaptable (Early Human Development Journal). Pretty much every parent’s dream! 

How to Help Your Baby Sleep: Gentle Sleep Training

But even if you know the importance of sleep for your baby…Helping them get longer stretches of better-quality sleep can sometimes feel like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow…

How do you actually help them get there? 

By helping your baby learn how to fall asleep independently! This means your baby can fall asleep on their own when it’s time for a nap or bedtime. And they can also fall back asleep independently when they wake in the middle of the night. 

This process of helping your little one sleep on their own is often referred to as “sleep training.” 

Just hearing those two words may cause a bunch of different emotions to well up within you. 

You may be anxious about sleep training because you don’t want to let your baby “cry it out.” Or you may be worried that sleep training will actually have negative effects on your little one — that they’ll feel abandoned and not know who to trust. 

And you may wonder…Does sleep training even work? I had the exact same questions with my kids. Let’s take a look at what the research says. 

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Does Sleep Training Work? 

The good news is…sleep training works! A review of 52 different sleep training techniques concluded that sleep training has positive results for babies (American Academy of Sleep Medicine). 

Most children will respond to sleep training techniques and efforts…leading to more nighttime sleep! This leads to many benefits for your baby’s — and your entire family! — well-being. Just what the doctor ordered! 

For me, I wanted my kiddos to learn how to be successful sleepers, but I didn’t want to impact their feelings of security or attachment. Thankfully, studies have shown that sleep training doesn’t harm your little one’s attachment (American Family Physician). 

It’s possible for your baby to be an independent sleeper AND feel secure that you are always there for them when they need you. That’s a win-win in my book.

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How Long Does Sleep Training Take? 

If you’re ready to give sleep training a try, most likely the first question on your mind is… “How long does sleep training take?”

Well, this all depends on your baby, your unique family situation, and the method you choose to help your baby learn how to sleep. 

Typically it takes parents 3-4 days to help their baby adjust to sleeping on their own. But it could take up to 2 weeks. It’s important to wait to sleep train until you and your partner have the capacity to really focus on helping your baby adjust to the techniques over a series of days. 

Patience is key and you won’t want to start sleep training if you have visitors in town, a calendar full of plans, a big project at work, or a major event taking place like a wedding. Try to have about a week of time where you’ll be open and prepared for disruptions as you help your little one learn to sleep. 

When to Start Sleep Training

There’s no “perfect” time to start sleep training and it’s important to consider your child and family’s unique needs! Most parents usually start sleep training when their baby becomes 4-6 months old (Dr. Craig Canapari).

Having the ability to sleep through the night is one of the great baby milestones we all celebrate!

But depending on your baby, you may want to start sooner or later. 

You can also start setting your baby up for success — even from birth! — by helping them develop good sleep habits. Let’s take a look at the 5 key sleep training tips that your little one will need to be a successful independent sleeper. 

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How to Help Get Your Baby to Sleep — 5 Sleep Training Tips

There are TONS of different sleep training methods and advice when it comes to helping your baby learn how to sleep on their own. But the good news is that all babies can benefit from a foundation of healthy sleep habits. 

Here are our top 5 sleep training tips to help you create a solid foundation for whichever sleep training method you choose for your family: 

1. Aim For A Consistent Bedtime

A good bedtime window for most babies is between 7-8 p.m. (Dr. Craig Canapari). But depending on your child’s age and activity that day, they may prefer a slightly earlier or later bedtime. The key is to try to keep their bedtime as consistent as possible because babies thrive on routine! As Dr. Craig Canapri says, the best time to start a consistent bedtime routine with your baby is the day you bring them home. The second best time is now.

2. Create A Gentle And Loving Bedtime Routine

This doesn’t have to be anything complicated! Bedtime routines should be short and simple, typically lasting between 30-60 minutes. Some bedtime elements include: bath, diaper, pajamas, feeding, song, bedtime story, sleep-sack/swaddle, massage, sound machine, bed. 

Choose which elements work best for you and your family! You do not need them all. Bedtime should include enjoyable, positive activities like stories and songs — so that your baby looks forward to it! — with the last step being laying your child down to sleep. 

And just like having a consistent bedtime, performing the bedtime routine elements in the same order — each and every day — will help your little one to know what to expect next. 

3. Create A Positive Sleep Environment

If your baby has been sleeping in your room or in other parts of the house, it may be a bit of an adjustment for them to get used to sleeping in their own room. That’s why I always encourage parents to thoughtfully consider their sleep arrangement before they bring baby home from the hospital.

But helping your baby to be comfortable in their room is an important step to sleep success. Focus on spending time during the day associating their room with positive activities. 

And when it comes to bedtime, always try to create an environment that’s conducive to sleep. That means making it dark, cool, and using a sound machine if your baby likes white noise. 

4. Teach Your Baby To Self-Soothe

All your efforts to get your baby to sleep throughout the night may be for naught if your baby doesn’t know how to self-soothe. Self-soothing is the key to helping your little one fall asleep independently.

Identify unhelpful “sleep props” like: nursing/bottle feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, holding to sleep, laying with them to fall asleep. These will actually prevent your baby from falling to sleep on their own. 

Instead of relying on sleep props, aim to put your baby down to bed while they’re drowsy, but awake! Give them the time to learn to fall asleep on their own without intervening. 

5. Eliminate Nighttime Feedings

When you have a newborn, a dream feed can help you get more sleep and your baby get the food they need. But, by 4 to 5 months, they don’t really need the night feed any more. Midnight snacks can lead to your baby not being as hungry during the day. That’s why it’s important to shift nighttime feedings to daytime feedings. 

By making sure your baby is getting full feeds and taking in all the calories they need during the day, their tummy will be nice and full at night. This will lead to longer periods of interrupted sleep at night!

If your little one is still eating at night, start with night weaning process first and then begin your gentle sleep training.

Is There A Time Sleep Training Isn’t Okay, Even If It’s Gentle?

If your baby has colic, a fever or teething, sleep training is not likely to work even if you are using a consistent bedtime routine and a gentle sleep training method. Wait until they get through the challenge and then try again. If you are unsure, you can always ask your pediatrician if they feel your baby is ready. And have no fear, sometimes your baby may need extra snuggles at bedtime because they are going through a leap, or not feeling well. That won’t ruin all the gentle sleep training you’ve done. If your baby seems to lose their sleep skills, a day or two of consistently returning to your bedtime routine and bedtime boundaries should get you back on track.

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How To Find The Right Sleep Training Method

These 5 sleep tips will help lay a solid foundation for any of the sleep training methods out there. There’s no perfect way to sleep train, but most parents try out one of the top 4 sleep training methods:

It’s helpful to think about your baby’s unique needs, your family dynamics, and environment when choosing a sleep training method. 

Struggling To Sleep Train?

Even after trying out these 5 sleep tips or one of these popular sleep training methods, your baby may still be having a hard time sleeping on their own. Be patient and try to be as consistent as possible! 

It may seem like things get worse before they get better…But don’t give up! Usually these 5 tips will help your baby to start sleeping better in a week’s worth of time. It can just take a little while for your baby to get the hang of it. 

That being said — it’s important to trust your intuition. You know your baby’s needs best! For extra support, make sure to check out Dr. Craig Canapari’s blog. As the director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, he has tons of great advice for tackling your sleep troubles. 

I also love his book: It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Train to help stop nighttime waking’s, bedtime battles, and pre-dawn wake-up calls. This book is especially helpful if you have kids that are a bit older and need help learning how to sleep. It helped me find a gentle way to sleep train or sleep coach my children, and we were all happier because of it. Here’s to a simple path through gently sleep training your baby!