Sleep Training - Choosing An Approach

There are so many sleep training methods out there and plenty of strong opinions regarding them. I remember reading a few different books when my oldest son was a newborn and feeling soooo overhwelmed after I was done. It seemed like everything I read was
contradicting, they often implied that if I didn't use their method I would have no success, and worse, if I used someone elses method I would, for one reason or another, be a bad parent. So what to do!

First off, get an idea of what you feel will work for you, your baby and your family. Think of what you feel comfortable doing and not doing. This is a really important step. If you end up doing something that you don't feel comfortable with you will very possibly end up either not liking yourself for doing it or end up giving up part way through the process. We don't want either of these situations. It is important that you make your own philosophy of sleep and sleep training (and parenting in general) that fits you. Not your neighbor, not your mother and certainly not a random person from a book or a website. You know what is best for you and your family.

This is by far the hardest step for me. It is something I am constantly thinking over. It has even changed a bit with my new baby. It may change over time with you. Don't underestimate the importance of this step.

I'm going to throw in two thoughts here that I find important. 1) The right way to have your children sleep and teach them to sleep depends on you, your child and the rest of your family. It is important that everyone I just mentioned is included, and that everyone I didn't mention isn't included. So, if your husband doesn't believe in CIO (cry it out) then you should probably think about exploring other options. Or if you don't believe children belong in the parent's bed but your husband does, you need to figure out a compromise for that too. 2) Whatever method you choose, make sure you allow your child to get adequate sleep (and hopefully you too). This is the end goal. If something you are doing is not letting this happen, some re-evaluation is in order.

Second, forget about what all those other people are saying. Block those voices (especially the ones that keep making you feel guilty!) out of your head. You are not a bad parent to want your child to sleep well. It is for the good of your child's health as well as yours. Remember, healthy sleep is important just like healthy food is important (see Benefits of Adequate Sleep). Say "No!" to junk sleep!

Next, educate yourself. I know this sounds clique, but education is power! The trick is to first figure out what your general philosphy is and then take bits and pieces from the books you read and people you talk to that fit this philosophy. If you don't start off with a general idea of what you want to do and what you feel good about doing you will be overwhelmed by all the information out there and end up going in circles. I'm saying this from experience :)  You need to have an idea of what you feel good about doing and then build upon that idea with all the new information you find. Don't be afraid to let your philosophy change, but also don't let it be so weak that you end up more confused than you were before you started educating yourself.

Let's look at some of the common sleep training approaches out there. I'm going to mention the most common sleep training approaches here real quickly: Non-CIo/Gentle Approaches and CIO (cry it out).  Let's go over some reasons you may choose either.

Non-CIO/Gentle Approaches/Middle Ground Approaches
  • you have a young baby
  • you don't feel comfortable with letting your child cry with or without you
  • You are trying to prevent sleep problems from happening (Important in my opinion)
  • your child has mild sleep problems
  • You cannot do CIO methods for health reasons (throwing up, bad reflux etc)
  • You feel comforable with this
  • Your child has severe sleep problems
  • You want faster results (not always the case but from what I've seen, it usually is)
  • You don't have the patience for non-cio techniques
I'm not going to go into the different sleep training approaches any more than that on this post. You can find more information about these in the in the Sleep Training Index and the post where I define (and link to) different sleep training methods. You can also find different approaches organized by book/expert in this post.

Lastly, choose your approach. Don't be afraid to change things around if you feel like what you are doing isn't right for you. At the same time, try hard not to jump from one thing to another.  Give baby a chance to get used to what you are doing. Consistency, when possible, is key. It is important to remember that whatever method you choose it will most likely be HARD to do. Do not confuse HARD to do with the WRONG thing to do.


  1. How thrilled I am to discover your wonderful blog! I am writing about my 7-mo-old son. We started out determined to help him sleep well (mostly following Kim West's Sleep Lady book.) It worked great at first and he was routinely sleeping 9+ hours a night at 2 1/2 months. But then he became increasingly fussy and aggitated. After much struggle, he was diagnosed with horrible silent reflux. This was followed by months of trying to figure out meds, etc. Now his reflux appears to be under control but his sleep is a mess. He goes to sleep fine (drowsy but awake) at about 7 p.m. and gets up for the day about 6:30 a.m. but will wake up 3-5 times during the night and ultimately end up eating (I'm breastfeeding) 2-3 times a night. The other times my husband is able to sooth him back to sleep. The wakings do not seem to follow any particular pattern. His naps are a mess too. Usually two 30-40 minute naps and one 45-60 minute nap. I know this is all terrible. Our question is simple -- where do we start?? With nights or naps (naps are difficult because he goes to day care during the week. I just go in to breastfeed him.) And HOW? We would LOVE your advice on how to get back on track with sleep training. Thanks!!!

  2. Ellie,
    Since he is at daycare, I would probably start with nights and then work on naps There is only so much you can do with naps in daycare and you might not be able to change them much and instead will just have to do an early bedtime to make up for lost sleep. Assuming he is growing fine he shouldn't need more than one feed at night, if at all. So I would work on first cutting that out. That might be enough to stop the waking. If not, you can choose which sleep approach sounds right for you and go from there. Take a look at the sleep training label for some ideas.

    As for cutting out the night feedings. I would try to cut out one at a time. It is probably easiest to decide not to feed until a certain time and slowly move it back. It might be easier for your husband to go in to him since he will just want to eat more with you around and it will result in more frustration and tears.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Rachel,

    First of all, many many thanks for your wonderful and helpful site! I've read throughout as well as quite a few books (Babywise, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happiest Baby on Block, Bringing Up Bebe, Baby Whisperer) and try to do all advised but am still struggling: my 8-wk old baby is terrible at naps. Ever since birth, he seems to only nap for maybe 20-30 mins max, 2-3x/day. We do sleep routine, make sure he eats until full, tried CIO after he wakes for up to 30 mins, watch for sleep and hungry cues, EASY method, schedule 90 mins after feeding, etc, etc. Getting him to sleep isn't the problem, it's keeping him asleep, or having him fall back asleep again; he sometimes wakes up and sits there for an hour happily wriggling away, or cries wanting attention. The only time he'll sleep more is if we take a walk in the baby carrier or while he's breastfeeding (and then I keep waking him up to eat until full). By the end of the day, he is very exhausted, and does sleep usually 11-12 hrs at night with 1-2 wakeups for feeding. He does seem mostly happy during the day now that I removed dairy from my diet (he's only breastfeeding now; I also don't do any caffeine and minimal chocolate). My biggest concerns are:
    1) his development - as I know sleep is essential for his body and brain
    2) trying to get him on a schedule, with eating, sleeping, etc.

    Do you have any suggestions? I'm at a loss and pretty frustrated. I feel like I'm doing everything I can and it's still not working. And I also need a nap! :o)


    1. Hillary,
      lol about you needing a nap!
      Look over the top sleep post. See if are doing all you can do to set him up for good sleep. Look over the short nap and extending nap post. At this age, most babies are going to sleep worse if they don't get enough sleep, so give him the extra sleep by putting him the swing or whatever right now. Try to get him out of his sleep debt. If that doesn't work, you can try the cio again, but be consistent for several days at least and consider doing something like the baby sleep solution approach.

  4. Hi Rachel,

    I have read every sleep training book and think I am going to implement the Sleepeasy Solution when my daughter is 6 months old. She sleeps through the night (10 or 11 hours) and has for a few months. There are a couple of issues at the moment. The biggest issue is naps- she will only nap when being held! I know I have to break this habit, but have been so scared of ruining the good night sleep, that I have delayed changing naps. The other issue is that at night she is not fully asleep, but very, very drowsy and it can take anywhere from 10 minutes (wonderful) to one hour to get her in the crib. I also want to fix the getting to sleep at night issue. Will these changes cause her to start waking at night? Do I start with naps first and then address putting her in her crib at night? Thank you! Laura

    1. laura west,
      usually it's more successful to start at bedtime first, or do bedtime and all night, or do night and day together. naps are usually hardest and best to deal with last. working on naps might hurt night, but most babies at 6 months seem to do ok even if day sleep isn't great. you won't know what kind of baby you have until you try :)


  5. Hi Rachel!
    Thank you for this website and all your help! I have a 37 1/2 week old (he was 5 days past due) and he has been an amazing sleeper from the beginning. We have always put him down awake and he has always done great with self soothing. About 3 weeks ago he got sick and has needed extra comfort and even more so once the WW hit. Now we cannot put him down awake without him crying for a very long time. I have let him go 20- 30 min and he just waits for us and then once we pick him up he falls asleep. Once we lay him down he cries again. He has become so upset he has thrown up and spit up. I am worried about him getting caught in this pattern and not sure what approach to go with at this point. I am okay with a little bit of crying.
    Is this a phase he will grow out of?
    His nighttime sleeping is still good and will sleep 8-9 hours before wanting to eat/breastfeed, then will go back down so it's mainly bedtime can be hard initially and naps.
    Any advice would be great! We have a daughter who is 2 1/2 and co sleeps and we don't want to go that route again. Although she was up all night long.

  6. I'm in need of help! I'm all about crying it out. It worked for my first two but doesn't seem to be working for my third. He is 5 months, doesn't sleep through night. He is 19 pounds and has horrible naps. He will cry to get himself to sleep at nap but will wake at 30 min. He then just screams. He won't go back to sleep unless held. This leads to him being overtired. Not sure how to fix his issues

  7. I have tried from three months Non-Cio method but my 8 months old baby wakes every hour. So one day I was so exhausted and I let him Cry it out, but he cried for two hours and then sleep one hour and start to cry again. I have one week let him cry every time he wakes after midnight but I feel so bad hearing him crying, and still he sleeping less. But now he sleep one hour later but stay sleeping for 4 hours but then it takes too much time to go back to sleep (last night 3 hour awake, or wake everytime I put him on his crib). I don´t know if keeping with the CIO or go back with the Gentle. I don´t feel confortable let him he cry for a long time, but I tired and don´t have more patient.

    1. pamela, maybe you can do an in-between approach, like the chair method. Whatever you do, be consistent with it 100% and give it plenty of time to work. He will sleep a lot better very soon if you stick to it. You will probably wonder why you didn't do it sooner! It is hard at first, but sooo much easier for everyone involved very soon.