Sleep Training Defined (by Me!)

When a lot of people hear the word sleep training they think crying. And if they aren't fond of ever leaving your child to cry they may think of a child lying there by themselves for hours, days on end, crying. And to add to it, they might even visualize the child in
a sad looking room inside a sad looking bed wearing only a diaper. And maybe they'll even have it raining outside and some sad music on in the background. Anyway... I think this is why there are so many people out there that will just about attack a person if they hear the word sleep training. Maybe you've met some of these folks? Now, I don't think we should be attacking other parents regardless, but a little explanation of the definition couldn't hurt.

First off, Sleep Training and crying are not synonymous. They do sometimes go together, but often this isn't the case, especially with young babies. So what do I mean when I say sleep training?

Sleep training is anything you do to encourage and teach your child to sleep well during the night AND day (most definitions only include the night for some bizarre reason--as if a babies only need to sleep well during the night!). Generally this definition will include having your child learn to go to sleep by himself and stay asleep by himself. As in, he doesn't need someone to help him nod off when he initially falls asleep and he doesn't need someone to help him fall back asleep every time he wakes up (as he goes through sleep transitions etc.). On a side note, I think help in the form of something he can happily do himself, like pop a pacifier in or grab a lovey, is fine.

With that definition in place, I'll categorize things we do for sleep training into a few different categories.
  • Lay the Groundwork for Great Sleep. This includes things that support and encourage healthy sleep habits like having a good sleep environment, good waketime lengths, avoiding sleep props (when possible and obviously only if this fits in with your sleep philosophy) and putting your child down to sleep when drowsy rather than completely asleep. It means respecting your child's need for sleep and trying to ensure he gets all he needs (now and in the future). The top sleep tips post has more information about setting your child up for good sleep.
  • Gentle or No Cry Methods. I like to think of these methods as the little extra you do beyond the good sleep foundation to encourage sleep. Usually it is nothing too dramatic and it often is slow moving.
  • Intermediate or Middle Ground Methods. A lot of things can fit in here, depending on your own personal opinions. Most of the time, if there is crying that takes place, it is in your presence or for very short periods of time. These methods lie somewhere between strict CIO and Non-CIO methods.
  • Cry It Out Methods.  Lots of things fit here. Extinction CIO, CIO with frequent or not very frequent checks, CIO with soothing and checks, CIO in you presence, or even while you are holding baby. Many things here may also be considered intermediate methods depending on how you do them and, once again, your own personal opinion. You can find more about CIO in the CIO index.
I will talk a bit more about each of the above methods and techniques and books that fall under each in future posts (some are already available as links above). Hopefully that will make it easier for all of you to figure out a method that works best for you and your child. For more on this, see the post Choosing an Approach. You can also find a list of different sleep training methods in the sleep training index.

What are you thoughts on sleep training?

picture source: arlomagicman


  1. Sarah commented on Sleep Training Defined (by Me!) - My Baby Sleep Guide:

    My 7 month old is still not sleeping through the night. She has always been a poor sleeper and it seems to be getting worse. I can't seem to find the heart to let her cry it out. Please help,!!!

    1. Sarah,
      If you are uncomfortable with cry it out then there are other lots of other options you can do. Every option will require work and consistency, but when you find something that you feel good about, it'll be much more likely to work because you'll probably be more consistent with it. Be sure to check out the post about setting your child up for the best sleep possible then hop over to the post about navigating this blog, the sleep training post, and the sleep by age post.

  2. I like how you write for real people and use very realistic strategies.

    I know this blog has definitely given a lot of parents the help they need to get their babies asleep.

  3. 3 month old that will only sleep on mom's chest. Which book would you recommend?

    1. Erika frantz,
      It's hard to really know what book to suggest because I don't know your parenting style in regards to sleep. Above there is a link (books that fall under this) in the text that will send you to a post that lists books by method and describes them a little. Some books link to a further description a list them to. That'll probably help you choose what fits your style.