Whether it’s your first baby or your fifth, the sleepless nights that come with newborns can take their toll on the entire family. Waking up every few hours to feed, change, or comfort your little bundle of joy can leave you feeling exhausted and desperate for sleep – and it also might have you pondering the idea of sleep training and wondering:
Can I sleep train a newborn?
Will sleep training be effective for my family?
If I sleep train, do I have to let my baby cry?
When can I start sleep training my baby?
In HelloJoey’s “Sweet Dreams: Real Talk about Sleep” kit, we take a look at how an infant’s development unfolds to shed some light on when babies are ready for sleep training and what factors impact that readiness. We also explore a wide variety of sleep training methods – including the choice not to sleep train your child at all.
What is sleep training?
You’ve probably heard the term “sleep training," and you might even be familiar with the popular “Ferber” and “Cry It Out” methods. There actually are many different methods of sleep training, which really just refers to a strategy that parents use to change a child’s sleep habits with the goal of helping a baby learn to fall asleep independently.
For some parents, sleep training also can work to:
get kids to sleep in the their own beds
teach kids to self-soothe to get back to sleep if they wake in the middle of the night
This all can lead to long-term sleep patterns that give parents and kids a lot more rest.
If you’re worried sleep training will make your baby hate you, rest assured that research hasn’t found any negative outcomes associated with it. Studies show sleep training has no negative long term effects on a child’s mood or behavior – or on the relationship between the parent and the child.
When can you start sleep training?
While exhaustion might have you hoping you can sleep train a newborn, the experts say you can’t – or at least not successfully. Up until about the age of four months, infants don’t have any of the skills or the disposition they need to sleep train.
In fact, many babies aren’t ready to start sleep training until they reach five or six months of age. Sleep consultant and co-author of The Happy Sleeper, Heather Turgeon, explains why that five-month marker matters: “The reason that we know that babies are able to fall asleep independently at about five months is that they have a mature internal clock. They can really tell the difference between night and day and their bodies are really telling them ‘I want to be asleep at night.’ The circadian system is mature, the signals are very strong, and their body is really on their side.”
Infants younger than six months still wake at night to eat and don’t have mature circadian rhythms. Sleep training before a child reaches six months might not be as effective as parents hope because it doesn't reduce how much a baby cries or prevent sleep and behavioral problems as the child grows. It also may increase parents’ anxiety – and there is an increased risk of SIDS when a child sleeps in a separate room from parents.
Sleep training and your baby’s temperament
Along with your baby’s age, your child’s using temperament will also affect when they’re ready for sleep training. A temperament is the way a person characteristically responds to and interacts with the world and describes patterns of behavior – like how well you pay attention or how intensely you feel emotions. Your baby’s temperament can affect how much they cry and how much they sleep.
There’s no one “right” temperament, but our kids’ individual temperaments tell us a lot about how to interact with them in the best ways possible. For a child to be able to sleep train, they need to be able to self-soothe, so a baby who generally needs a lot of help to calm down might not be ready. In fact, letting them cry might make them tenser and less likely to sleep.
On the other hand, some more spirited children might actually benefit from something like the Cry It Out method. When parents keep popping back into the room to check on a baby, it could give that baby hope they might be able to negotiate their way out of sleeping alone – so it may be more effective if they’re left alone to self-soothe.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to everyone getting a good night’s sleep. Every baby has a different temperament, which means they’ll respond to their environment and interact with the world in different ways. Ultimately, whatever works for your family is a great solution.
In HelloJoey’s “Sweet Dreams: Real Talk about Sleep” kit, we explore the ins and outs of sleep as it relates to infant and toddlers – and of course, their bleary-eyed parents. In it, you’ll learn:
sleep safety recommendations from the experts
what influences your baby’s sleeping patterns
different methods for how to sleep train your baby
when to worry about sleep issues (and how to stop!)
Want to learn more about “Sweet Dreams: Real Talk about Sleep?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.