Sleep-training — the process of teaching a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night — is one of those no-size-fits-all parenting issues. Some parents start sleep-training mere weeks after their babies are born, others believe that their children will sleep through the night whenever they're ready and do little to push that day forward. Even baby experts and pediatricians disagree on what constitutes safe and effective sleep-training (cry it out? tear-free training? a mix of the two?).
No matter what your sleep-training philosophies are, at the end of the day, you probably just want to sleep through the night — and you might or might not be aware that it's probably only going to happen when your children do it, too. If you're one of the countless parents who are desperate for more sleep, want to raise a good sleeper (sleep is vital for brain development!), and are considering sleep-training to accomplish both, here are six rules you need to follow to make sure your child is safe, your anxiety levels are low, and the process actually works.
- Get your sleep-training crew on board. Talk to your pediatrician to make sure your child's sleeplessness isn't caused by a medical condition like acid reflux or sleep apnea and that your child no longer needs to wake during the night to get adequate nutrition. Most doctors won't recommend that you begin sleep-training your baby until they're 3-6 months old. Once you have your doctor's approval, make sure that you and your partner are on the same page with how you'll deal with your child's nighttime wakings while sleep-training.
- Create a bedtime routine. Bedtime routines can be relatively simple and fairly quick, but you need to create a consistent set of calm, soothing activities to prepare your baby or toddler for sleep. A typical routine includes a warm bath, a book, a lullaby, and a goodnight kiss, calm activities that won't be too stimulating or exciting for your child.
- Pick a suitable training start date. Pick a date when you know you'll have a few weeks at home without any changes in sleep schedules or environments. Pick a time when your child has been healthy and napping well and when both parents are able to be present.
- Get your baby's room ready. Make sure your child's bedroom is an ideal sleeping environment. This means that it's not too hot (no warmer than 70 degrees), dark (consider room-darkening shades), and quiet (a sound machine or fan is a useful addition).
- Follow a consistent schedule. Most experts recommend putting down your baby to sleep between 7 and 8 p.m., if not earlier, but creating a regular nap and feeding schedule is also important so that your baby isn't overtired and is ready for bedtime.
- Be consistent. No matter what sleep-training method you decide to use, the biggest predictor of success is consistency. There will be setbacks and regressions — especially when your child is sick or when you're traveling and sleeping in a new space — but try to stick to your bedtime process as much as possible and get back on your sleep-training track as soon as you can when things derail. As any parent who's been through it can attest, sleep-training can be tough, but it can also be done.