5 Important Sleep Training Tips for Baby Sleep

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Learn the five tips that will help you achieve great sleep from your baby. These tips will help set you up to have a solid, independent sleeper.

baby sleeping in the arms of an adult

When you are ready to do sleep training, or help your baby learn to sleep on his/her own, you will be looking for some guidance on how to go about that. In this post, I have 5 tips to help you through this process. 

“Oh great!” I thought. “I am going to have to potty train another child!” 

That was one of the first thoughts I had once the excitement of knowing we were expecting number four wore off and the planner in me got going. In the 11+ years that I have been parenting, I have found that there are two things so far that I dread more than anything else. One is potty training. Another is sleep training. Whenever I am pregnant, I a) moan that I have another child to potty train (and I don’t know why–it has never been as bad as I seem to think it has been) and b) worry about how sleep training will go. 

Sleep training is not always easy. But oh can I tell you how much it is worth it. I do have tips to make this process easier for you. 

My Sleep Training History

Let’s first give a brief overview of my sleep training history. This isn’t important to the tips, but it is of interest to some. Feel free to skip this section if it isn’t of interest to you.

My oldest (now 11) was born and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sleep train or not. I wasn’t sure if I could listen to him cry without doing everything I could to stop him from crying. I did know, however, that I wanted my baby to sleep and have good sleep habits. I had read a lot of books before he was born and I believed in sleep (besides the obvious “I feel better when I get good sleep so a baby will too”). 

He was not born a naturally good sleeper. He was one of those newborns who valiantly fought sleep and would be awake for HOURS at a time. I worked to get him to take naps, but it seemed like I was fighting him all day long. I tried to rock him to sleep but he HATED it. He would scream and cry for a full 30 minutes in my arms before finally falling asleep. This left me exhausted and emotionally drained. I decided I could either have him cry it out (CIO) in my arms or CIO in the crib. I figured in the crib, he would at least be learning to fall asleep independently, so we went with that.

I was completely on my own so far as experience and resources went. I was the first of my friends to have a baby. I was the first in my family to have a baby. I was the second on my husband’s side to have a baby. My mom didn’t do CIO with us. My sister-in-law didn’t do CIO. My mother-in-law did but didn’t remember much about it. Believe it or not, the Internet was not a real resource yet. So I had to navigate it on my own. 

We started at 9 weeks. He immediately went to waking just once a night. Sleep training was hard at first, but after a couple of months, he was going to sleep without a peep and we were all much happier.

My second (now 9) came along. She was a much more natural sleeper. She was tricky, though, because she had reflux. I had to be sure she was not in pain before having her CIO before a nap. I didn’t want to teach her any habits she would later have to break, so from the beginning I had her sleep on her own. Her first “CIO” session, she didn’t cry at all. She had some naps with crying, some without, and by 8 weeks there was not a peep at all before she fell asleep for naps.

With my third (now 7), I decided to try out the Four S’s described by Tracy Hogg (see my post Sleep Training: The Four S’s for more on this method). She was also a natural sleeper. With my experience and the Four S’s, she never cried before a nap until she was about 3 months old, and then it was brief (see In Action: Cry It Out for that story). 

My fourth (now 4) is a similar story to my third except she never went through a CIO phase. She was one of those babies who will at times cry for about 30 seconds after I put her down, but that is her being frustrated that playtime is over. As she got older, I could tell her to not cry and she wouldn’t. 

Sleep training works. I am a believer! All four of my children sleep well and have from young ages. So now you have my history, lets move on to the tips.

Sleep Training Tip 1: Choose a Method

I talk a lot about “why vs. how“–essentially, the method you use to accomplish a goal is not important. Accomplishing the goal is important. That is of course with the obligatory caveats that it is legal, ethical, in line with your goals, meets your goals as a whole, etc.

So, you don’t have to do cry it out in order to sleep train (are you ready to use cry it out? Then see my post 6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method). You certainly can, but you don’t have to (see Sleep Training According to Babywise). So your first step is to identify a sleep training method you can be on board with. Your goal is to have baby fall asleep on her own. Here are some ideas:

Great Sleep Training Books

The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise
The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise

No matter the method you choose, please be sure to read My Newborn Sleep Hierarchy. 

As you are deciding, see these posts also:

5 Sleep Training Tips with picture of a sleeping baby

Sleep Training Tip 2: Choose an Age

Once you have decided what method you want to follow, decide what age you want to start sleep training your child. Along with an age you are comfortable with, you want to be sure there is no sickness and that your baby can be home for a while to master this new skill.

What age do I recommend? I really think parents have to go with what they feel is best, but if it tells you anything, I started right from birth with my three youngest. I really didn’t want to teach one way, then essentially “pull the rug out” and teach another way. From what I hear, babies older than 6 months old are harder to sleep train–getting harder as they get older from there (this is of course in general). 

Sleep Training Tip 3: Get to Know Your Baby

You can read more in depth about this in my CIO Bootcamp–Revised and Updated post, but you want to understand some key things about your baby. Know your baby’s nap cues. You also want to know your baby’s Optimal Waketime Lengths. No matter what method you use to sleep train, understanding these two things will help your baby fall asleep the most easily. 

Sleep Training Tip 4: Be Consistent, But Adjust As Needed

Be consistent with your sleep training. Set aside some time to really be home and provide your child with chance to build a stable foundation. Once you have, your child will be able to have flexibility, but your child needs somewhere real to flex from to really be flexible. 

While you are maintaining your consistency, don’t be afraid to adjust and tweak methods as needed. If your child needs a different sleep routine, change it up. If your child needs you to go in after 10 minutes of crying, go for it. Adjust your methods as you see they need to be adjusted. Odds are, you will need to adjust things. You will get to know your baby better and be able to create the perfect sleep environment for her.

Sleep Training Tip 5: Know That it is Worth It

Hang in there! Sleep training is a big job. It is an emotional job. It takes a lot of effort and brain power on your part. There will be days you will wonder if it is worth the work. It is! I promise it is. There will come the day you are so glad your baby sleeps so well! Sleep is so important throughout your child’s entire life. Read my post How Healthy Sleep Principles Have Benefited My Children from Infancy to Preteen. Read my Word to the Weary post. You can also get great help, advice, and support in the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Google Group. The group is private (request to join), and it is a safe place. There are nearly 3,000 members, so there are lots of people to help you out! All you need is an email address. 

Hang in there, seek support, and you and your baby will come out the better for it!

Sleep Training Tips and Info

These posts will help you sleep train your baby with confidence. Learn how to sleep train in the method that best suits you and your baby.

5 Sleep Training Tips

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Krysten Traylor
    August 30, 2016 / 6:07 PM

    I hate potty training too! Sleep training with my second was much easier than with my first. My second was a better sleeper from the beginning (she hated being held and did so much better when put down on her own) and I did better about not feeling guilty doing what would be best in the long run.Her not sleeping when being held did make it difficult to go out. We had to skip church for a few months because she would not sleep in the nursery and then would refuse to eat, bottle or nurse. After a few months she was able to skip the morning nap with no major problems and we could again attend church as a family. All this to say, adjustments sometimes have to be made for the benefit of everybody.

    • Valerie Plowman
      September 7, 2016 / 12:18 AM

      Yes Krysten! There are usually sacrifices that need to be made by everyone.

  2. Chelsea
    August 30, 2016 / 9:50 PM

    Hi! I have used Babywise for all of my five children and have especially appreciated your blog for encouragement, reminders, and help. This is the first time I've commented but I'm stuck and was hoping for help. My youngest is a sleep hater. He's 12 weeks old. He won't sleep in a swing, won't sleep in the car. Just fights sleep hard. He's been in the wake- eat- play- sleep pattern for most of his life. He now goes down for naps pretty well- he still cries but usually five minutes or less. No big deal. But most naps he wakes up crying at some point before it is time for him to eat again. I just don't know how to handle this in a way that trains him to sleep through. I learned while training him to fall asleep in his bed that me coming in prolongs the process. He can't even see me, much less be patted without it making him cry worse and for longer. So when he wakes during a nap, I don't go in. I can see him to know he's okay. Sometimes he will cry constantly for 45 minutes or as long as it is until his feeding time. Often times he will cry for 5-10 minutes, fall asleep for 5 minutes, start crying again, and it will continue like that until time for him to feed. He is a chunky one and he isn't crying from hunger. It's not noise or disturbances that are waking him. He eats at 6a, 9a, 12p, 3p, 6p, 9p (dreamfeed), and wakes at 2:30a to eat but goes right back to sleep. He stays awake for just under an hour after his day feedings. Because of his waking and crying during naps, he is probably crying when he should be sleeping 3-4 hours out of the day. This seems unhealthy and makes him extra tired, but I just don't know how to head it off. Any ideas? Thank you!

    • Valerie Plowman
      September 7, 2016 / 12:26 AM

      Hi Chelsea, that is tough! Brayden hated sleeping, also. One question I have is why you say he isn't hungry–I just want to be sure that hunger is ruled out. Have you tried feeding and he just won't eat? Brayden took 45 minute naps until 6 months old and he ate a whole lot every time he woke early. He seems to have a fast metabolism and eats a lot even for a typical boy his age. If it for sure isn't hunger, do you think he could be waking in pain? Does he have gas pains? Some reflux? Teething? Ear infection? If it is gas, gripe water and gas drops are life changers! I think with him waking, falling back asleep, then waking 5 minutes later is has me thinking something is not comfortable for him. Could he be too hot? Too cold?

  3. Kristen H
    September 6, 2016 / 2:09 AM

    Hi Valerie! Love your blog and have read all your posts on sleep training several times.I'm at a stand still though. I have a 7 week old who I have done BW with from day one. He usually goes down beautifully at nap times in his crib. We had some issues with early wake times but I think it's either due to gas or wake time so I am feeling those out. The main issue that I would love your feedback on is bedtime. He can never go to sleep on his own at bedtime. I don't understand how he can self soothe so well in the day and then refuse to go to sleep at bedtime. No matter how long he CIO I always have to get him and either rock or eventually feed him to sleep. I thought it was due to a witching hour but the last few weeks when I try he is happy when going down and then progressively gets more upset (unlike when during the witching hour he was immediately upset and nothing helped). Curious your thoughts if maybe this is just a witching hour type thing where he just can't get settled at night time. What do you suggest I do? Keep letting him fall asleep after nursing? As I said, CIO never ends in him going to sleep on his own. I feel like he could go hours or get so hot and bothered that it truly would get unhealthy. In all your tips you never have mentioned any tips or difference in sleep training during the day and at night and how to help that if different. Appreciate any thoughts.

    • Valerie Plowman
      September 7, 2016 / 12:30 AM

      Hi Kristen, I definitely think it sounds like witching hour! My babies with witching hour were usually perfectly content when I was holding them during witching hour. So that sounds normal to me. I let Brinley fall asleep nursing through witching hour and it never hurt her long-term sleep abilities.

  4. Batya
    September 13, 2016 / 10:42 PM

    Hi Valerie! Been reading your blog a lot lately! FTM here. Background on me: married & working full time ten happy years before having baby son exactly 2 months ago. Talk about HUGE adjustment. Had nasty bout with PPD but am much better now. Grandmas & husband very supportive & helpful. Grandma actually took all night feedings for 3 weeks-wow! But now, it's just me all day until hubby gets home. I'm a very routine person so I'm desperate to get on a schedule. We started sleep training using CIO when baby was 5+ weeks & tracking feeds/sleeps. I read the baby wise book, SCOURED the Internet/blogs & talked to some friends who had success with it this early as well. Its been 3 weeks now & I haven't seen much progress. If anything, he cries LONGER now. In fact, the last few days he has NOT napped well-going down for 20-40 minutes then waking. Then I try to just go in & just tell him "it's not time to get up yet" then leave without picking him up. Oh he cries so hard! After that he'll go through several minutes of quiet followed by more periods of crying & this will go on for an hour or more! He does sleep ok at night-Once he goes down, he sleeps 3 solid hours (hopefully that will start increasing) between feedings & goes right back down, then waking for longer when it gets light. So I'm thankful for that. He pretty much exclusively sleeps in his crib. Sometimes in the rock n play, & then in the snuggle puppy swing at Grammys. I've been trying to focus on the sleep training before I tackle the more rigid scheduling-I mean, if he won't sleep longer than 40 minutes or less, how can I get on schedule? Grandma does keep him 1-2 days a week so I can get a break (and because she LOVES keeping him!) But she does not let him CIO like we do at home. I'm wondering if this isn't a big part of the problem. Or if he's too young & I should try again in a month or 2? And why he's all of a sudden started this cry a while/sleep a few minutes/cry a while/sleep a little cycle when before he never cried longer than 15ish minutes then slept 1+ hours? We have a white noise machine & lullabies playing in his room. I'm not sure if we are getting ready to turn a corner & make progress or if grandmas inconsistency is confusing him. We also don't have much of a before bed routine but I want to start a bottle, bath book/story/song routine-maybe that'll help. Any thoughts? I'm tempted to give up but don't want all this agony to have been for nothing! Plus not only do WE need sleep but mostly, we believe great sleep habits are very important for his growth & development and we want what's best for our son!

    • Valerie Plowman
      September 14, 2016 / 12:05 AM

      Hi Batya,I am glad you found the blog!I am a big believer in consistency during sleep training. If it were me, I would take two weeks of staying home and not having baby to to grandma's house. The inconsistency could definitely be it. How is your waketime length? Have you looked at my posts on that? Having wake town length down perfect is very helpful for having minimal crying and good naps. Also, have you tried the 4 S's before nap? That can be so helpful!

  5. Batya
    September 14, 2016 / 1:01 AM

    That's what I was thinking. Conveniently, Gma will be on vacation for at least a week next week so I'll have a bit of a chance to get consistent w/out offending Gma by keeping him home. If we see any progress, it might help her to see its ok for her to jump on board. If not, he can stay home until he's trained! Yep-It was your post on wake times that made me realize I was keeping him up waaaaay too long. So we started to watch the clock & watch for his cues at 40ish minutes. Should I instigate "the routine" at the first sign? Like the very first yawn? Another question I had is if he does take a decent nap, sometimes when I'll feed him upon waking, he'll be yawning right after waking up! Do babies yawn to " shake the sleep off" so to speak? Like maybe he is ready to be up a while-he's just yawning to wake up? or maybe he really should be put right back down? Thank you so much!

  6. J
    October 4, 2016 / 4:07 PM

    Hey Valerie, like the others I love your blog and look at it constantly. I am a mom of 2 girls, one 19 months and the other 12 weeks. We did CIO with our first and it worked beautifully. We started at 9 weeks and she never cried more than 20 mins. This time around I started at 11 weeks due to traveling and other conflicts. She does great at nap times, goes down drowsy but awake and never fusses and sleeps the whole time. If she wakes, she puts herself back to sleep. The problem I have is at night time when she's supposed to go down. I try to keep her up a little longer before her bedtime at 8:30 and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I will nurse her to sleep, like I did with our first, and she will go down, but sometimes she wakes after 20 mins, sometimes after an hour, and sometimes not at all. We just moved her into a pack n play in our room and the last four nights have gone like this: night 1- cried off and on for an hour then went to sleep; night 2- cried off and on for 30 mins then went to sleep; night 3- didn't cry at all; night 4- cried off and on for an hour. The routine is the same. The only inconsistency is that she has started to only sleep an hour for her last nap when goes down between 4:30-5. So depending on when she wakes up from that nap, she can only stay awake for so long without getting super fussy. I've also let her cry when she wakes up from that nap, but I feel like it's a witching hour thing even though she just started it in the last couple weeks. Do you have any suggestions for her night time sleep or should we just keep doing CIO for awhile longer to see if it will correct itself? Our schedule is 6:30, 9:30, 12:30, 3:30, 6:30, last feeding at 8:30ish. If she wakes early from her last afternoon nap and she can't make it to 8:30, I will usually do a dreamfeed to keep my supply up and so I don't get engorged. Thanks so much! – JL

  7. danielle
    October 7, 2016 / 5:40 PM

    Just had my fourth baby and it looks like I have another baby that doesn't love sleep! A mystery! Anyway, I have friends who've followed BW so I'm looking into it. Question: if you're fairly rigid (not sure that's the right word) on putting them down and letting them fall asleep on their own in their crib, are you pretty tied to your home all that time? (Not napping in the car, etc?) Or does teaching them to sleep on their own so early enable them to fall asleep anywhere easily (when they're tired)? Or would you say it depends? I'm a firm believer in napping in a crib but my baby is 3 weeks and it's sooo soon to be tied to my house! 🙂 Just curious.

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