The Pain of Sleep Training

guest column
By Nanny Megan
For the last couple months, A has been having trouble sleeping through the night. He has been waking up once, maybe twice a night. The lack of sleep at night has an effect on his nap schedule, which in turn messes up our day.

As of lately, we have been giving sleep training a go, and have found that some methods work much better than others. For those of you who are unfamiliar with sleep training, there are four main methods: ( I will explain each and tell you which method works best for A.

1. The Sleepeasy Solution

a. This approach was developed with an efficient yet compassionate approach in mind. In short, you might hear some crying, but you’re going to discover how to phase your baby into learning how to sleep.

Pros: You’ll receive lots of handholding and reassurance. Their compassionate approach soothes babies - and parents too! This program gives you age-specific tips on frequency and length of naps

Cons: You’re going to hear some crying. This method isn’t cry-proof, so prepare yourself for some tears, even if they’re only temporary. This method advocates for frequent “check-ins” on your infant while she is crying, so for the first few nights that the baby is adjusting to things, expect fragmented sleep.

2. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

a. Considered the infant sleep bible by many parents, this information-packed book was written by the renowned pediatrician and childhood sleep expert Dr. Marc Weissbluth. Parents (and Nannies) will learn about the deep-rooted causes of their babies’ sleep problems and find research-based approaches on how to correct them.

Pros: You’ll learn how to start sleep-training your baby as soon as you bring her home from the hospital.

Cons: While the author doesn’t believe excessive crying is necessary to sleep train, it is part of the method. So, parents should be prepared for some tears as they implement new “sleep rules.”

3. The No-Cry Sleep Solution

a. Pantley’s approach avoids agonizing nights of crying in favor of more subtle ways of teaching your baby good sleep habits.

Pros: This gentle approach will appeal to parents who absolutely can’t stand the thought of hearing their baby cry. Pantley’s plan works for babies as well as toddlers - and those who are bottle and breastfed. She gives specific instructions for each unique situation.

Cons: Because this sleep training is gradual, it means you’re not going to get that full night’s sleep you’ve been dreaming about - at least for a little while. Instead of the baby doing the work (crying it out), you’re going to be doing the work. Expect to put in the middle-of-the-night hours you need to make this solution a success for your baby.

4. The Ferber Method

a. At the heart of his system is the belief that infants should learn to self-soothe - a process that he suggests parents start between the ages of 4 and 6 months. In short, parents are encouraged to follow a consistent bedtime routine and then put their baby to bed awake, leaving him to fuss or cry for sometimes long periods of time, broken up by check-ins.

Pros: The Ferber Method has been praised by many for its efficient approach to sleep training. Most babies begin to respond, in some way, after the first night and many more fall in line a few days later.

Cons: Despite this streamlined approach to sleep training, some parents won’t be able to stomach the crying necessary for a successful outcome. Some children vomit as a result of prolonged crying. In the book, Dr. Ferber says this shouldn’t deter you from training your child.

These sleep methods work differently for each child, but a seemed to respond best to the “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” method. It was, what we felt, was the gentlest approach. We did try The Ferber Method, but the crying was a little hard to stomach, and after night 5, progress was not being made.

What I would love to know is if any of you had trouble with your young charges’ sleeping habits, and if so what did you guys to get through it? What methods have you tried? Is there a method you know of that’s not listed here?
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Texas Nanny said...

We did the cry it out Ferber method with both my charges.

G's sleep and naps were absolutely horrible starting out, and G is extremely stubborn. When he was 9 months and we finally decided to Ferber, he cried for three hours before sleeping. After that it decreased until by 11 months he only cried for 10 minutes or less and by 18 months he would actually ask for his nap and go down peacefully every time.

When M was born we decided to start early. When she was 4 months we started putting her down and letting her cry for no more than 5 minutes. She caught on quickly and has great sleep habits now, at 12 months.

any method is better than no method said...

I wish my bosses had decided on any type of program. My job just ended, but I had quite the time trying to get my charge to nap. At a year old, she was still co-sleeping. She wouldn't go down for a nap without being soothed in some way, either in a swing or in her stroller. On days that I had to take her for a walk in the stroller to get her to sleep, she would often wake up and start screaming as soon as the stroller stopped moving, which would lead to me having to walk her some more.

During my evenings I would have to put her down for the night and most nights she ended up screaming for awhile before falling asleep in my arms in front of the television, because her "routine" of sleeping in her parents bed was messed up.

I watched another baby of the same age for a few evenings and noticed Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child on the counter in the home. It obviously worked for the family because this other child had a very effective bedtime routine that soothed her and led to an easy sleep transition even with me, a brand new caregiver who she wasn't familiar with. She was able to fall asleep on her own in her crib after her routine, which is something I so wish the parents of my charge had worked on.

christine said...

I think while these programs all probably work with any child eventually, the success kind of depends on the child. My first child wasn't a sleeper and we rocked her to sleep for a long time. When we finally did let her cry it out, it was awful. It took months to break her of the rocking habit... lesson learned for a first time parent. Second child, EASY going... no rocking or fanfare. She loved to sleep. My son was a bit fussy but I left him to his own devices from day one. He fussed and cried some but soon he would just amuse himself in the crib if he wasn't exactly tired. He ended up being a great sleeper and napper but probably wouldn't have if we didn't start right away. Fourth kid- NIGHTMARE!!! She was so needy and difficult. Even though we clearly knew what we were doing afer three kids she was the most trying... afraid of strangers, clingy- she would even cry if one of my parents came near her. She turned out normal (thank God) and is a well adjusted teenager now, but her toddler years were grueling. So, IMHO, these methods work, but differently with different children.

LeeLee said...

I agree with Christine, every child is VERY different. We are on number 3 now (our last - thank God LOL) and she sounds like their number 4 . . . don't get me wrong, we adore her, but she is completely exhausting. Some kids are simply too demanding, stubborn, strong-willed, sensitive etc etc to benefit from "cry it out" while others who are a bit more laid back will gain from it. I think it's important to look at each child's individual personality when choosing a sleeping training method. Oh, and just a handy tip, never try sleeping training when they are teething, it's simply not the right time (pain should be tended to not ignored) and they (obviously) become more needy.

Anonymous said...

About Weissbluth, he says early bedtimes are necessary because young children are natural "early risers" so in order to get their full 12 hours of sleep at night, parents MUST put their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to bed between 5:30PM and 6:30PM.

I call BS on that one because I find out that Asian kids often go to bed between 10PM and midnight and often make up for it by sleeping in until 9AM to 10AM AND taking an extra long nap (3-4 hours) during the afternoon and still having the same total hours of sleep as the "Caucasian children" who are put on Weissbluth's rigid schedule.

I work mostly for Asian families and was first alarmed by toddlers staying up til midnight but now I see that they turn out well adjusted and still get plenty of sleep. IMO, Weissbluth is making a lot of money marketing on parents' fears telling them they cannot keep their child up past 6PM and that if they don't stick to his schedule, their child will become sleep deprive monsters.

christine said...

Asian kids somehow genetically stay up later? I've never heard of that one.

My kids did go to bed early- by 7 pm- and woke at 7 am. Nap after lunch... not too long. Really worked out great. Parents are entitled to a few hours of kid free time in the evening, don't you think? Well, the fussy number 4 had some late nights but we managed to get her on track by age three.

That being said, my kids are all grown up now. But, having lived in the house of schedules and not too much deviation from the norm, they are actually a little nutty.... for instance, if my 17 year old (fussy #4) eats breakfast at 10 am, she will naturally ask what we have for lunch at noon because in the world she has always lived in, noon is lunchtime. Also, at the dinner table, the two kids who are still at home will naturally sit in the seats they have always occupied. If someone is missing at dinnertime, it is not uncommon for there to be one person at one end of the table and one way down at the other... they can't sit closer in an "unassigned" seat. Funny, huh? Since I watch teenagers sleep til noon (NOT on the "schedule") I feel like we aren't still on a regimented schedule but in some respects- they do.

MissMannah said...

Christine, Kat didn't say anything about genetics. She was talking about culture.

I have never had to help sleep-train a charge because the only job I've had working nights was for a 4-year old. Interestingly, that family was Indian, but the boy went to sleep promptly between 8 and 8:30 every night. He was up by 7 every morning and took a 2-3 hour nap every afternoon.

My other family I worked for, I wish I could have helped sleep train because the kids were awful, but only at night. They were great nappers for me, the baby had one hour every morning and two hours every afternoon and the toddler took about 2 hours every afternoon, always around the same time. But the parents were so inconsistent because they hated the sound of their kids crying so all four of them slept in the same bed every night and sometimes the kids would be up until 10 or so depending on when mom and dad went to bed. They got up when I got there at 8am and were great for me and went to sleep easily in their own beds, no struggles. Why? Because I told them they had to. I think parents just have to lay down the law and not be afraid of the sound of crying. Babies are going to cry, get over it.

Let's just hope I can keep up with that attitude after I have my own kids.