Sleep Training: The Basics

Disclaimer: We are not doctors or experts. We are moms who had a positive experience with sleep training. Please consult with your pediatrician about the specific needs of your child before beginning any sleep training program.

Sleep! A much discussed topic among moms and people talking to moms. One of the most common questions I am asked when strangers find out that I have a baby is, “Does he sleep through the night?” The insanity caused from bad or lack of sleep is unlike anything I have experienced before or since. Parents seem to be memorably scarred by those early weeks and months when they walked through life in a half-awake daze. So much so that people with grown kids still immediately think of the sleep question when they think about babies.

In this post, we will cover the basics of preparing to sleep train, including the specific book we recommend.

But before we begin…

Don’t solve a problem you don’t have.
If you and your co-parent are happy with the state of sleeping in your household, this post is not for you. Share it with someone who might need it and move on.

Sometimes when I talk to other moms, many of whom know I have a kid who sleeps through the night consistently, I get the sense they think their kid should be sleeping through the night too, because of peer pressure. Look, having a kid who consistently sleeps through the night is awesome. It has helped me get my sense of self back. I perform at work like I did before the baby. I have energy to run and have sex. Having Charlie sleep through the night was important to me and my husband. This might not be important for your family! Don’t find problems where they don’t exist. Sleep training can be tough work, so it is not to be approached by those who do not desperately need it.

Methods and crying.
There are many different sleep training methods. We both used The Sleepeasy Solution and highly recommend it. I personally read 3 or 4 books, including Weissbluth, and found The Sleepeasy Solution to be the most straightforward, logical, and also compassionate. The women who wrote the book acknowledge over and over that this is going to be hard, which I found lacking in some of the other books I read. I was exhausted and still breastfeeding (read: hormonal), so I needed this compassion.

You and your co-parent need to decide what’s right for your family. The Sleepeasy Solution is a version of cry-it-out that involves checking-in on your kid at intervals. In our personal experience and the experience of our friends, if you want to sleep train, you’re going to need to endure some crying. Methods that promise little-to-no crying either a) take an incredibly long time and a ton of parental effort or b) don’t work.

Initially, I was incredibly scared of the crying, to the point that I told my husband I could not sleep train. But eventually I reached a point of desperation caused by sleep deprivation where I was willing to try it. I am very glad I did. In the moment, it was very hard to endure the sounds of my son’s cry. But ultimately, the really, really bad crying was short lived and having a kid who sleeps through the night is totally worth it (TO ME).

Let’s begin. Read a book.
BUT I’M READING THIS BLOG POST. Yeah, yeah, while your on the subway or your kid is climbing on you? Nice try. Both your and your co-parent need to read a book. Again, we recommend The Sleepeasy Solution. Each chapter is broken down by your kid’s age and your family’s current sleeping arrangement (i.e., you can use this book if you co-sleep or have a 5 year old). Read every chapter, but only the portions that apply to you.

Build your team.
Notice that I keep mentioning your co-parent? Sleep training is not something to be undertaken alone. If you are a single parent or your co-parent works the night shift and/or travels a lot, I highly recommend asking a grandparent, aunt, or friend to stay with you for the first several nights of sleep training.

Timing is everything.
I recommend beginning on a Friday night. The first couple nights could be rough, so having weekend days to nap is crucial. Do not begin a week before a big vacation or a holiday, if you can avoid it. Do not begin when you have a bunch of relatives staying with you. Do not begin if your kiddo or you is sick.

All that said, do not let yourself fall into the trap of delaying because the timing isn’t perfect. There is a never a perfect time to do anything. Settle for the best possible timing, given the reality of your life.

Create your bedtime routine.
No matter what sleep training method you use, a consistent bedtime routine that can be executed by either parent in any location is crucial. Use the printouts provided by the book’s authors to help craft your bedtime routine.

Our bedtime routine is this:

  • Change diaper
  • Put on PJs
  • Bottle (was breastfeeding at the beginning)
  • Read two books
  • Sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, the ABCs, and count 1-20 (sung)
  • Kiss and hug
  • Crib

This routine is executed for every nap and at night. When we began sleep training, we alternated who would do bedtime, so he got used to both of us (when I was still breastfeeding, I would do the first three steps and then hand off to my husband when it was his turn). Our son goes down with either of us or with anyone else who executes the routine, and we can do it on vacation. If you’re not sure where to begin, steal our routine.

If your pre-sleep training sleep routine includes feeding to sleep (boob or bottle), put feeding at the beginning or middle of the routine.

Do naps too.
I know it sounds like a lot, but do naps at the same time. You want your kid to understand that there’s a new Sleep Sheriff in town and the rules apply to all sleeps.

A word about night weaning.
If you’re kid still gets up in the night and expects to be fed, you’re going to want to night wean (I do not recommend sleep training without night weaning). This involves dream feeding, which means scooping your kid up before they would normally wake up, feeding them, and putting them back into bed. I know this idea sounds insane and scary. But trust me, IT WORKS. The Sleepeasy Solution goes into tons of detail on this process, so please read those parts carefully.

Time to let them cry.
You’ve read the book, you’ve got your plan, you have the handouts printed, completed, and ready to go, you know where you’re going to record your check-ins and night feeds, you’ve printed out your nighttime routine 17 times and taped it on the wall of the bedroom (I DID THIS…I AM INSANE)…it’s time for the truly hard work. Put your kid down in their crib awake and walk out of the room.

Once you have done all the prep work, sleep training is mostly about the Herculean task of managing your own emotions and communicating effectively with your co-parent. Your kid is going to be absolutely fine. You are giving them the wonderful gift of sleep! But fuck if you don’t want to run in there after 3 minutes and cuddle them.

In two weeks, check back for a post about how to get through sleep training. Until then, YOU GOT THIS.