Last updated Feb 1, 2015
This is a summary of the major sleep guides I’ve found in my journey to get my boys to sleep in order to avoid chronic sleep deprivation. Obviously, the books themselves are more detailed and this is just an overview, but I feel there is a lot of misinformation out there about the different methods, and I hoped to shed more light on the possibilities and different options parents have. If a method appeals to you, try out the book because it has far more details and information than I include here out of respect for the authors. I wish I could point to one method and say, “This one works!” but what worked for Alden didn’t always work for Corwin and vice versa. What worked at 4 months didn’t necessarily work at 10 months.
If you are reading this, you probably have a bad sleeper or your current system isn’t working very well. You may also have a good sleeper with a method that’s working for you, but you have others in your life that are telling you that you are putting your baby at risk with your sleep method.
Is your sleep method developmentally appropriate, safe, and working for you? If so, great! Keep it up! You don’t need to change a thing. If it’s safe, developmentally appropriate, and working for you, then absolutely nothing is wrong with your method.
So what if it isn’t working? You may be thinking about co-sleeping, but worry that it could be unsafe. You may be considering CIO (Crying It Out) when you would prefer to find a different method, or you may be looking for how to do CIO in a safe and developmentally appropriate manner. You may not care what the final method you use is as long as it is safe, developmentally appropriate, and gets your baby to finally sleep! When I first started reading through these books, I couldn’t imagine that I would have liked Weissbluth (I was given his books as a gift), but even though I follow Attachment Parenting for the most part, I kept returning to his book because it helped me get the boys to sleep without fussing after the No Cry Sleep Solution failed to work for Alden passed a certain point. I’ve seen that some very crunchy guides will say, “No CIO!” but then suggest guidelines that are CIO by my standards, only you stay in the room with the child while he or she cries. Some babies do fine with this, but other babies will go crazy, so in the end, more crying and stress can result from the supposedly ‘gentler’ methods. You know your baby better than anyone else. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you are doing sleep wrong if it is safe and works for you. If you feel your baby needs to sleep with you and you want to sleep with your baby, then review the literature on what makes cosleeping safe and go for it! Here is an excellent guide to safe cosleeping.
If you need to sleep independently from your baby, or you need to find some other method of getting more sleep then Wait It Out, then give sleep training a shot! Don’t let anyone tell you that your sleep isn’t important as well. I was so tired, was suffering from chronic sleep deprivation so bad, my sons’ pediatrician was able to diagnose me with it on one visit. I drove off the road and blew out a tire with my boys in the back seat. It was a wakeup call that I needed to do something. Do what’s best for your child and family. [Here](http://scienceofmom.com/2012/03/30/helping-babies-cope-with-stress-and-learn-to-sleep/) is a great article on how sleep training can be helpful for babies stressed by lack of proper sleep.
I’ve ordered the sleep guides from ‘crunchy’ to ‘silky’ based on my opinion of their content, even though I find that a rather arbitrary way to organize them. ‘Crunchy’ leans towards the types of parents who want to cosleep, baby wear, breastfeed on demand, etc, while ‘silky’ leans towards the type of parents who don’t want to or can’t cosleep. If you want to try to avoid any form of CIO and have more patience, start towards the beginning. If you are desperate for sleep, one of the later ones will probably help you better, but it really depends on your child’s temperament.
Note, I didn’t include every book or website I read. I found some so unhelpful or judgmental that I just don’t want to include them at all. If I’ve made a mistake or I leave anything off, feel free to contact me. Also, for breastfeeding mothers, I ignored all advice to schedule feeds. I kept nursing on demand while sleep training until I night weaned.
There were a few things that I saw in most of the sleep books, so matter how crunchy or silky. These things have stuck with me no matter the final way I got my boys to sleep and stay asleep.
- Making certain that your child gets enough sleep.
The exact amount varies from child to child, but from my own experience and in nearly every single book, the best way to get your child to sleep longer is usually to give them more sleep. Sleep begets sleep. There are some exceptions to this rule, like when you are trying to put them on a schedule you might wake them early, but watch the total hours of sleep as well as the hours between sleep. Here is a chart that I found very helpful when planning naps. It’s based off of research done by Weissbluth and Ferber. Note that for children over 3 months, a nap of 30 minutes is probably too short (unless it is the short evening nap found between 6 and 9 months). Some books say to put baby back to bed unless they’ve slept 45 minutes, others tell you to shoot for an hour. You’ll figure out what’s best for your child, but when tweaking, start with more sleep rather than less. When they say, “time between naps”, they mean that the child should ideally be asleep by that time. So, for example, if there are 2 hours between naps, I’ll start winding the boys down at 1.5 hours so that they’ll be asleep by 2 hours. I’ve also noticed that the time between naps can vary by time of day. For example, at 10 months, even though the time between naps is ~3 hours, I would put the boys down for the first nap after 2 hours awake, have 3 hours between the first and second nap, and 4 hours between the second nap and bedtime.
For me, the biggest thing that has reduced or eliminated crying is getting the boys to bed before they are overtired. Corwin has extremely subtle sleep clues and if I wait for them, I often miss the perfect window to put him to sleep and he goes into hyper giggly mode which is very…challenging. Watching the clock has been the biggest help for him. I never thought I’d be a mom that would use a schedule, but I need to with him. Some moms have babies that will just fall asleep wherever, but both of mine stopped doing that at about four months and Corwin never really did. As an infant, he used to stay up for 8 hour stretches or more. I’ve tried playing ‘sleep chicken’ with them where I wait for him to fall asleep on his own, but we always broke before he did.
If you think you are keeping your baby awake too long and switching from a 9 pm to a 7 pm bedtime isn’t going well, try tweaking in 15 minute increments. If your baby seems supertired in the morning or goes down for the first nap early, try putting them to bed earlier, or don’t pick them up after they wake for the feed. At 10 months, Corwin would wake at 5:30 am to eat, but then continue sleeping if I put him back to bed.
- Set up sleep associations.
The actual ones you pick don’t matter as much as being consistent and choosing ones that won’t disappear throughout the night. Mine are white noise, dark room, loveys, and lullabies. I offered 3 different lovey options to the boys and they each have chosen a different one amongst the 3: a breathable knit blanket, a small blanket with an animal head, and a soft toy that lights up and plays music. [I only include the links to give better descriptions, the details don’t matter.] At 13 months, Alden decided that two stuffed animals given to him at Christmas were his new best friends. At 18 months, he fell in love with a scarf. At about 2 and a half, he decided he needed to sleep with his feet covered by a special owl blanket. It works best if you follow your child’s cues.
- Routine is also key at bedtime for many babies.
Most guides suggest a 30 minute bedtime routine. Have a long one as well as one that can be a short cut. It doesn’t matter what exactly you do, although avoiding screen time and energizing activities is best. From starting at about 4 months, we give the boys a bath, then take them into the bedroom, leave the lights on low, nurse, brush teeth, read stories, then turn out the lights. I sing a few songs, then they go to bed. If we’re busy, they get a wipe down, one story, and one song. If I had a singleton, I’d give a massage before bed, but it’s too difficult with the twins. At about 14 months, I started nursing them outside the bedroom to make it easier for others to put them to bed and that has worked really well.
Once you pick a track, try stick with it for a while. Some parents report a linear curve of awfulness. When we decided to cut back on night time nursing, and have dad go in instead of mom, the first night was horrible, the 2nd and 3rd were perfect, then the 4th and 5th were bad again. Try something at least two weeks before you give it up unless it’s way too much, or you can tell that it won’t work with your child. Selective reinforcement can cause the situation to get worse, so if you are constantly bouncing around between styles, that can cause huge problems.
- Log your baby’s sleep.
I kept putting this off because, as a mom of twins, I felt like I didn’t have time for it. I kept coming across it, so I finally gave it a shot. This was the best way to troubleshoot sleep for me and to get my boys on a similar schedule. In the most detailed version, you keep good notes on when you started putting the baby to bed, what you did, how long it took to get them to fall asleep, how long they slept, etc. I just kept track of when the boys slept, how long they slept, and how long it took to get them to fall asleep. Keeping track helped me see where I was going wrong and the natural sleep cycle of the boys. It turns out that Corwin needs less sleep than Alden. By using detailed schedules, I was able to pin point exactly the difference between them and figure out how to get both of them to bed before we fell into that dangerous overtired zone.
First focus on night time sleep, then tackle naps.
Some babies are the reverse, but most kids are easier to put to bed for the night than for naps. If you are struggling with both, then do whatever you have to in order to get the baby to sleep for naps, while sleep training at night. Kids naturally separate naptime from bedtime, so you don’t have to use the same method for both.
Crunchy Bedsharing Sleep Training
I’ve seen this detailed in numerous crunchy groups for parents who bedshare and want to chose an extremely ‘gentle’ method. I didn’t find it very helpful myself, but other people did.
What you do in this technique is pick a time where you will not feed the baby. 11 pm to 6 am is often suggested as a good choice for babies past a year old. For days 1-3, you do your normal routine, but if the baby wakes between 11-6 am, you nurse for a short while, but make sure that the baby is unlatched before falling asleep. If the baby cries, you offer comfort, but do not nurse. For days 4-6 you don’t offer the breast at all between 11-6am. You pick up and pat, rub, etc, but do not nurse. For days 7+ you don’t pick up the baby, but rub, pet, talk, etc.
When I tried this, not only did Alden scream and claw at me for hours until I broke down in tears and fed him, it seemed like he could never understand why I would feed him sometimes, but not others. If you do try it, I suggest getting something to use as some sort of cue to make it easier for your child to understand that at this moment, they will not be fed. This method probably works well if you are not already sleep deprived and if you have a child that can understand “not now”. For me, it meant carrying around a baby screaming his head off and clawing at me for seemed like an eternity. I couldn’t do it beyond 2 nights and both nights I gave up and nursed him to sleep. For me, this was the absolute worst method of all I tried which had the most stress and screaming for my baby, so that’s why I think this ordering is a bit arbitrary since, to me, this was the most CIO and anti-baby friendly of all the methods I tried with my family. I know other families where it was a great success, which is why I think it is so important that you listen less to other people and trust your judgment more. From talking with other parents, I think it would work much better if your child is good at understanding waiting or you have a good way to demonstrate to them that they will be fed, just not at that moment.
The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
This book was the biggest help for me when the boys were young. Corwin hit the sleep regressions (4, 6, 9, 12 months) pretty hard, but outside of those moments and travel, this worked for him until he hit about 2.5. It worked for Alden for a bit. It takes a while and requires patience and I used other sources to stop night wakings and nightwean, since it didn’t help with those for Alden.
With Pantley, you nurse your baby until drowsy, then unlatch. If they fuss, you put your finger under their chin and gently hold their mouth closed. Once they stop fussing with this method, you put them to bed. If they cry (more than a little moan or protest), you pick them up again and repeat the method. Or, if you are cosleeping, you relatch. The key is to put the baby to bed awake so that they fall asleep on their own, without needing a nipple in their mouth. This was how I settled Alden without crying in the beginning. If I waited until he fell asleep, he would wake the second I set him down. I sometimes had to relatch him 2 or 3 times, but as long as I didn’t keep him up too long, most times I only had to unlatch him once.
Hogg (Baby Whisperer) does something similar, although it’s the Pick Up Put Down method where, when the baby fusses, you pick them back up and comfort them before putting them back down. Pantley suggests key phrases to help your baby get to sleep and to pause for a minute to make sure the cry is real. Both Corwin and Alden will occasionally cry out in their sleep. When they were younger, I’d wait a minute unless I could see their eyes were open, now that they are older, I wait closer to 3 unless it’s close to when they normally wake or they seem very frantic.
If the baby frequently wakes, you might want to try adding a step between nursing and sleep. We do stories and a song. I found that, in the long term, having Alden nurse before bed, even when putting him down awake, just made him need to nurse in order to go to sleep. Adding an extra step helped him disassociate nursing from sleep and settle himself on his own.
For parents that are cosleeping and are determined to avoid CIO, I think this is the best book. I normally recommend starting here for everyone, unless you are already terribly sleep deprived, or you can tell that your child is a huge sleep fighter.
Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West
As a disclaimer, I must say that I received Kim’s book and have talked with her by phone, so her work may be more influential to me because of our phone chats, but I still returned to her book after we stopped talking by phone. I absolutely love it because she divides up her sections by age and her schedules have been wonderful. Whenever we start veering off course, I look up her suggested schedule for that age and then tweak from there. She’s never steered me wrong when it comes to amount of sleep my boys need or time between naps. Obviously every child is different and Corwin usually drops naps before Alden does, but I would have let Corwin stay up way too much had I not worked with her on sleep.
Another thing I like about her work is her suggestion of massaging after bath and before bed. I used to do this when my boys were immobile, but now that they are darting all over the place, it hasn’t worked very well.
Kim’s sleep method is what some people call the Fade method. She has recommendations for the younger set, but suggests that you wait until 6 months adjusted before employing the Fade. You start out by the crib and slowly leave the room over a period of days. She goes into details on how to start the method with each age, so if you have an older child, it’s simple to find the section you need and go from there. This didn’t work so well with me doing it, but it worked amazingly well when my husband did it.
Another thing I found helpful that Kim suggested was the dream feed. With dreamfeeding, you go in and feed the babies before you go to bed yourself. For example, when I was still nursing the boys at night, I would put them to bed around 7, and then go in and feed them around 9, shortly before I went to bed myself. This didn’t seem to matter so much for Corwin, but it definitely increased the amount of time that Alden spent asleep.
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Ferber
This is also known as Progressive Waiting or Controlled Crying. Mindell suggests this as well, although with more frequent checks. Weissbluth acknowledges that this will work, but suggests that it is harder on the parent and possibly more difficult for the child. I know that when I used methods that had me re-enter the room, it would energize Alden and drag out the whole sleep training thing, so I never really tried this method, although others I know have used it to great success and it seems to be most popular amongst my nonchrunchy friends who do a form of sleep training. Ferber suggests teaching your child to self-soothe as the most important step, so the baby is to be put to bed awake. When the child cries, you go back in and pat and soothe, but do not pick them up. He has charts based on age, comfort, and length of the process for how long you wait between returning.
In the early versions, Ferber was against cosleeping. In the latest version, he just says whatever works, but doesn’t have suggestions for people who cosleep. He also suggests starting at about 5 months when most other authors suggest waiting until 6 or later for object permanence. I also didn’t like how he heavily relied on scheduled feeds.
Even this seems to be the most popular of the books, it was my least favorite. I really like [this article](http://www.parentingscience.com/Ferber-method.html), which explains that many people use Ferber incorrectly. The authors argue that Ferber is not appropriate for children who have a conditioned fear of being left alone in their beds, have a conditioned vomiting response, and is not appropriate for most child sleep problems.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth
I really liked this book even though I didn’t do a form of extinction CIO, which is what he suggests. Weissbluth is regarded by many as “harsh”, but outside of his method, I found him pretty forgiving when I actually read his book (he may have been harsher in earlier versions). He states that bed sharing and nursing while sleeping is not a bad habit and will not cause sleep problems provided that the child isn’t fully waking up to nurse once they pass a certain age. In some ways, he’s crunchier than Ferber, but many parents find the lack of return unforgiving, so I’ve placed him on the silky side.
Weissbluth does not believe that baby needs to be put to bed awake and suggests two methods for putting to bed: one where you put the baby to bed awake and the other where you get baby to sleep and then put down. He suggests picking one based on the child’s temperament. I found this very helpful because Corwin, once I get him to sleep, can sleep very well (even through a poopy diaper change), and my struggle is only getting him to sleep. If he nurses to sleep and stays asleep? No problem! Keep at it. While Alden, on the other hand, needs to go to bed awake because if I try to move him after he’s asleep, he’ll wake and fuss. He also could not re-settle himself without nursing unless I got him to go to sleep without a nipple in his mouth. He used to wake every 2 hours or less, even well into 8 months, until I figured this out.
Weissbluth’s method is big on schedules, sleep associations, getting plenty of sleep, etc. He has good charts and guidelines for sleep at all ages. I found his book really helpful for getting Eric to bed without using CIO. When I follow his instructions combined with Kim’s, I can get both of the boys to sleep without any crying most of the time. The hard part comes when we get off schedule or I have to skip a nap for whatever reason. Where Weissbluth comes off as harsh is that he uses Extinction CIO, which is when you put the baby down and don’t come back until for hours, even if they scream or puke. Would this be harsh for some children? Absolutely. It is not necessary since they can be settled with other means. He recommends the extinction method for children that are terribly sleep deprived but can’t be put to sleep through other means. Even Alden, with all his issues, was able to be settled through other methods than extinction. I really suggest that you try other methods first before moving onto Ferber and Weissbluth.
Sleepeasy Solution by Waldburger and Spivack
I came across this book rather late. It has lots of helpful suggestions for older children, and the sections are easy to read and simple, but I wouldn’t have chosen it when the boys were young because I felt, based on research cited in other books, that they needed a nighttime feed after 5 months, especially with Alden’s reflux, and I didn’t want to mess with my supply.
The authors note that teething, learning skills, and changes in routines can mess with sleep. Some authors say that this doesn’t matter much and sleep train around it, but these two suggest waiting until they pass before embarking on sleep training. If I had waited for those things to pass, I never would have been able to get the boys to sleep. The authors suggest naptime routines of 10-15 minutes in order to help the parent avoid missing the perfect nap window. Personally, I’d avoid this book unless you are working with an older toddler. I only included it here because I really love their idea of writing out a little book about bedtime and reading it as part of the bedtime routine. You can find more details about that aspect through google books.
That’s all I have written for now. As I said, I am still reading through the books and writing little reviews. I would love feedback on what worked for you and your family and what didn’t. Come across a book you loved? Please share it!