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How Long Will Sleep Training Take to Improve My Child’s Sleep?

Sleep training is a process that helps babies and children learn to fall asleep and stay asleep independently. When people think of different sleep training techniques, methods like the Ferber method and cry-it-out often come to mind. However, there are many different methods of sleep training, each involving different levels of responsiveness. When implementing your chosen method, here are some key factors in determining how long sleep training will take: the method used, the child’s age, temperament, developmental readiness, and the caregiver’s consistency in implementation. In this article, we’ll delve into these factors in detail, providing you with a comprehensive guide of sleep training tips and what to expect when you embark on the sleep training journey.

Choosing a Sleep Training Method

The method of sleep training you choose can impact how long the process takes. It’s also important to note that sleep training is not a one-and-done process. Early childhood is a period of rapid developmental growth as your baby learns more about their world. Sleep is not static, but ever-evolving. Choosing a method that equips you with tools to support your child’s sleep as it changes, like the Batelle Method, can therefore be beneficial (and save a lot of time in the long-run).

Here’s a look at some common methods and their typical timelines:

Cry-it-out: This method, also known as extinction or CIO, involves letting your child cry until they fall asleep without any intervention from you. This can be tough for new parents to endure, and the timeline varies greatly from child to child. Some may adjust within a few days,  while others may take several weeks to get to a good night to sleep.  While a cry-it-out method can see the fastest results, they can be impermanent.

Ferber Method: Also known as graduated extinction, this method involves letting your child cry for a predetermined amount of time before offering comfort in the form of check-ins. This method can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to see results.

Chair Method: This method involves sitting in a chair next to your child’s crib until they fall asleep, gradually moving the chair further away over time. This method can be less stressful for the child (as the parent is still in view, although unresponsive) but can take several weeks to a month to see results.

Pick-Up, Put Down Method: This method involves comforting your child when they cry by picking them up and then putting them down as soon as they’ve calmed. This can be a “gentler” method (ie. there is more reassurance given by the caregiver), but it can also take several weeks to a month to see results.

Batelle Method: The Batelle Method is the most engaged and emotionally responsive approach. It focuses on teaching the parents how to change their behavior in a way that helps their child to learn to self-regulate with the caregiver nearby and fully engaged. The timeline for this method can vary depending on your child and their unique needs. We see it click with some children children in a matter of days, while others – especially those children that have done a lot of other sleep training before, or parents who want to take a more incremental approach –  can take up to a month or more. The sweet spot – balancing results and increments – is 2 weeks.  

A side note: Many parents are interested in ‘no-cry’ sleep training methods, hoping to minimize their child’s distress during the process. While it’s important to note that there’s no such thing as completely ‘no-cry’ sleep training (remember, sleep training implies change), some methods aim to make the process as “gentle” as possible. For instance, the Pick-Up, Put Down Method, and the Batelle Method are both designed to respond quickly to a child’s cries, providing comfort while still encouraging independent sleep (although these approaches differ significantly in the underlying approach to building up reassurance for a little one). On the other hand, cry-it-out or any graduated extinction methods (eg.  Ferber, Taking Cara Babies) focus rather on no or only intermittent engagement.  For us at Batelle, the goal of sleep training is to create a nurturing sleep environment that supports your baby’s sleep journey.  Yes, this will involve some tears along the way. But for us what is important, is how a parent responds and what that teaches a baby or child. 

When considering what sleep training method to use, remember, every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. And equally important, every parent is different as well. It’s important to choose a method that feels right for you and your child, and to be consistent in implementing it. For a more detailed comparison of sleep training methods, see our blog.

Child’s Age, Developmental Readiness and Sleep Training

The age of your child, when you start sleep training, can significantly impact how long the process takes. Here’s a rough guide on what to expect:

Newborns to 6 months of age: Newborns need to eat frequently, so night waking is normal and necessary. While it is common for pediatricians to recommend sleep training as early as 4 months, at Batelle, we recommend focusing on establishing good sleep habits and routines rather than formal sleep training during this period. Our Batelle Babies program is the perfect place to start.

6 months to 12 months of age: This is often considered a good age to start sleep training, as many babies are beginning to develop gross motor skills that assist with self-soothing, such as repositioning themselves during sleep, and are able to sleep for longer stretches. However, this period is also filled with significant developmental milestones and sleep regressions that can impact sleep, including the onset of separation anxiety around 8-9 months and the ongoing process of teething. Sleep training can take a few days to a few weeks at this age. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can greatly aid in creating a comforting sleep environment for your little one.

Toddlers (12 months to 3 years-olds): Sleep training during this age can be influenced by a variety of factors, including ongoing developmental milestones and sleep regressions, the acquisition of language, and the child’s growing sense of autonomy. The transition from a crib to an open bed can also present new challenges. These factors can cause cycles of separation anxiety and other sleep disruptions, making sleep training a more dynamic process that may take several weeks.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years-olds): Sleep issues at this age are often related to fears, nightmares, or sleep schedule issues. While not typically referred to as “sleep training,” strategies for addressing these issues, such as bedtime fading, can take a few weeks to implement successfully.

Developmental readiness is a crucial factor in determining the right time to start sleep training and how long the process will take. Remember, these are just guidelines. It’s important to remember that young children develop at their own pace. Some children may be ready to start sleep training earlier than others. Factors such as the ability to self-soothe, what sleep associations are part of their settling process, the onset of separation anxiety, and the development of gross motor skills can all impact the sleep training process. It’s important to take your child’s unique developmental milestones into account when embarking on the sleep training journey. 

Child’s Temperament and Sleep Training

Temperament, the individual differences in behavior that are inherent from birth, plays a significant role in sleep training. Traits such as adaptability, mood, activity level, and intensity of reaction can influence how a child responds to sleep training. For instance, children with an “easygoing” temperament, often referred to as “dandelions,” might adjust more quickly to sleep training, while those with a more sensitive or “orchid” temperament might resist changes to their sleep routine, extending the sleep training timeline.

Specifically, if your child is highly sensitive to their environment, you may face more challenges in solving their sleep problems. They may be more affected by changes in routine and may require a more gradual sleep training method. However, having an “orchid” temperament is not a disqualification for sleep training. It simply means that the approach may need to be more personalized to meet the child’s unique needs, like the Batelle Method, which is designed to adapt to each child’s individual temperament and needs.

Conversely, “dandelion” children, who are more resilient and adaptable, may adjust more readily to sleep training. Understanding your child’s temperament can help you choose the most effective sleep training method and set realistic expectations for the process.

Caregiver Consistency in Sleep Training

Consistency is key in sleep training. Changing methods frequently or not following through with the chosen method can confuse your child and extend the sleep training timeline. This is why finding a method that aligns with your parenting style and your child’s unique needs is crucial for successful sleep training.

Behaviorist methods like the Ferber method or the cry-it-out method use specific techniques and responses to encourage desired sleep habits. For example, in the Ferber method, parents progressively increase the time intervals before responding to the baby’s cries during sleep training, allowing the child to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.

On the other hand, the Batelle Method takes a different approach by focusing more on understanding and responding to the child’s individual needs and cues. It provides a comprehensive toolkit that allows parents to respond in various ways while still maintaining consistency. This adaptability can be beneficial for parents who prefer a more responsive and emotionally attuned approach to sleep training.

Regardless of the method chosen, it’s important to approach sleep training with a clear and consistent plan, following through with your chosen method to provide a sense of safety and reliability for the child. Consistency in responding to your child’s sleep behaviors helps create a loving and supportive sleep environment that fosters healthy sleep habits. Each sleep training method has its strengths and considerations, and the ultimate goal is to create a nurturing sleep environment that supports your child’s individual sleep journey.

Impact of Illness and Underlying Medical Conditions on Sleep Training and Baby Sleep

When your child is unwell, it’s natural for their sleep patterns to be disrupted. They may wake up more frequently or have more challenging bedtimes. Illnesses such as colds, fevers, or ear infections can cause discomfort and make it challenging for your child to settle into a sleep routine. During these times, it’s essential to prioritize your child’s health and well-being over sleep training. Pausing sleep training during illness and/or teething allows you to provide the extra comfort and care your child needs until they are feeling better.

In addition to temporary illnesses, certain underlying medical conditions can also affect your child’s sleep. Conditions like sleep apnea, reflux, or other respiratory issues can lead to middle-of-the-night awakenings and restless sleep. If your child is experiencing persistent sleep issues that go beyond typical developmental changes, it’s crucial to consult with a pediatrician. They can help identify any potential underlying medical reasons for the sleep disruptions and recommend appropriate interventions.

Remember, sleep training is most effective when your child is in good health and able to develop healthy sleep habits. By addressing illness and potential medical concerns, you can create a solid foundation for successful sleep training and overall well-being.

Conclusion

Sleep training is a journey, not a destination. The process can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on your consistency in implementing your chosen method.

While it’s common to start with nighttime sleep due to the natural circadian rhythms, the skills your child learns can then be applied to naps, even though this can often be a more challenging process. The ultimate goal of sleep training is to help your child learn how to sleep soundly through the night and establish healthy sleep habits.

Remember, sleep training is not a one-and-done process. Early childhood is filled with developmental growth, and sleep is not static but ever-evolving. Choosing a method like Batelle’s, which gives you tools to support your child’s sleep as it changes, can be beneficial in navigating this journey.

We hope this article has provided some insight into what to expect when you embark on sleep training. Sleep training can be a challenging process, but with patience, consistency, and the right approach, it can lead to better sleep for your whole family.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists. Special thanks to Deanna.