Helping your baby fall and stay asleep at night

Baby Sleep Study

We’ve made some changes to the original post, “When the cry it out method seems ineffective”.

Some babies are born good sleepers, while others need help falling and staying asleep. One option to help your baby fall asleep on her own is sleep training. If you are in the process, or thinking about starting some method of sleep training, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Good sleep looks different for every family.

Consistency is key.

Start small. Avoid sleep training during other big changes such as potty training or moving. If you are ready to start sleep training, there are few different methods, but Dr. Canapari shares two ways to change undesirable nighttime behavior. “Unmodified extinction involves putting your child down at the appointed hour, closing the door, and letting things play out. Many people struggle with this quite a bit. Graduated extinction (also known as the Ferber method) is where you check on your child at set intervals (e.g. 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, then every five minutes until they fall asleep). When you check, the interaction should be very brief and without physical contact. Dr. Jodi Mindell recommends the script, “It’s night night time. I love you. I’ll see you in the morning”. This method is very effective but can be challenging to carry out.” Some children get upset to the point of vomiting. One parent shared with Baby Sleep Study:

Our 23 month old still needs us to fall asleep. We cannot do the "cry it out" method, because she works herself up so much that she ends up vomiting. I know we're not the only parent who has experienced this ... I've talked to others. Is there any science that gives some guidance?

If your child vomits during sleep training, first make sure that that vomiting is not a result of a health issue, like reflux. Once you have checked with a doctor and are sure that the vomiting is not related to a medical cause, then you can continue with sleep training. Unfortunately, vomiting can be reinforced as way for your child to get what she wants. Pediatric Sleep Council’s Dr. Leichman suggests going into your child’s room, cleaning up the vomit, then leaving without paying much attention to your little one. Then during the day, try to make the crib a fun place, playing games in the crib, like peek-a-boo. “It feels horrible”, says Dr. Canapari, “but you don’t want to reinforce vomiting as a tool to get what you want. This is pretty difficult to implement in children who have already moved from a crib to a bed. So, for kids in beds, I recommend gentler methods, like camping out.”

If you do not feel comfortable with this advice or sleep training does not align with your parenting style or cultural beliefs, Dr. Leichman suggests that you implement a bedtime routine. Research reveals that infants and toddlers with consistent bedtime routines tend to have better sleep and behavioral outcomes regardless of whether the child falls asleep on her own or with the help of a parent.