Sleep training, also known as sleep coaching, is often something that parents dread. This is partly because of notions that the process requires adults to be pretty strict on their little ones. And if you’re new to parenthood, it probably doesn’t sound appealing to simply let your child cry it out in the next room while you wring your hands and wish you could go in there and comfort them.
Fortunately, there are many more ways to approach the situation, including the growingly popular no cry sleep training method. While it’s not a new approach necessarily, it has become a much talked about alternative to other approaches to sleep coaching in the last 5 years or so, made famous in child expert Elizabeth Pantely’s “The No Cry Sleep Solution”.
In this blog, we discuss how you can help your baby establish healthy sleep habits and develop sleep independence through the no cry method (sometimes called the low cry method, which is perhaps more fitting as you’ll discover if you keep reading).
What Exactly is the No Cry Sleep Training Method?
The no cry sleep training approach allows parents to actively help their children move towards sleep independence without subjecting them to bouts of extended crying.
Whether you just can’t stand the sound of it and crumble every time you hear your little one in distress, or if you simply don’t think it's effective, the no cry method is designed to produce minimal tears.
Rather than a single tactic or technique, this approach is more of a collection of activities that focus on gently developing healthy nighttime rituals, gradually removing dependencies, and quickly responding to a child’s cries when needed.
There is a large emphasis on creating healthy routines and bedroom atmospheres that give your little one everything they need to sleep well on their own. And if your baby wakes up and cries out, it’s okay to go to them and comfort them.
The important thing is that you implement a process of gradually removing the things they depend on to fall asleep, such as sucking to sleep, sleeping in a particular room, or being put to bed by a particular person.
A Few Myths that Might Need Busting
- The no cry sleep training method might not be possible for every family. Some babies are much more reliant on sleep aids even as they reach the 12-month mark. In situations where your baby is still resistant to accommodating gentle changes to their routine, after you’ve done everything you can to avoid tears, it might be necessary to be a little harsher with them. If it leads to a few tears here and there, this is still fine and what many people call the “low-cry sleep method”.
- You can’t effectively use the no cry sleep training method without putting significant effort into the whole planning phase of the nighttime experience for your child. For instance, you will need to address the fundamentals of sleep through transitional bedtime routines, healthy sleeping environments, suitable clothing options for different ages, and offering them safe and comfortable sleeping conditions. Without these things, your child may remain dependent on you for much longer than needed.
- Some parents are concerned about this method “taking too long” and making sleep independence less likely. However, as long as you are introducing gradual removal of dependencies and actively encouraging your child to self-soothe, there’s a good chance you can help your baby achieve sustainable sleep independence within 5-6 weeks.
You can’t effectively use the no cry method without putting significant effort into the whole planning phase of the nighttime experience for your child.
How to Prepare for the No Cry Sleep Method
So one of the most important parts of implementing this method is the preparation. If you’re going to try no cry sleep training, always start by building a strategy for improving the fundamentals of sleep in your child’s life. This should involve the following:
- Create a healthy and consistent bedtime routine. Make sure your routines happen the same way each night and involve activities your little one can get used to and enjoy, even if there are disruptions to your daily life. For instance, rather than a complicated sequence of events you can only carry out 2-3 times a week, look to use a set of easy-to-implement activities that start and end at the same time pretty much every single day.
- Build a sleep conducive environment for your child by removing unnecessary distractions and stimulations such as noise or light from nearby TVs or Radios.
- Offer your child a firm mattress and crib layout that is completely safe and healthy for sleep. Avoid loose blankets and sheets and follow the ABCs of safe sleep.
- Choose clothing options that are safe and comfortable. If your child is getting too old for their swaddle, look for smart transitional items that still offer a good level of comfort and coziness like the Zipadee-Zip.
- Make scheduled changes as needed based on observations of your child’s progress. There’s no need to stick to something stringently if it’s not working. For instance, gradually adapt their bedtime or the amount of naps they get in the day. The crucial thing is to build changes into your plan and avoid ad-hoc or random changes to their sleep routine.
- Carefully monitor and adjust the frequency and timing of feedings at night and in the day. Again, it's okay to decrease or increase levels as long as you work it into your mix consciously.
Ways to Implement the No Cry Sleep Method
The way that you choose to gradually remove dependencies and introduce more independence into your child’s bedtime routine is largely up to you. However, a few popular methods are below.
All no cry sleep training methods involve some level of fading out. With fading, you gradually remove all the comforts and attention you offer your child in order to get them to sleep.
For instance, if they require hugging and rocking in your arms to become drowsy and drop off, fading out might involve less time spent each night holding your baby (perhaps a few minutes less each night) until you don’t need to do it at all.
Some babies get completely dependent on one or two activities in order to sleep. The worst ones are those that require a heavy amount of work by parents, such as feeding them from the breast. Substitution involves switching out these activities with something that’s still comforting but less reliant on the parent.
For example, you might try to introduce white noise or light lullaby music as a substitute for feeding. Equally important is the fact that your child has now learned to wean themselves off a once important sleep aid. The next gentle removal of a sleep association should now be much easier.
Drowsy Not Sleeping Technique
Tending to your baby once they start crying is allowed with the no cry sleep training method, but this doesn't mean you always have to put your baby into the crib when they’re sleeping.
In fact, one of the best ways to encourage sleep independence is to lay them down when they're drowsy instead of completely passed out.
This will help to encourage the act of self soothing and sleeping with less help and support from their parents. If they wake up, simply pick them up and perform the same action, laying them down once again when they’re calm and drowsy.
When to Start the No Cry Sleep Training Method?
Age is always an important factor when sleep training. Most sleep coaches believe the best time to implement training is between four and six months, when your baby's sleep patterns are more consistent and they haven’t become too dependent on sleep associations.
Having said this, the ideal time to start sleep training can differ depending on your baby’s development. Some children will progress much faster (or slower) than others.
As a parent you must try to choose a suitable period where your child seems ready to learn the skill of falling asleep on their own.
However, if you start the process and it’s just not working, don’t feel too discouraged. It’s fine to delay the training or adapt the process as you go, to match the needs of your child and what’s happening in your own life. If you’re just about to move house and can’t possibly enforce consistency, you might need to wait a little longer.
It Might be Too Early, but It’s Never too Late!
If your baby is older than six months, or even 12 months, don’t worry. It’s never too late to develop good sleep habits. For some, nine months is the best time for some solid no cry sleep training, rather than earlier when crying is simply unavoidable if you try to remove any of your child’s much-loved sleep aids.
However, keep in mind that the best sleep training method can vary spending on your child’s age. For instance, gentler approaches are well united to earlier months (4-6 months) while it can be necessary to use “harsher” methods if your child is coming up to their first birthday, as attachments with sleep association could be harder to break.
Other Sleep Training Methods to Consider
Interestingly, reviews of the sleep training literature show us that the majority of published studies (over 80%) report positive outcomes from sleep training, regardless of what method is being tested, according to BASIS. Other methods you can consider as a parent include:
The Cry it Out Method
Despite some people disagreeing with the cry it out sleep training method (also known as the extinction method), there are many supporters who believe it's the fastest and most effective way to help babies achieve sleep independence.
There is also a decent body of research into the benefits for any parents wanting to explore further into the science behind it.
Unlike the no cry sleep training method, this method accepts that crying is simply a necessary evil and should be done so that your child can find the skills they need to sleep. It involves letting your baby “cry it out” until they eventually learn how to soothe themselves to sleep, whether that’s in the middle of the night or just as you put them down.
Some believe that this method, while being effective in many cases, can negatively affect your child’s emotional state and psychological stress levels due to unnecessary distress. However, various reports have proven otherwise, such as one by the University of Warwick which shows that a baby’s development at 18 months old is not adversely affected by being left to ‘cry it out’ a few times or often in infancy.
It’s important to note that there are various levels to which parents can choose to let their children cry it out. Letting your baby wail for a few minutes above the age of 6 months before they eventually relax is very different to letting a newborn below the age of 6 months cry all night for multiple days until they stop.
We also recommend being careful that your child is not crying for a specific reason, such as an illness or physical discomfort. If your child is sick, it is always important to remedy the underlying issue in order to help them sleep properly.
A very popular approach to sleep training is the chair method, which involves parents sitting near the crib until their infants fall asleep. You can then move your chair further and further away from the crib gradually, reassuring them that you are there but not offering any physical attention.
The idea is that you will eventually be able to reach the door and sleep in a separate room once again (assuming you have moved your baby into their own room first).
Named after pediatrician Dr Richard Ferber, this method involves putting your baby in the crib drowsy, but awake and then waiting several minutes before going in to tend to them if they start to cry.
Some see it as a variation of the cry it out method, however, speaking on the topic, Dr Ferber commented that “Simply leaving a child in a crib to cry for long periods alone until he falls asleep, no matter how long it takes, is not an approach I approve of.”
The approach focuses on adjusting the time you wait until you offer support, delaying your arrival increasingly over the course of a week or more until your child can develop the ability to soothe themselves to sleep without your help.
The Wake to Sleep Technique
An interesting technique is the “wake to sleep” method, which requires you to set your alarm one hour before your child naturally wakes up and touch them ever so gently. Or if your child is an extremely light sleeper, opening the door to their bedroom may just work.
You’re not trying to wake them up exactly, but gently prompt them to move, sigh, or stir into a lighter cycle of sleep. The idea is that by doing this, you are showing them how they can soothe themselves back to sleep in a situation that’s far easier for them to achieve.
So if your child is waking up at 4:45 am every morning, you would enter the room at 3:45 am and start the technique.
Pick Up and Shush
For some babies, it’s enough for you to be close to them and offer a gentle soothing notion like shushing or patting their bellies for them to eventually fall asleep. By doing this, you’re not overloading them with too much support but preventing their crying from getting out of control.
We recommend being careful that your child is not crying for a specific reason, such as an illness or physical discomfort.
After reading this blog, you’ll probably realize that there is plenty of overlap between different approaches to sleep training and probably a number of techniques you would have already used (or are already using now).
The important thing isn’t necessarily choosing a specific technique and sticking to it religiously (although consistency does help), instead, it’s finding the best plan of action for your specific child and their needs.
The no cry sleep training method is the perfect foundation for approaching sleep training that can help you build your first sleep coaching plan for your little one, but, if your child requires something different or you’re drawn to one of the other training methods mentioned, then, by all means, go ahead.