There are many ways to train your baby to sleep. One of the most popular techniques is the Ferber Method, developed by Richard Ferber in 1985. Also known as graduated extinction, extinction sleep training, cry-it-out or ferberization, this approach involves allowing your baby to cry for an increasingly longer period of time before you soothe them to sleep again. It’s designed to help babies easily learn to sleep for long stretches of time, on their own.
This method is best suited for babies who are older than five to six months of age, because babies that young often experience hunger in two hour intervals. It can be practiced until the baby is two years old. But remember, the older the baby is, the harder it is to get them to sleep, so experts advise parents to start early.
That said, every baby is different, so the time to start the Ferber Method and how long it takes for a baby to adjust, can vary. There is no “right” or “wrong” time, and you know your baby best.
How the Ferber Method Works
- Put the drowsy baby in the crib after the normal routine of eating and cleaning up.
- Make sure that the baby is not distracted by strong lighting, loud conversations or energy-filled activities.
- Leave the room.
- If you hear the baby cry, wait for three minutes on the first night before entering the room to comfort them. Do not touch them or pick them up. Just console or sing to them in a soft voice.
- Then, leave the room again.
- If the baby starts crying again, extend your wait for 5 minutes until you enter the room again. This method is also called “progressive waiting.”
- Gradually extend your period of waiting consecutively, until the baby gets into the practice of self-soothing and falling asleep without anybody’s presence.
Your plan for timed check-ins may look something like this:
This is a reliable practice that helps the infant “sleep through the night” for a good six to seven hours, simultaneously decreasing their nighttime awakenings.
Some parents initially feel bad about allowing the baby to cry to sleep in the next room, and it may take a few tough nights to adjust. But consider this as a small price to pay for the (magical) outcome of undisturbed sleep.
When Should You NOT Practice the Ferber Method?
The Ferber Method should be avoided if the child is:
- Sick (fever, flu, constipation)
- Nyctophobic (scared of darkness)
- Claustrophobic (scared of constricted places)
- Autophobic (scared of being alone)
Before starting the Ferber Method, it may be helpful to understand an infant’s sleep cycle. Observing their circadian rhythms (biological cycles which repeat after every 24 hours, such as sleeping, waking up, resting, hunger, crying) will help you see their progress.