Sleep Training 101

It’s like a bit of a cheat sheet for the most popular sleep training methods. You may read them and say, “Nope, that won’t work for us” or “Yes, we need a change” and either is totally cool.

Sleep training is one of those things that set people off. Everything from “How can you do that to a poor baby?!” to “If you don’t establish good sleep habits your child will always have trouble sleeping!!”

Okay, but even though I’d heard of sleep training, I didn’t exactly know what it meant. What is cry-it-out? Was it just leaving them or is there a method to it?  Is there a difference between crying it out and extinction?

So when I read this article that Shannon from Graytmama wrote, I asked her if I could repost it here. It’s like a bit of a cheat sheet for the most popular sleep training methods. You may read them and say, “Nope, that won’t work for us” or “Yes, we need a change” and either is totally cool.

As for me, I couldn’t do sleep training – as you can see from my Haggard Mother Sleep Method post – but my friend swore by it. After six months of her son waking up every fifteen minutes she was literally on the verge of a mental collapse. She did sleep training for three days and credits it for saving her marbles.

If you’re going to sleep train it’s probably best to start after the four-month mark (as the article mentions) so you have a better shot at everyone getting on board. There are also some good reasons for night waking and irregular sleep in newborns so you don’t want to rush it (says the woman who slept all night here.)

Even if it isn’t for you, it’s nice to know what the deal is so you don’t think “CIO” is Colouring in Orange on the message boards : )

Anyway, here’s how Shannon did it.

– Amy

Let me preface by saying naps were by far the hardest thing I have dealt with as a parent! Just like we teach our children how to ride a bike, read, even eat, we must also teach them how to sleep.  I believe night sleep will fall into place once you have a routine, but naps just never came easy for my little chica. There are a lot of sleep masters (AKA: docs who have studied babies and sleep) out there, and they have some amazing answers. The two books I used to help get me started on sleep training were:

(this guy is not as bad as you think, he just has a bad rap)



When do I start my training, Master?

I have heard/read/researched/asked around and the answer can range from 3-6 months. Anything after 6 months is going to be a hellava lot harder. I started at 3 months exactly! Looking back, I would have waited a little longer.  I really think I jumped the gun on this one, and I think all the hard work I did was for nothing.  I think 3.5 or 4 months is a good time to start.

My little chick didn’t master the naps until 5 months!  She was just very inconsistent.  Some days she would give me a 2 hour nap, other days she would give me 45 minutes, and then wake up. The bottom line is this: 45 minutes is NOT  a good nap.  Its just not.  Baby should be taking at least an hour nap each time they are put down.  In the beginning this is hard, because little babies can only take 30-40 minute naps and then they wake up.  Before 3 months your little one is not really capable of falling back to sleep on their own, so you can’t expect them to do so.

Keep this in mind, some babies don’t master the nap thing until they are 6 months old.  This is due to their biological nap rhythms maturing slowly. HOWEVER, the sooner you start the easier it is going to be to get them to nap when their bodies are ready.  That being said, if you wait until 6 months to sleep train, then baby is going to have a much harder time working through it.

My Guy, Mr. Ferber

Ok, ok, so Ferber gets a really bad rap, but actually he is a pretty brilliant man. “Ferberizing” your child is not as bad as you think.  Here is his totally sensical theory about why we should put baby to sleep awake:

It important to know that when we sleep our bodies go through sleep cycles. We move around from REM sleep to active sleep, yadda yadda…  So, when you lie your baby down for a nap, they are going to wake up somewhere in between 35-50 minutes.  Adults do it too, but our cycles are a little longer; between 90-110 minutes.  When you are sleeping, I am sure you don’t even realize that you are moving through these sleep cycles where you actually wake 4-6 times a night. Since we are pros at sleeping, we just wake, check our surroundings, and fall right back to sleep.  Most times if things are the way they were when we fell asleep, then we don’t even remember waking in the night.  It might just be a quick adjustment of your pillow, or a roll to your other side.

Now Ferber describes it like this: Imagine you go to sleep with your big fluffy pillow, and 90 minutes later you wake from your sleep cycle to find your pillow is gone.  Of course, you are going to think, “Who the hell stole my pillow!”  You check the floor, and your find that your husband has taken it.  Back to sleep you go…  90 minutes later you wake again, to find your special pillow gone again. Of course, you can’t fall back to sleep.  You need your pillow!

Now, pretend we take this fun analogy a little bit further.  Lets say you fall asleep, and wake after your first sleep cycle to find that you are no longer in your bed, but in your front yard!  Do you really think you are going to fall back to sleep at that point?  Of course not! “Call the police, someone has kidnapped me!”

Now lets think about this in baby perspective.  You rock, cuddle and shhhh your little one for 20 minutes until they fall asleep.  You transfer them to them crib fast asleep.  What do you think that baby is going to do when they wake up!?  They are no longer being rocked in your arms, cuddled, or shushed.  I can promise you, they are going to cry, A LOT!  Just like you would if someone moved your ass to the front yard!

Your child wakes up a lot more than you do in the night. The scene they find when they wake up needs to be IDENTICAL to the one they saw when they fell asleep.

Mr. Ferber chillaxing on a couch.

Why it’s Muy Importante to Put Baby Down Awake but Groggy.

The above analogy is why its so important to put baby down awake.  Then when baby moves to the next sleep cycle, things will be exactly as they were when they fell to sleep.  It is a lot easier moving from one cycle to the next if things are how they should be in a babies mind. Now I am not saying you shouldn’t have a routine before nap as well (Its a really good idea to have a nap routine as well), where you might rock baby a little or cuddle baby a little, but you should have baby down in that crib before they fall asleep!

When to Nap and Where to Nap

1-4 months **Baby will most likely take 4 naps a day at this time:

  • Morning Nap
  • Late Morning Nap
  • Afternoon Nap
  • Early Evening Cat Nap

4-6(7) months  **Baby will take 3 naps a day; dropping the late morning nap

  • Morning Nap
  • Afternoon Nap
  • Evening Cat Nap

6(8)-15(18) months **Cat nap gets dropped and baby will have two naps

  • Morning Nap
  • Afternoon Nap

The longer your kiddo naps the easier it is to drop naps.  I was able to drop the cat nap at 6 months, because Baby G was killing her first two naps.  She would crank out a 2 hour nap in the morning, which would push her afternoon awake time longer.  So, I would put her down for a later afternoon nap, where should we take another 2 hours. At this point there was no need for a cat nap.  She began rocking these naps because I TRAINED her to rock her naps!

The Training, Oh God, the Training

I am sweating bullets thinking about the backlash that could come from me writing about the lengths I took to sleep train my baby for naps.  LET ME BE VERY CLEAR: If you don’t want to follow these methods, then find what you are comfortable with.  I tried SO many things, and now I have a REALLY well rested, happy baby.  I needed it for my sanity, so I was willing to work at getting her to be a good sleeper. I cried a lot, and some days I quit, and just picked her up and squeezed her.  I don’t judge (OK, maybe I judge a little), so please keep your judgments to yourself.

Possible Methods to Use during Training:

  • Cry it out
  • Check and Console
  • Extinction
  • Graduated Extinction (Pretty much the same as check and console)
  • Pick Up/put down (This is just stupid if you ask me, but I want you to know about it)

Cry it out

This is where you go in and check on baby after increasing intervals.  You can go in and put your hand on baby, shhh baby, use your voice to calm baby down, but you are only to stay for less than a minute.  You are only going in to let baby know you have not abandoned them. You have to remain consistent when using CIO, if you are not willing to do this, then don’t use this method.  Its success is based on consistency.  I promise you, if you don’t follow it the correct way, then you will be miserable a lot longer than you need to.  CIO does not mean putting your baby in the crib and leaving them until the nap is over.

  • First Day = 3 min (1st wait); 5 min (2nd wait); 10 min (3rd wait); 10 min (subsequent waits)
  • Second Day = 5 min; 10 min; 12 min; 12 min (subsequent waits)
  • Third Day = 10 min; 12 min; 15 min; 15 min (subsequent waits)
  • Fourth Day = 12 min; 15 min; 17 min; 17 min (subsequent waits)
  • Fifth Day= 15 min; 17 min; 20 min; 20 min (subsequent waits)
  • Sixth Day= 17 min; 20 min; 25 min; 25 min (subsequent waits)
  • Seventh Day= 20 min; 25 min; 30 min; 30 min (subsequent waits)

** You can do a little tweak-a-roo, and start with 1 min, 3 min, 5 min, then 5 min. subsequent waits, on day 1.  Then on Day 2, you would do 3,5,10,10, etc.  You will be shocked at how long 3 minutes can feel like when you’re baby is screaming at the top of their lungs.

I tried all of these methods and this one was up there as one of the worst. Anyone, who is going to judge someone for letting their baby cry-it out, is an ASShole.  This is NOT easy for any mommy.  Yea, thats right, I’m sitting on the couch catching up on my US Weekly mags, I can’t believe Reese Witherspoon got arrested! I’m here to tell ya, Mamas who do CIO, are on the other side of the door CRYING IT OUT as well.

This method can be used for night sleep, but for naps you will go ahead and call the nap a wash after 30 minutes of crying, and try again at a later time.

Things you might need to get through this week (I hope it doesn’t last that long)

  1. Wine
  2. Ice Cream
  3. Your hubby
  4. Tissues to wipe your tears

***The biggest issue with Ferber’s method is that you have to do it the right way, or it will FAIL.  Then you will spend heartbreaking hours of your life to find that it doesn’t work.  I failed at this method, because I wasn’t consistent.  Here is the problem.  When I would go in after the wait time, I would stay in too long, because I couldn’t stand seeing her trying to catch her breath as she cried.  I would pick her up, or stay too long to try and help her back to sleep.  I even had a timer on my phone, and would go in too early.  I just didn’t do it the way Mr. Ferber intended.

Pick Up/Put Down (the no-cry method)

This method comes from TRACEY HOGG, THE BABY WHISPERER.  I cannot believe that I actually tried this method.  So, what you do is when baby cries you go into their room right away, and you first try and put your hand on their belly or back to let them know you are there.  You can shhh or pat them too.  If baby stops crying then you can leave the room.  If baby doesn’t stop crying then you can pick them up, BUT as soon as baby stops you need to lay them down RIGHT AWAY.  If they cry again, even 30 seconds later, you are to pick them up again, and put them down as soon as they stop crying.  You are not trying to get them to fall back to sleep on you, but you are just comforting them. Eventually baby falls asleep, and learns to sleep on his own.

I CAN’T BELIEVE I ACTUALLY DID THIS FOR A WEEK!  Screw working out, I was lifting a 13 pound baby(My baby is large) every 30 seconds!  I was actually sore after doing this method, because I was leaning over the crib to console, shhhh, pat.  I was picking baby up and putting baby down!  It was all kinds of cray cray!!


You put baby in the crib and you don’t come back.  For naps, you set the clock for 60 minutes, and baby is to stay in there for that long.  If they wake up at 45 minutes, then they will cry for 15 min.  If they wake up at 59 minutes then they will cry for 1 minute.  You get the idea.  In some cases baby will cry at 45 minutes, then continue to cry for another 15, and then fall asleep for another hour.  YAY! Baby just got an amazing hour and 45 minute nap, and only 15 minutes of crying.

I know, I know the thought of this sounds horrific!  Seriously, if my baby had an issue with sleeping at night, I don’t think I could let her cry and not go in for over an hour. I did however use this for NAPS.  It was my last resort, and I wish it hadn’t been.  I put myself, my husband, and my little gal through hell, before finally trying this.  THIS IS WHAT WORKED!  I should have done this first starting at 4 months instead of 3 months.

I did this for 2 weeks, and some days she cried A LOT, but other days during those two weeks, she cried for a few minutes and then fell back to sleep.  Now she is a rock star napper!  She still wakes at times after 45 min (the first sleep cycle), and rolls around, sometimes whines or cries, but its always less than 5 minutes, and she falls right back to sleep.

What to do at 3 months before you actually begin training

Like I stated earlier, I think 3 months is a bit of a waste of time to start serious sleep training.  BUT, I DO NOT think you should just let baby sleep wherever, and not attempt to begin some training.  I would still try to use the above schedule, and put baby down awake in their crib. Give it a shot!  Your little bambino might surprise you!  If baby wakes after the first sleep cycle (which they will), then just wait 2-3 minutes (don’t go running in there), then go into the dark, quiet nursery, and give the baby a little shush/Pat.  Try this for a couple of minutes to see if baby goes back to sleep.

Other Nap Tips

  • Make sure the room is dark, baby can wake up after a sleep cycle and get distracted by colors and things on the walls.  You can buy black-out shades, shade darkening fabric at Jo-Ann fabrics, you can also use tin foil on the windows. (Yup, we have tin foil on our windows)
  • Make sure your noise machine is loud enough.  It should be as loud as a shower would be if you had it on in the nursery.
  • Get rid of any props (AKA: Pacifiers), as they can upset baby even more if baby can’t access them.

Just remember, whatever method you choose you are still a GraytMama!

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Sleep Training 101

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  • We tried a lot of the traditional sleep training methods but some just don’t work for my son! He won’t go to sleep unless he’s nursed to sleep, and if you try to put him down awake he throws a fit! I think it’s so important that each mom does what works best for them, because without sleep some houses are so unhappy! We’ve figured out what works well for us:
    Last night I got 10 hours of sleep between feedings!

  • Thanks for this great article! Just out of curiosity, why is it that sleep training won’t work for babies under 4 months? Why did you regret doing it at 3 months? My LO is 10 weeks and doesn’t sleep longer than 1 3 hour stretch at night, followed by 1.5-2 hour cycles. Naps are 30 minutes and he always seems so tired! Plus I go back to work in 3 weeks, at which point he will be in daycare. I imagine they won’t be willing to nap train him, and would like us to both be getting more sleep by then. I have tried "drowsy but awake", and "shhh pat," but they don’t work. Unless he js rocked or nursed to sleep, he is screaming after 1 minute. Any thoughts? Thank you!

  • oh man I wish I read this 6 months ago! My baby is 9 mo and still waking up 5-6 times a night (under eye concealer and coffee are my two best friends). So if I’m trying to use the ferber method somewhat later than suggested is this really going to work for me and what should I expect as a new mommy?

  • Thank you my child is 3 months and I’m training him but he hates the dark he always cries w the light off idk what to do ? Help!! Im afraid of the dark so is my mom could it be he’s afraid?

    • Hmm, that’s a good question. I’m not a sleep expert so you may want to check out some sleep consultants, but at that age, I would think he’s more upset about not being near your rather than the dark. Try a soft night light so you feel comfortable leaving him in the light level – your level of comfort is important too. 🙂

  • Your article is out dated. Recent studies show that babies at 6months old only 10% of them have the capability to self soothe and at 10 months only 20% have the capability. Most kids don’t develop that skill until after 1 years old. So if sleep training doesn’t feel right or isn’t working just stop. Try sidecaring the crib to your bed. Also yes some babies are capable of sleep through the night but a lot aren’t so if they are waking up its because they aren’t ready and have a need that needs to be meet even if it’s just cuddles

  • Thank you for this post. I have a 2 month old who naps terribly! I’m working from home til the end of the year and it makes it hard to get any work done when she refuses to nap. I know that she’ s too young to really train with these tips yet, but it’s helpful.

  • Thank you for this post! It’s one of the most controversial topics in the mommy wars. I am a ‘hippy’ mom for most things – (homebirth, cloth diapers, baby wearing. . .), but I am all for CIO and I think ‘gentle sleep solutions groups’ are a huge load of BS. I hired a professional sleep trainer when at my wits end when my baby was six months old, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my child. It only took one night of him crying (with checks) and after that he had two 2 hour naps a day and slept fairly good from 6:00 p.m. – 6:45 a.m. He NEEDED that much sleep, it was crazy. he was at such a sleep deficit. He would wake up happy, and we were a much happier household. Today at 3 years old he asks to go to bed. Sleep is such an important skill set and I think one that many babies are lacking, which is turning them into tantrum-primed, overtired, toddlers.

  • My baby’s 8 months old she suffers from reflux and she has history of chocking.. i had 2 carry her upright all the time even while sleeping.. so she’s used to co sleep with me.. i tried with her sleep routine n left her in her new crib..she cried for 45 mins then she chocked from the excess secretion although i entered several time to comfort her..she keeps on screaming refusing to get back 2 bed..she’s also used 2 sleep whole’s horrible ..i’m afraid to try that u have an advice for me? Some people tell me to wait until she’s 1 that her chocking problem go away.. im not sure how will i do it by this time i feel it’s already toooooo late 🙁

  • Thank you for your post. I did CIO with my daughter after 4 months of very serious postpartum caused primarily by lack of sleep. I was so sleep deprived I felt crazy. I was miserable.

    CIO worked wonderfully and took very little time. My daughter didn’t cry for hours (even that first night) and now she’s 16 months and has been a wonderful sleeper for the past 12. I am so sick of being judged by mothers who don’t understand my situation at all and just want to cast stones. How dare you. You weren’t with me and my daughter during the sleepless nights and you never have been. Mind your own business and I’ll mind mine.

  • OK this is great stuff….however, I am at a loss for what I should do. My baby (number 2) is 5 months old and honestly doesn’t really nap. This is because our life is insane. We are currently trying to add another room on to our house (this will be our shared bedroom, our DD now has our ‘old room’ to herself). So my husband, myself and the baby (in his crib) all sleep in the living room (yeah out house is smallllll). Our 2.5 year old daughter is a normal 2 year old, and loves to play (scream, sing, smash toys, drop toys, talk to toys, freak out) and we have 3 dogs who love to bark one or twice for no reason. Our son naps for like 15-20 minutes MAX (about 3-4 times a day) at our house and no amount of rocking shhh-ing, or ignoring (which is IMPOSSIBLE) seems to help. I don’t know what to do. He is getting much better at sleeping through the night going from about 8/9 at night until about 4/6 in the morning and then nursing and going back to sleep until about 8/9 a.m. This is also of course because big sister is passed out in her own room…

    Is there any hope for me? Is there any way I can help him? Our house just seems too loud, interesting, stimulating for a 5 month old to nap..
    Uuuuugh…my arms hurt at the end of a long day (he’s pushing 20 lbs) but I am getting VERY good at doing everything with one hand…

    • Oh man, that IS a tough one! Would it be possible to swap him into his big sister’s room for the day naps? If she’s out and about running around it may be a quiet place to grab some winks. I’m also wondering if a noise machine may be worth investing in? They would drown out ALL the noise but it would certainly dull it. The other thing I did was just wore my second one. Around nap time we would go for a walk or drive to the mall and I’d stick the toddler in the stroller and the baby strapped to me. I know it’s not ideal but it’s how I managed for a while. I hope that helps!

  • This post is dangerous.

    It doesn’t talk about baby temperament. You have to sleep train according to your baby’s personality. It also doesn’t mention sleep regression (which is really progression) that happens when babies learn new skill sets. The brain development that comes with that disrupts sleep. Nor does it mention teething, a very common reason why babies wake up multiple times a night.
    Babies everywhere are going to be left to scream on their own when they really need a parent to soothe them.

    3-4 months is too young for sleep training. Babies don’t get the skills to start STTN until 6-8 months old.

    Reading Dr Sears 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know, and
    Get Your Baby to Sleep -Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep and Stay Asleep
    will give parents much smarter information on why babies wake up, info on why deep sleep at a very young age is bad for babies, and ways to help them learn to sleep.

    The American Association of Pediatrics only finds camping it out and controlled comforting (which is Ferberizing, FUSS it out NOT cry it out) to be effective and non-damaging to babies. You can google the study.

  • ^^^^Biggs,

    The Extinction method is pretty much putting your kiddo down, and then shutting the door until they fall asleep. If you are doing night training then the actual extinction method says not to go in until morning. This can be rough, so I always said an hour was my limit (unless I noticed the slowing after an hour, I might wait). For naps Ferber says to call the nap after 30 minutes of using his Check and Console (where you go in after a certain amount of time). This method can be tough on the babe because it upsets them more when you come in (every baby is different), so I understand you wanting to skip this method. After a lot of work with making sure my babies went down awake but drowsy, I would put them down, make sure they were calm, and shut the door. I would then go in after 1 hour. Now, if at an hour they seem to be slowing quite a bit, I sometimes wait to see if they might actually fall asleep, but if they are still crying, then I go in and pick them up and call the nap. Make sure when you do this you remove them from the crib and even from the room they are sleeping in. You dont want them to think you are coming in to help them sleep. This shouldnt take more than a week, if it takes 2 weeks and you see no improvement, then sleep training is over and there might be something else going on.

  • For the extinction method if baby doesn’t fall asleep are you suppose to let them cry the entire hour? I am despite and have tried the cry it out method and cannot do it. It hurts me to much. I’d love to try the extinction method.

  • Naps were the hardest for us too! My baby girl has always slept great at night, but nap time was a nightmare. We used the cry it out method at 8 months and my little one pretty quick. She is 9 months now and usually has a good long nap in her crib about 85% of the time . That I’d a big improvement from 0%!

  • Hmm… I guess I used a modified CIO or something. I didn’t pay attention to time so much as my son’s crying level… ah well he slept like a champ after a few days and still does at 7.
    Also I always used Extinction (horrid word) for naps.
    That comment about CIO moms… totally true. I was sitting on the other side of his door crying… or hiding in my room next door crying to try and not go in.

  • I know there is a lot of mommy war drama with the whole sleep training thing, but I am so thankful for this post. My husband and I have succeeded in training our 4.5 month old to fall asleep faster and for longer at night, but naps still suck. This post motivated me to try the extinction method (I knew OF it, but not much about how to actually DO it.) 🙂 Thank you!

    • Jessica

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