When your child doesn’t learn to self-soothe, bedtime becomes more difficult for you, their caretaker. Sleep training also helps your child’s brain development and overall health.
If sleep training seems daunting, don’t fret: Hosts Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft are here to coach you on different methods and explain a few tips, tricks, and benefits to help your little ones learn to sleep on their own. Firstly, the type of sleep training parents employ should be based on “what parents can tolerate,” Alok says. Although it’s essential to development, in general, sleep training should be tried once a child is about six months of age. That’s because most infants aren’t developmentally ready to sleep for long periods without being fed.
Though the “cry it out” method—in which parents shut the door and let their child cry— may work for some families, it might be too difficult for others. “I can hear them shrieking through the door,” Bethany says from personal experience. But if you can tolerate it, this method allows a child to learn to self-soothe on their own.
With “gradual extinction," parents or caregivers allow a child to cry through the night, slowly increasing the time intervals of check-ins. “You let them cry for two minutes one night, then five minutes the next, with the hope they’ll be able to stick it out longer,” Alok says.
And in the “camp it out” method, a parent or guardian starts out by being in the same room as their baby, ideally sleeping next to them. Then the parent slowly moves away, sneaking out of the room, allowing the child to sleep on their own.
Regardless of what method you choose as a parent or caretaker—or if you choose not to sleep train at all—what’s important is that the child gets a restful night’s sleep so they can best grow and develop.
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Three Doctor-Approved Sleep Training Methods Explained
Published: April 26, 2021
Bethany Van Delft: You have reached the time for sleep. Now, please sleep, baby. Everything is ok. And then leave. So Dr. Alok, what do you think you know about babies sleeping? Huh? Tough guy? What do you know?
Alok Patel: Alright… ok! So we know that developing fetuses are going to sleep about 90 to 95% of the time.
Bethany Van Delft: In the womb.. You’re talking about in the womb??
Alok Patel: So much in a newborn babies and then, but when they leave the womb and they come into the real world, they're not...
Bethany Van Delft: So what you're saying you know is nothing, nothing about a live baby outside of the body sleeping in the house that you are also trying to sleep in.
Alok Patel: I got some textbook knowledge...
Bethany Van Delft: This is the thing, we get all this advice, you know, we got the advice to shut the door, let the baby cry it out. But have you ever heard your own baby shrieking at the top of its lungs? No, you haven’t, you don’t have a baby. But I have. I have. Do you know how hard it is to just let your baby go on shrieking like that? Isn’t the whole reason they shriek so that you can do something?
Alok Patel: True, but you know what? If you don’t teach a baby how to self-soothe, they’re not going to and it’s going to make your life harder and I think it's worth me at least trying to coach parents into one of the methods. But my prerogative is defending the baby's health. And I'm like, listen, you do any method you want, mom and dad, for sleep training?
Bethany Van Delft: What do you mean defending the baby's health?
Alok Patel: I just, I care about the baby's brain and sleep training is important for babies' development. So they sleep through the night eventually and have good brain development. But, what I'm hearing is that it really matters on what parents can tolerate. So did you try the cry it out method?
Bethany Van Delft: No. No.
Alok Patel: Why not? You just shut the door.
Bethany Van Delft: No, like I can hear them shrieking through the door, it's like a primal shriek.
Alok Patel: What about gradual extinction?
Bethany Van Delft: What is gradual extinction? Is that like dodo birds slowly petering out? Instead of just, boom, one day no more dodo birds? What is gradual extinction?
Alok Patel: It’s essentially when your baby cries in the middle of the night and you start to slowly increase the interval before you go and check in on your baby. So, maybe you let them cry for 2 minutes one night, then it's 3 minutes, 4 or 5 with the hope that they’ll be able to stick it out longer.
Bethany Van Delft: That's what we did. We did that one.
Alok Patel: How did that go?
Bethany Van Delft: That was good. It was fine. All right, so we let the baby, my baby, my personal own baby.
Alok Patel: The baby.
Bethany Van Delft: Baby Nico, cry. Upped it by five minute increments and we went in and we told them, you know, “You're fine, it's time to sleep.” But you know, not in like a loving tone like I speak in like “I love you so much baby” not like that...
Alok Patel: Like boring interactions.
Bethany Van Delft: Right, like boring. Like, “it is fine baby. time to sleep.” And then you would turn around and walk out.
Alok Patel: Sounds robotic but pediatrician approved.
Bethany Van Delft: Thank you.
Alok Patel: Well, actually, all of these methods are pediatrician-approved… but usually not before six months because most young infants aren’t developmentally ready to sleep for long periods without being fed.
Now, I don't have kids, one day when I do have kids …
Bethany Van Delft: I cannot wait!
Alok Patel: But the method I was looking at and I was like, which one would I pick? I was looking at the camp it out method, which seems kind of fun. Like you lay down or sleep next to your baby's crib and then you gradually move farther and farther away, while ignoring their cries, possibly sneaking out. Did you guys try that?
Bethany Van Delft: Are you picturing like a bonfire and marshmallows? Is that why you think that sounds like a fun method. What I hear is you're going to be in that dark bedroom doing nothing for hours. Every time the baby wakes up, you're going to have to stay a little bit longer.
Alok Patel: Oh, maybe I'll just ninja out of there. Or what if I put like a mannequin? It's not really me.
Bethany Van Delft: Oh yes. Side hustle. Yes, sleep training mannequin!
Alok Patel: The camp-it-out mannequin!
Bethany Van Delft: Yeah, the camp-it-out mannequin!
Alok Patel: Now in Indian-American.
Bethany Van Delft: And then when the baby... it's like voice-activated so when the baby cries the mannequin goes, “It is. Okay baby. You are fine. It's time to sleep.”
Alok Patel: Yeah, but you could input your baby's name with your voice, so “it is okay, Nico, it is time to go back to sleep, Nico.” Done!
The camp-it-out mannequin is intended for sleep training purposes only, and will not respond to your babies’ cries. Side effects of using the camp-it-out mannequin may include crying, fussing, and hopefully longer periods of sleep.
So, we’ve talked about the cry it out method.
Bethany Van Delft: Not for me.
Alok Patel: Gradual extinction.
Bethany Van Delft: Yeah, I feel like that worked.
Alok Patel: Camp it out method
Bethany Van Delft: That’s your fav because you think there’s s’mores involved.
Alok Patel: I just.. It feels like a secret agent mission.
Bethany Van Delft: Mmk we’ll see.
Alok Patel: But anyway, we’ve given you a bunch of tools. Now here’s the thing. If you say like, “I don’t want to sleep train my baby. Should I be worried about anything?” Not necessarily. And some people say like, “A baby who isn’t sleep trained is gonna run the house when they’re trying to go to bed when they’re a toddler.” That might not be true either. The most important thing is that you’re doing what you can to make sure your baby or toddler gets restful sleep because it’s really important for growth and brain development.
Bethany Van Delft: Lulu falls asleep but then she wakes up and comes in the room like thirty eight times a night. She goes like “Mama! Mamaaa! Can I get in bed with you??”
Hosted by: Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft
Producer/Camera: Emily Zendt
Producer/Director: Ari Daniel
Production Assistance: Diego Arenas, Grace Berg, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez, Madeline Weir
Senior Digital Editor: Sukee Bennett
Rights Manager: Hannah Gotwals
Business Manager: Elisabeth Frele
Managing Producer: Kristine Allington
Coordinating Producer: Elizabeth Benjes
Director of Audience Development: Dante Graves
Director of Public Relations: Jennifer Welsh
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Scientific Consultants: Lydia Kim, MD and M. Cecilia Melendres, MD
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