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Three Doctor-Approved Sleep Training Methods Explained

Parenting is full of obstacles that can be hard to navigate—even without a toddler yelling at your face. There’s no instruction manual, which means discerning fact from fiction and reasonable from ridiculous can be maddening. That’s where Parentalogic comes in, a digital series brought to you by NOVA and PBS Digital Studios. Subscribe to the YouTube channel to receive alerts when new episodes launch.

Premiered: Runtime: 5:26Topic: Body + BrainBody & BrainNova
Premiered on PBS

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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National Corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.

Major funding for Parentalogic is provided by the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation and PBS.