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5 Easy Ways to Help Your Kids Sleep Well

03/09/2012 at 10:00 AM ET
Courtesy Touchstone

While many parents struggle with getting their kids to bed on time or making sure they sleep through the night, Dr. Richard Ferber, the co-founder of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston, says the problem may have nothing to do with the child, but rather, with parents overlooking a key factor: consistency.

“Regularity, predictability, consistency typically falls into place at around 3-months-old, and sort of progressively from that point on,” he tells PEOPLE. “When youngsters get sleepy enough, you can’t keep them awake. The drive to sleep is inherently strong.”

Below, Dr. Ferber outlines his top five tips for helping children sleep well, as seen in his book, Solve Your Children’s Sleep Problems:

Maintain a consistent schedule. “The internal clock is very precisely controlled,” Dr. Ferber says. “You can’t just sleep whenever you want to. You want your child on a schedule that our body can work with, and also a schedule that a family can work with. Ifsomebody is taking two, 4-hour naps during the day, and then is up all night, that’s obviously not an appropriate schedule.”

Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Your child should fall asleep under the same conditions that will be present at times of normal wakings later in the night. While it is commonly believed that people sleep through the night undisturbed, Dr. Ferber says that thinking is incorrect. “We actually wake up a number of times during the night, and so do babies,” he says. “If things change, then it is a change you respond to.” To that end, he recommends parents ensure the conditions under which their children feel asleep remain the same throughout the night.

Avoid unnecessary nighttime feedings. “The families that came in with some of the most severe sleep disturbances were in situations where the youngster was fed repeatedly in the night,” Dr. Ferber says. “Most children were giving up middle-of-the-night feedings by 5-months-old or so. Continuing lots of feedings after that was not based on nutritional need. As we started to taper the amount of feedings, we saw how rapidly sleep improved.”

Courtesy Dr. Ferber

Be honest with your child. Do not sneak out of the room after he/she is asleep; if you will be leaving, let him/her see you leave. “In most cases, the child will wake up during the night and find that you’re gone. That’s where the problem is,” Dr. Ferber says. “They could learn that if they want you to stay in the room, they have to actively fight going to sleep. You either stay or you don’t stay.”

Set enforceable rules and stick to them. Both parents should handle matters the same way. When it comes to nightly rituals, even something as simple as how many stories achild should be read before lights out needs to be agreed upon by parents. “The consistency is what’s important,” Dr. Ferber says. “Children have to know what to expect.”

Kiran Hefa

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Showing 38 comments

Tiffany on

It makes me so sad to still see these types of archaic and dated methods out there. It’s even worse when they are supported by mainstream organizations.

I would never listen to a male’s opinion on how to raise a baby. I follow my maternal instincts and listen to my mommy gut. In short, I respond to my children’s cries and never leave them to cry it out. I believe that being a parent involves sacrifices, so I spend a couple years sacrificing sleep.

My two and a half year old was an awful sleeper and co-slept and nursed through the night for the first two years. She’s now a very good sleeper, sleeps through the night on her own, and is very independent and well-adjusted. She got there all on her own. And she also knows that mama and papa will always be there for her- we have laid the foundation for the very difficult teen years and proven to her that we will be there for her.

I’m doing it all over again with our newborn daughter- holding her and nursing her through the night. It isn’t easy. But it’s part of being a mother. I didn’t sign up for easy when I became a parent. Please, moms, don’t ignore your biological responses to your crying children- it is natural and right to go to them and comfort them when they cry. Whether it’s during the day or at night.

Candy on

Using the “Ferber” method of getting your child to sleep is dangerous and bad for their well being. This is an archaic thought and why is getting your baby to sleep more so important. No one should buy into this crap.

Buy Elizabeth Pantly’s sleep books – a GENTLE way of getting babies and kids to sleep.

denise on

very well said, tiffany! i totally agree.

our son is a very good sleeper, always was from his first day, and we NEVER interfered. we never put him on a schedule, we followed his lead, put him down when he appeared tired. we established a routine for bedtime, at night he slept in our bedroom, during the day wherever we were, at night it was dark and quiet, we fed him when he cried, we rocked him back to sleep and never let him cry alone.

children find their way and it’s the parents job to understand and support them. you can never “spoil” a child with love and comfort.

I dislike mr. ferbers theories.

JM on

Tiffany are you for real? this may be one of the most ridiculous comments i have ever read here:

‘I would never listen to a male’s opinion on how to raise a baby’

i feel sorry for your kids’ father. sounds like his opinion doesn’t matter at all. parenting should be 50/50 with each parent’s opinion taken into account. very sad to think that you hold these views.

and you talk about sacrificing sleep for a few years. do you ever think that maybe the reason your children have such a hard time adjusting to sleeping on their own is because of your overly protective, suffocating, helicopter parenting? i mean, you criticise this man’s advice but it doesn’t sound like you have the solution.

i followed similar steps to the ones above (not exactly the same but the same principle). i have 5 children none of them have been difficult sleepers. we read them bedtime stories, give them kiss and cuddles and they go off to sleep. they know they can come to us any time if they need us but they can’t just stay up because they don’t feel like going to bed. kids need structure and boundaries. sometimes being a good parent is teaching them boundaries. and i have not had to sacrifice years of sleep because my kids won’t go to sleep.

Marilyn on

I couldn’t have said it better than Tiffany!

Steph on

Well written, Tiffany. I have a newborn now too, after having 2 other kids. I’d love to be able to read a book and follow the guidelines, but I also parent by instinct (and sometimes the ‘easy’ road)…and it works. My 4 year old goes into his bed and just finds a way to fall asleep…he’s done this since he was about 2. I cuddled him and co-slept and fed during the night too. Sometimes, I was exhausted the next day, but for the most part, the cuddling and comforting and sleeping together was wonderful for us!

Millie on

huh?

MJ on

This doctor’s advice is dead-on. They’re all common sense pieces of advice and things I have done with my children without having ever read this book. And my kids are and always have been terrific sleepers. Good sleep is a habit that must be learned and consistently reinforced and this is the way to do it.

Stephanie on

So many parents think that letting your child cry while learning how to fall asleep is damaging- I would actually say that – NOT giving your child a chance to learn how to self soothe is much more damaging.

If you dont let your child learn how to self soothe in the night it is quite common for your child to be waking up multiple times a night crying then and needing your assistance to get back to sleep- resulting in MUCH MORE crying over a period of years than what a typical child goes through when they learn to self sooth (3-5 nights of modified crying) as well as broken sleep for years.

I have nannied for 12 years for families and watched them all make the same mistakes when it came to sleep. My son was allowed to put himself to sleep starting from a month old (although I never let him do more than fuss until he was over 6 months) and he has always been a terrific sleeper.

Everyone I know who has let their child learn how to self soothe goes from having horrible sleepers to great sleepers in a matter of a few days. The same way you dont give your child a chocolate bar during the day just because they are crying, it is not harmful to let your child cry while they are resisting the change of having to self soothe for a few days. Every sleep expert knows this!

I feel sorry for all the families that refuse to let their child learn how to get a better night sleep. Those sleep habits often continue for life too- I have known many older kids that are still crappy sleepers because they were never given a chance to put themselves to sleep on their own.

blessedwithboys on

People, please take this piece of junk down off of your site!

Are the PTB really willing to accept responsibility for advocating this dangerous dribble?

Ferber is responsible for sabotaging breastfeeding relationships. Breastmilk is essential for healhty growth and development, and the milk produced at night is more nutritious than the milk produced by day.

Babies were DESIGNED to sleep next to their mother. This sleep training crap is disgusting! I’m SO saddened to find it here on this site. :(

Loulou on

Don’t trash the book if you haven’t read it! It’s a good, informative book with many useful insights. We used his method, it worked perfectly well, nobody was traumatized and everybody got to sleep through the night.

Ashley on

Well said Tiffany!

Shannon on

I think his advice is OK for older children but not infants. It’s likely traumatic to be taken from the comfort of a mother’s womb and be immediately forced to sleep alone each night. Poor babies!

Kelly on

While I agree with some of this, I very much disagree with “unnecessary” nighttime feedings by 5 months. Exclusively breastfed babies are still commonly waking to nurse at that age. Following this advice could also be detrimental working mothers who pump – many breastfed babies reverse cycle to make up for getting fewer calories through a bottle during the day, and cutting back on night feedings could both starve the baby and decrease the mother’s milk supply.

Also, there are much better solutions out there than crying it out, which has been proven to be harmful to babies.

Hildie on

I’ve used Dr. Ferber’s methods on all six of my children (ages 5-16). They have slept beautifully since I “Ferberized” them at age 5 months. They go to sleep without complaining and stay in bed all night long. They know how to comfort themselves if they wake up. Isn’t this what every mother wants for her child, to ultimately be able to help herself instead of needing someone else to do it?

You can insult Dr. Ferber all you want, but his methods work. My kids sleep well, and consequently I sleep well. A well-rested mother is a happy mother.

Holiday on

I have 2 kids, both bad sleepers but I refuse to let them cry themselves to sleep. My daughter is 22 months now and sleeping much better and yes its been hard getting very little sleep but I am so happy I never left her to scream and be scared all alone.

mkh on

I cannot believe Dr. Ferber is being advertised here. Good lord – how disappointing. Sure, his methods might produce children who sleep “well” but my goodness – at what cost??? So sad that this country doesn’t follow the worldwide norm of co-sleeping, bed sharing, nighttime parenting, nursing on demand. This is what our children really need. Ferber, please go away now.

Jillian on

I agreewith sO many of you. I have five children who have the best sleep schedules. My husband or I read with them every night. They have never co slept and I breastfed all five children. I fed them through the night but would not bring them in our room. If they have a nightmare or need something they come in but we always go back to their room. We chose this way for them because we don’t feel a child or adults can sleep well when the reside in the same bed. A child needs to know it’s okay to soothe themselves and be independent. Our children are not traumatized or damaged. They excell in school and are very active and happy. I don’t fault those parents that co sleep. I only find it silly when those who do so for years and then complain that they can’t get the child out of their bed or complain how they can’t sleep or have no intimacy.

Mary

Lucy R on

I always find it amusing when people assume that being there for your baby and not letting them cry themselves to sleep will create some sort of monster-a child or adult that cannot get to sleep alone, and is doomed to be a horrible sleeper. Seriously? How completely insane. I’m pretty sure that my infant’s brain and needs are different than my 6 year old’s.

I have never allowed my children to cry it out, and they are perfect sleepers. My 6 year old slept in our bed until she was about 3, and she can put herself to sleep JUST FINE. She goes to sleepovers at friend’s houses, in fact, and has not ONCE wanted to come home because she couldn’t sleep. What a complete load of crap.

It’s amazing to me that people don’t see how weird it is that we are the only mammals that expect our babies to sleep far away from us, in seperate rooms. Babies cry for a reason. Obviously if they aren’t sleeping through the night, it’s because they’re not ready to. Forcing them to give up on expecting their mommy to come when they are distressed is so incredibly sad.

twim mom on

What is the problem here ladies?? This is exactly why all moms seriously just need to chill out!! To everyone who had success with co-sleeping and attachment parenting, congrats! To everyone who had success with the Ferber method or some other method, congrats! Stop judging each other because it is truly ridiculous and just makes us all look bad.

tamara on

Well said Tiffany, Lucy R… If I was a baby I’d much rather have you for my mother than someone else who would let me cry to sleep… or “Ferberize” me….How very cruel!

Monica on

Ok I think we probably have all heard of the Ferber method of letting a child “cry it out” to learn to self sooth, but if you actually read this article or scanned the 5 tips given- NONE OF THEM EVEN COME CLOSE TO SAYING LET THE KID CRY IT OUT!!! So you moms who enjoy not sleeping for years after having your kids, good for you, but don’t criticize an article for something it doesn’t even say.

I am one of the possibly few and far between moms who needs and values my sleep so I did sleep train both of my kids and they were sleeping thru the night (9pm- 6or7am) at 3mos and 5mos. I also didn’t read this book but followed my own instincts and they coincide so there is something to be said for that I think. To each his own but don’t judge other people who might need or want to read this book.

Leslie on

Humanity has been around for over 200,000 years. Only recently have people had separate bedrooms where they put their babies to sleep alone at night. It is unnatural for infants to be isolated from their mothers. Babies are defenseless, and if they feel abandoned they are going to cry out for a caretaker… it is an innate survival mechanism based on millenia of human development.

No other animal in the world sleeps away from their babies. Historically, parents protected their babies from predators by keeping them close at night. Human babies do not know that you live in the suburbs and have a gated security system… all they know is that they feel safe when mom is around and scared when they are alone.

What Mr. Ferber is recommending may ultimately work, and it may teach your child to “self-soothe” (aka: learn that it’s hopeless to cry out for mom), but it goes against thousands of years of human development. If you are attempting to re-wire your child’s natural defense mechanism so that you can sleep alone that is your choice, but don’t think it’s normal or healthy.

Leaving your child to “cry it out” is a strategy designed to give modern mothers independence and the ability to go back to work without being sleep deprived. It may have nice results for the modern parent, but don’t lie to yourself about it being good for your baby.

Susan on

OMG – first of all thousands of years ago we didn’t have medicine or doctors or BPA warnings….. just because it was done a thousand years ago doesn’t mean we should keep following it.

all humans have light REM in the middle of the night, even babies. time and time again i watch parents wake up their child because they exhaled and they see it as a cry. some times the kid will make a cry like sound but if you give it a minute it stops.

knowing which cry goes to which need is hard to decipher but not impossible.

you are not a bad parent if you kid crys for a minute. You don’t need to break your neck to get to your baby.

and for the parents who say oh no when they are x age then we will……. really??? sounds like a lot of mayordom parenting to me.

Well Rested on

We did sleep training with our oldest when he was 6 months. It was a life saver in our household of two full-time working parents and our son is still a fantastic sleeper 5 years later. It worked for my family. That said, do what works for your own family, be it sleep training or something else.

This blurb on the site isn’t even talking about “crying it out.” He mentions 5 easy ways to help your child sleep better. People are getting so fired up and attacking the article without even reading it.

Ferber doesn’t say STOP feeding/nursing during the night. He says cut back on unnecessary feedings. Parents who use the Ferber sleep training method know that it is about teaching your child to console himself. If he is nursing simply to soothe then that is an unnecessary feeding.

I really don’t see what is so controversial about the 5 tips that are actually listed in the article.

Susan on

Well Rested – well said.

So Tiffany and all of those against this method – which of the tips do you not agree with? Are you opposed to all of these tips? If so someone should call social services.

Maintain a consistent schedule. — Who here has kids who aren’t on a schedule??? Just curious?

Create a comfortable sleeping environment. – do people have there kids sleeping on the floor one night or the bathtub the next; or is the crib a playpen and a crib?

Avoid unnecessary nighttime feedings. – Note the word unnecessary. I feed my baby at 11 pm (this way I don’t leak at night too) and they sleep for 7 hours straight. But when I wake up at 3 am from insomnia or because I heard a cough; I don’t run in and shove food in my kids mouth.

Be honest with your child. – do you lie to your kids? Really – I can show you many a teen and adult who has to live with this poor parenting behavior (not to mention the psychologist and therapists). how is this any different? and don’t go oh there 1 or whatever – when do they get to unlearn the behavior – at 4 or at 6?????? if you don’t give candy to your kid because you want to promote a healthy lifestyle, why can’t you do it at 8 months they won’t have that behavior when they are 2 or 4 or 6 right?

Set enforceable rules and stick to them. – what can you enforce. you will go in before you go to bed but only once? you will got in but not pick up? if you child is wailing for over 20 minutes you will go? if you hear a thud or vommiting? he never said anything about not going in under any circumstance.

I’m just outraged at the reaction- I’m a new mom but I get my sleep and my baby gets hers. I have too many friends who constantly complain that they can’t do this and that all because of their kids lack of sleeping – but when you see the behavior you realize they are encouraging it. And when there kids are with someone else they sleep through the night. Also, 50% of the intern calls I got this year were from parents. At what point do you stop coddling and start creating a strong autonomous individual.

meghan on

Susan, they don’t know what you are talking about, because not one of them bothered to read the article. They saw Ferber and started to unload on cry-it-out, like it were child abuse.

Tiffany, you won’t let a man tell you how to raise your child? Really? I didn’t realize men could not be parents. Or are you one of those women that believe your husband/SO has no say, since the children come out of your body?

JM on

yeah i’m glad i am not the only one who was confused, to say the least, by the outrage towards this article.

as i said we used similar methods with our five kids as are listed above. to me they are actually common sense. i didn’t realise there were parents who thought that anything listed above was cruel or unusual. would anyone care to enlighten me as to what is so wrong about the tips given above?

Jennifer on

I am not a supporter of Ferber’s methods. As a mom who believes on nursing “on demand”, part of that “on demand” is nighttime. I cosleep with my 15 month old, who still nurses a few times at night. I did the same with my five year old who weaned at three years of age, and night weaned at age two. He now sleeps fantastically through the night, never waking, and we’ve never had any issue. He is confident mommy and daddy are there for him.

I personally do not listen to anyone who is a “sleep trainer” of sorts. LIsten to your maternal instincts. Babies were meant to nurse frequently, and it’s not always easy, but that includes night. Formula fed babies might be able to sleep longer but it is harder for babies’ bodies to digest than breast milk. Elizabeth Pantley has great sleep books. And I’m a big supporter of everything Dr. Sears writes. As a dad, physician, and a man married to a nurse and IBCLC, I believe they know what they are doing. They also went on to raise children who were successful adults.

And believe me. Babies don’t stay babies for long. Enjoy those special times. Extra cuddles at night are the best. You’ll miss them when they are gone!

Maggie on

This is just funny and a little sad. It’s sleep people. You don’t have to deal with anyone’s except for the people in your home, why does it matter? People get so worked up over sleep issues. The attachment parents think any crying whatsoever is child abuse and that parents who do cry it out are not loving blah, blah, blah. Then the scheduling moms think the AP moms are never sleeping and have a crazy demanding child who wakes up every hour for 10 years. WHO CARES! Here’s an idea….do what works for your family and don’t worry about how others are getting to sleep. The passion behind these comments is so weird. That passion could be so better used in areas other than judging other people. Just saying…

Miss Zelda on

Ladies, I have a deal for you:

If we don’t judge you for co-sleeping and extended nursing (and I do not), you don’t judge those of us who try Ferber’s methods. Deal?

For my family, the Ferber method worked very well. Our son learned to self-soothe and sleeps well. And so do we. Co-sleeping didn’t work for us, and my husband and I were exhausted zombies until we tried the Ferber method. The Ferber method helped all of us.

FERBER is NOT cry it out. Please educate yourself before criticizing this man. There is even a portion of his book (latest edition) for co-sleeping parents.

I have been so saddened by the advocates of Dr. Sears and AP (not all, but many) who truly believe *they* are the only ones who are parenting “right” – dare I say there is more than one way to parent a child, to feed a child, to put a child to sleep. Very few of these methods are truly dangerous, so let’s live and let live.

Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. Thanks.

Miss Zelda on

PS I breastfed for my son’s first 11 months of life.

PPS Maggie, well said!

Candy on

For those of you who use the words “self-soothe” – what a load of crap. Imagine you’re a baby crying out to say something, but yet you have no words… you’re only menthod communication is crying. Yet no one comes.

You give up – you don’t “self soothe”.

Not going to your baby when he/she is crying out for something, even if that something is a hug, is a mean way of parenting. Hopefully your kids leave you in a nursing home crying all by yourself and say that it’s your turn to “self-soothe”.

http://womanuncensored.blogspot.com/2009/12/just-let-her-cry.html

Andrea on

I find it highly ironic that in the US there is such a huge push to get kids to self sooth & be independent sleepers when most parents want their kids as adults to find a loving partner who they then share sleep with! It is so counter intuitive-we spend the vast majority of our life sharing our bed. It’s sad to me that our modern life has pushed us to force childhood into an adult schedule for our convenience. If you look to the baby, they will give you cues & clues to when they are hungry or sleepy. After 5 kids I have found they fall into their own predictable routine by about 3 months. The most vulnerable person, usually the baby, gets their needs met 1st. And the need to be near mom is a huge need. Parenting is 24/7.

lyn on

I don’t see what is wrong with the tips on the website. I don’t think it is unreasonable or cruel to make a routine and expect a child to go to sleep in their own bed at the same time every night. I am a big believer in a consistent bed time routine. My son is 2 and we have had the same routine since he was very little. He knows what to expect every night and it works for us.

Cheryl on

Not to stereotype, but I have a number of friends who coslept with their children who have ended up with problem sleepers. Now this may have to do with the child’s nature just as much as with the upbringing, but still… I nursed my daughter for over a year, but she slept in her own bed starting at 2 months. I would respond to her cries when appropriate, fed her at night, and I never let her howl for longer than 5 or 10 minutes, but she is a great sleeper, at 2 and a half still LOVES her crib, loves to cuddle before bedtime, and takes great naps.

Contrast that with two or three friends I know ( all of whom coslept) who have two year olds who will NOT sleep in their own beds, who keep their parents up at night, who are tired and cranky all day long, and refuse to nap. I have a friend whose 5 year old still will not sleep in her own bed, and she co-slept. I have a friend who still sleeps with her two children (2 and 4) and her husband sleeps in a different bedroom so he can get some sleep. This is craziness. I’m not against cosleeping if it works for your family, great. But what we mothers do who have our children sleep in their own beds is not akin to child abuse! A well-rested family is a happy family!

Susan on

Yes – the infant is the one with the most needs. But if mommy’s needs are not met then she can’t really do right by the baby. So stop maytring yourself for becoming a mom. Yes, its 24/7 no one said its not. I don’t sleep soundly through the night because she might cough, she might sneeze and I need to know that. If she cries I wait and see what happens and most of the time about 3-5 minutes later it stops.

I EC my kid (i.e. my kid doesn’t use diapers, even at night). Why? Because she knows its not natural to soil yourself and keep filth near your body. Since birth I have been taking her to the toilet. Since 5 months she signals me when she needs to go to the bathroom. And yes when we travel she wears diapers just in case. And I’ve been peed and pooped on, but only in the beginning or when she was sick.

No one says self-soothe means the kid cries for hours or howls. Parents learn which cry means what eventually (god let’s hope so). There are attention crys, hunger crys, it hurt crys, look at me now and not my sibling cry.

Everyone I know who co-sleeps is avoiding an issue in their marriage. I hope that isn’t true of everyone. But I’ve seen a lot of my friends avoid sex with their husband because they are co-sleepers and its so hard. Really? I’m a single mom by choice and I don’t come to work tired.

Also a friend (now 41) had a mom who co slept with him. Funny she didn’t know when to stop either and slept with him until he was 13. He thought all the moms did that. I also watched her make excuses for his needs during his drug addiction. Tell me where the line is and I’ll say fine, but then you need to follow the line too. When do you stop rushing to your 24/7 hyper attention, oh woe is me mothering – when they are 8 and do sleep overs? When they start having wet dreams??? When do they learn to calm themselves down – at 3 or at 4 oh now there is Pre-K stress, so this summer. keep making excuses ladies.

Miss Zelda on

I am continually amazed by the viciousness of the AP crowd who think they have a claim on correct parenting. Unreal. Sorry, children do need to learn how to self-soothe. Resilience and independence are not evil ideas.

Once again, I have absolutely no problem with you co-sleeping, but how dare you shame women and men out for *not* co-sleeping or practicing Ferber methods that have been studied and supported by pediatricians for years.

Absolutely absurd. There must be something very wrong with you if you feel the need to judge other mothers so intensely. I feel sorry for you.

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