Ferber Method OF Sleep Training
Does your baby or toddler suffer from frequent night wakings and you are just struggling with the lack of sleep? Is it impacting your physical and mental health?
If so, sleep training might be for you to help your baby learn to settle themselves to sleep and back asleep. There are a number of different sleep training methods, including the well-known Ferber Method.
This “technique” or method, also known as “Graduated Extinction”, was developed by Richard Ferber M.D in the 1980’s. Richard Ferber, a specialist in pediatric sleep disorders based at a children’s hospital Boston, Massachusetts, is also the author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.
But what is the Ferber sleep training method and how does it work in practice?
WHAT IS THE FERBER METHOD OF SLEEP TRAINING?
The Ferber method is a sleep training process which is designed to help babies learn to self-settle to sleep. It’s also known as a “crying it out” approach, with a little more reassurance.
Whereas the full “crying it out” approach advises a parent not to return to their baby’s room at any point during the settling process, the Ferber sleep method does. These returns are done at times intervals, with these timed intervals increasing for each interval and also each night – this is called the ”progressive waiting approach”.
For each interval return to the room, the Ferber Method advises to provide a brief level of comfort and reassurance before leaving the room once more.
HOW DOES THE FERBER METHOD ACTUALLY WORK?
Below is a day by day guide on how to use it – this is in the form of the Ferber method chart:
- Yo start, you would do the bedtime routine as usual.
- Once it’s time for sleep, you would put your baby in their cot and leave immediately.
- You would then return to the room at a set timed intervals and provide some minimal comfort before leaving again.
- You would then repeat the previous step, with these intervals gradually increasing in length baby falls asleep on their own.
- You would then repeat this same approach for each night waking and daytime naps.
THE FERBER METHOD CHART
Below is the Ferber Method chart which helps illustrate how you actually implement this sleep training method.
The first period of time out of the room on night 1 should be 3 minutes, which increases to 5 minutes, and then 10 minutes, with all subsequent check-ins after that remaining at 10 minutes until your baby falls asleep.
On the second night, the starting interval will now be 5 minutes, with the second interval being 7 minutes and all subsequent check-ins being 12 minutes. The 7 night plan would look like the following:
- First check-in: 3 minutes
- Second check-in: 5 minutes
- Third check-in: 10 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 10 minutes
- First check-in: 5 minutes
- Second check-in: 7 minutes
- Third check-in: 12cminutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 12 minutes
- First check-in: 10 minutes
- Second check-in: 12 minutes
- Third check-in: 15 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 15 minutes
- First check-in: 12 minutes
- Second check-in: 15 minutes
- Third check-in: 17 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 17 minutes
- First check-in: 15 minutes
- Second check-in: 17 minutes
- Third check-in: 20 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 20 minutes
- First check-in: 17 minutes
- Second check-in: 20 minutes
- Third check-in: 25 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 25 minutes
- First check-in: 20 minutes
- Second check-in: 25 minutes
- Third check-in: 30 minutes
- Subsequent check-ins: 30 minutes
According to Ferber, the reason for the increase in the timed intervals is to increase the amount that the baby is doing to self-settle on their own. Which, in theory, will lead to them settling better and without support.
The first few nights will be the hardest – as with any sleep training method – but Ferber believes you should start to see improvements in settling time from the third or fourth night, with night wakings improved in around 4 to 7 nights.
If you were to use this method and you don’t see improvements within a week, I would recommend that you re-assess whether the Ferber Method is the right sleep training method for your child. There are other sleep training methods available which may be more suitable to solving your child’s sleep problems.
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE THE FERBER METHOD?
This method is not suitable for babies under the age of 6 months.
The reason being that according to Safe Sleep Principles, you should not leave your baby on their own for the first 6 months. My online sleep training courses and one-to-one programmes start from 5 months because they follow a gentle sleep training method and you don’t leave your child until they are ready.
Likewise, whilst I don’t believe this is a suitable method for babies under 6 months, I don’t think it’s an approach that works well with older babies, e.g. from 10-12 months and upwards. The reason being that their separation anxiety starts to really develop, making them even more upset at being left.
DOES THE FERBER METHOD WORK FOR NAPS?
Yes, it’s recommend that you follow the Ferber method for all sleep situations including bedtime, night wakings and naps. With any sleep training method, naps are more difficult to fall into place as babies like to not miss out any daytime fun! So it will take longer to generally see the same improvements as at night.
HOW TO MAKE THE FERBER METHOD A SUCCESS?
Making changes to your baby’s sleep patterns isn’t purely about sleep training. Yes, self-settling is the critical component of helping a baby sleep longer and better, but there are other key things to focus on. For example, always look at your baby’s sleep environment, making it as dark as possible for day and night sleep.
Also, have an established and soothing bedtime routine so that your little one knows when sleep is coming at night. You could also do a short daytime nap routine of getting them in their sleep sack and read them a story.
Even more so when doing sleep training, look out for your baby’s sleep cues as putting them down when overtired will make it more difficult for them to self-settle (and more tears).
Sleep training can be difficult as it’s a big change for your baby, so keeping as much as you can consistent around the settling approach can really help.
PROS & CONS OF THE FERBER METHOD
As you will have probably realised from this article, the Ferber Method is not a sleep training approach I use. However, I am not here to judge anyone who does use it because I know it can work, and has worked, for many many families. So let me list out some of the pros and cons of this method.
- Improvements can be quick, sometimes in as little as 3 or 4 nights.
- Occasionally, babies settle quicker without their parent in the room.
- Cheaper as you wouldn’t need a sleep consultant to do this (though many sleep consultants actually follow this approach, or a variation of it).
- Easy to follow; well-structured.
- Leaving your baby on their own most of the time to cry themselves to sleep.
- Little to no guidance or advice provided on night feeding. The expectation seems to be that babies won’t feed after 6 months (which I don’t believe).
- Unsupportive and not gentle in its approach.
- I believe a more gentle approach gets better results and more babies thrive off it.
- There is often a lot of tears, from baby and parents.
HOW DO I FOLLOW A MORE GENTLE SLEEP TRAINING METHOD?
Reach out to me at The Daddy Sleep Consultant as we only use gentle sleep training approaches with our clients. Whilst we don’t use any of the below in its purest form, I wanted to lay out some of the other sleep training methods available to you:
Aimed at a “no-cry” sleep training approach, this involves you picking your baby up each time they cry before settling them in your arms and then re-placing them in their cot, repeating this until they fall asleep.
THE FADING METHOD
This is all about switching a baby’s sleep associations, before gradually reducing/weaning them out over a longer period of time. An example would be switching a baby from needing to nurse to sleep to being rocked or patting.. Whilst this can be very slow progress, it’s often a nice approach to help get another person involved if one is always breastfeeding their baby to sleep and back to sleep.
SLEEP TRAINING CHAIR METHOD
This involves you staying in the room and sitting on a chair beside the cot. Over a number of evenings, you would gradually move the chair further and further away until you leave the room and allow your baby to settle to sleep on their own.
Find out more about how these methods work in my sleep training methods article.
SHOULD YOU USE THE FERBER METHOD?
My views have been probably quite clear throughout this article, but please don’t let my judgement stop you if it’s the approach you want to take. I know that the Ferber method does work for many babies, I just think there are more kind and gentle ways to teach babies how to fall asleep which doesn’t involve a parent having to hear their baby cry in a different room.
HOW CAN A SLEEP CONSULTANT HELP?
It might be that the 4 month regression has blended into the 8 month regression, or you feel like you’re in a constant sleep regression! If your whole family is being impacted, a sleep consultant (me!) can help you. My gentle online sleep courses will support you to make changes that will allow your baby or toddler to fall asleep independently in around 10-14 days with my gentle sleep training method. If you feel like you’d need some more one to one coaching support, find out about my 1:1 sleep programmes.