How to Get Baby to Sleep: The 5-10-15 Method

Babies come into the world without knowledge of the earthly cycles of day and night. For their own benefit, and that of the parents, the sooner they learn that nights are for sleeping, the better.

The 5-10-15 minute method was devised by Dr. Richard Ferber, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital in Boston, and many parents vouch for its success.

It should not be implemented before a baby is four months old, because many children need frequent feedings during the early weeks. It should not be used when a baby is teething or ill, because his crying may indicate discomfort and he may really need parental cuddling and soothing

If the baby is at least four months old, not teething, nor sick, but has developed a poor sleeping routine, here's how to teach him to go to bed at a proper time and sleep through the night.

1. Set aside a 7-day period, a week or two in the future when you will implement Dr. Ferber method. Mark it on the calendar. Then begin preparations:

(a) Warn family, friends and nearby neighbors that the designated days may be a little noisier than usual, but it will be for a worthwhile cause.

(b) You will need a timer for 5, 10, and 15-minute intervals. If there is a timer on your stove, it will serve the purpose. Otherwise, you may be able to purchase a stand-alone timer at a nearby hardware store.

(c) Begin a firm bedtime routine with your baby, an hour ahead of time you want him to go to sleep. It might include a bath, a last bottle for the night, and rocking him while you read a story together. Then, lay him down gently in his crib and remove anything stimulating from his environment: toys, the night-light, the music-maker, and any other distractions. If he has a soother, or a special blanket he sleeps with, use your own discretion about removing these.

(d) Stick to this routine firmly for the next week or two, so he gets the idea that it is a prelude to bedtime, even if you have to pick him up later to stop him crying.

2. On the designated day to begin the Ferber method, go through the bedtime routine, kiss the baby good- night and lay him in his crib while he is still awake. Then turn, walk out of the room and close the door. Set the timer for 5 minutes. He will probably howl for attention, but you must be strong; crying will not hurt the baby.

3. After the timer goes off, go back to the baby's room. Do not pick him up. Talk soothingly, comfort him, rub his back, then leave. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Try to distract yourself until the timer goes off. You want the baby to learn to self-soothe, and go to sleep by himself. He will not do this if you come running as soon as he emits the first howl.

4. After 10 minutes, return to the baby's crib. Do not pick him up. Talk soothingly, comfort him and rub his back. Then leave again, this time setting the timer for 15 minutes. Keep returning at 15-minute intervals until he falls asleep. It won't take as long as you think.

5. That night, take the timer to bed with you. If the baby awakens during the night, check on him and then return to the 15-minute schedule. He is learning that he is not alone, but that he will not be picked up every time he cries.

Most parents see results within a few days. The baby learns that nights are for sleeping, that he can go to sleep by himself, and that crying will not result in being picked up.

You must be flexible. If the baby gets sick, or must stay with a sitter, or the family goes on holidays, you may have to start over. However, the effort is still worthwhile. It will eventually result in a more well-rested baby and calmer, less stressed-out parents. Dr. Ferber's method, successfully applied, can be a tremendous benefit for everyone!