The Secret to Raising an Independent Sleeper

The Founding Fathers had some pretty good sense when it came to sleep (early to bed and early to rise…we can only assume Benjamin Franklin was on a very strict sleep schedule!). So, in honor of Independence Day, we decided to take a tip from the Founding Fathers and uncover the secret to helping infants fall asleep independently.

We turned to Christina Gantcher, a New York City-based sleep trainer, for advice. She has a golden rule when it comes to raising independent sleepers. A simple trick that couldn’t be easier to implement, yet can do wonders for baby’s sleep.    

And it all has to do with the crib.

“The ability to put yourself to sleep is a learned skill,” Gantcher says. “Ensuring your baby understands that the crib is an okay, safe place – one that they fall asleep in – is the first step in helping a baby learn the skill of falling asleep independently.”

It seems almost too simple. But introducing the crib to your infant can make a world of difference. Picture this. Your baby falls asleep in your arms or is put to bed very sleepy in a dark room. In either case, they might wake up hours later not quite sure where they are. Hence the cries for help at one o’clock in the morning. It’s like if you went to sleep in your bedroom and woke up on the kitchen floor, Gantcher points out.   

“It’s really important for parents to acclimate their baby to their crib during awake time,” she says. “When you do that, then going to sleep in your crib is not a daunting, scary thing because they know where they are. It’s not foreign. It’s a known place.”

So how can you help baby get to know their crib? Spending quality time there – with the shades or blinds open – is key.

“Put your child in his or her crib awake a few times a day for short intervals,” Gantcher says. “You can either stay with them during that time or leave for a few minutes and then come back and check on them. If they seem to be stressed, stay with them and help them calm down. As they get older, they should be able to be alone for short periods by themselves.”

A quick game, like peek-a-boo, in the crib can make baby feel more comfy and secure in the sleep environment. Acknowledging the crib by name is helpful too (for example, “I’m going to put you in your crib while I take a shower” or “Now we’re going to play in your crib.”) And, of course, it’s best to put baby to sleep drowsy, not fully asleep. That way they’re aware of their surroundings and can figure out how to fall asleep on their own.  

“When a baby understands that he or she can fall asleep in their crib, there is a much better chance they will be able to do so at night wakings and at naptime,” Gantcher says.

It’s never too late to help baby “know thy crib.” But, according to Gantcher, between four to six weeks, is ideal. No matter when you start, though, the benefits of learning to fall asleep independently are huge. Not only will your little one sleep better, but they’ll gain greater independence in other areas too.

“Having a secure attachment with your baby means that you have a healthy, warm relationship, but you and your baby can also tolerate times of separation,” says Gantcher. “This will serve you both well in the future!”

Is your baby waking up in the middle of the night? Check out more sleep tips here.

Diana Aydin

Diana Aydin

Diana is an editor and writer based in New York City, and she frequently writes about health, parenting and everything babies. She’s been a fan of sleep since the early 1980s.