The Ferber Sleep Training Method

As you start to find out about different sleep training routines for your baby, you may come across the Ferber method. Also known as ‘graduated crying it out’, the Ferber method is one of many different options you can try for sleep training. In this article we have put together the details of this method so that you can decide for yourself if this (or any other) sleep training technique is right for you and your baby.

What Is the Ferber Method?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Ferber method for sleep training, it might be helpful to know a bit more about its background. American paediatrician Richard Ferber wrote about his sleep training strategy in his book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, first published in 1985. He suggests (along with others) that babies can be trained to soothe themselves to sleep if parents follow certain guidelines. This technique has been referred to as ‘Ferberising’ your baby. Another well-known term for this method is ‘graduated crying it out’. As the name suggests, you gradually let your baby ‘cry it out’ to fall asleep. But unlike the full cry-it-out method, you will still respond to your baby’s cries during the night. With the Ferber method you slowly increase the intervals between response times and allow your baby to cry, which is believed to help them to learn to fall asleep on their own.

How Does the Ferber Method Work?

The Ferber method follows fairly straightforward principles. After putting your little one to bed, you allow them to cry for a few minutes before you come back and check on them. This is repeated, with gradual increases in the length of time that you take to respond to your baby’s cries. Starting with small intervals, you build up the length of time that you wait before returning to check on baby. Ferber recommends waiting intervals to be increased as the night goes on, but limited to a maximum wait of 10 minutes. You can also change your strategy based on your needs and your baby’s. Below is an example of how the Ferber method might be carried out:

  1. Follow your standard bedtime routine. To start, you will lay your little one down in their cot after their normal bedtime routine, say goodnight and leave the room.

  2. Complete the first interval. If your baby starts crying, leave them for just a few minutes before going back to briefly check on them. Soothe your crying baby by reassuring them that you are nearby, that you love them and that it’s time to go to bed now. Then leave the room again.

  3. Increase the interval. If your little one starts crying again, wait a little longer (perhaps for five minutes), then go back and check on them. Keep the room dim and your voice quiet, speaking only a few words to reassure your baby. You can give your little one a comforting pat but try not to pick them up.

  4. Continue lengthening the intervals. Depending on your little one's specific needs and temperament, you can have some flexibility in the length of intervals. However, keep the longest interval (before starting again) to no longer than 10 minutes.

Although the Ferber method is a sleep training technique that’s most often used to get your child to sleep at night, you could also use it at naptime to keep your baby’s sleep consistent.

Handy tip:

Current NHS guidelines recommend that your baby sleeps in a cot in the same room as you (both during the day and at night) for at least the first 6 months. There is evidence that following these time guidelines reduces the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).


When to Start the Ferber Method

When you should start the Ferber method (or any other type of sleep training) depends on a couple of factors:

  • When your baby reaches 6 months of age. The Ferber method should not be attempted on babies younger than 6 months of age or younger. Research has shown that sleep training techniques are largely ineffective during the first 6 months.

  • When your baby starts sleeping in their own room. It will certainly be easier to start sleep training if your baby is not sharing your room. However, the NHS advises against putting a baby younger than 6 months old in their own room because of the possible risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Keeping your baby in your room up to this age has been associated with a 50 percent reduction in SIDS.

Between 3 and 6 months of age, babies don’t need as many night-time feeds and you may find that your baby is sleeping for longer periods of time. Up to 12 months of age, your baby might already be sleeping through the night, or at least sleeping for most of the night. Some babies will need about 12 hours of sleep at this age, although their sleep patterns may change if they are teething.

Smart Sleep Coach Tip

It can be tricky to find that perfect sleep routine for both you and your little one. Fortunately, Smart Sleep Coach can assist you throughout your sleep training journey. This app can help you analyse your baby’s biological sleep patterns, as well as help you determine the perfect windows for sleep. The experts (and parents) behind Smart Sleep Coach are ready to help turn you and your baby into a dream team for Zzz’s. Try our free sleep assessment today.

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How Long Does the Ferber Method Take to Work?

The Ferber method, like other sleep training techniques, may take a few days before it starts to work. It is possible that your baby might start falling asleep within just one or two intervals of crying after you have practiced Ferber for a day or two. However, all babies are different and yours might take a little longer to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own. In time, most babies will fall asleep by themselves following their own natural rhythms. However, some babies might want more attention than others, or might cry for longer. As a guide, the Ferber method does not recommend that you go over the 10-minute interval time before checking on your baby again.

Is the Ferber Method Harmful?

Many studies have been done to try to ascertain if sleep training is harmful to babies’ development, and studies are still taking place around this topic. A lot of experts agree that when infants receive love and attention during their waking hours, using the Ferber method does not appear to have any unwanted side effects. Being able to fall asleep on their own is an important developmental milestone for babies, and short periods of crying do have the effect of helping a child fall asleep. Of course, all babies are different, and the Ferber method will not suit everyone. You are free to choose to try the Ferber method or any other sleep training technique, and you might just as well decide not to use any method and just do what feels right to you. Families who have adopted the Ferber method sleep training technique have spoken about the following benefits:

  • Babies falling asleep faster. Families who have used the Ferber method have said that their babies learnt how to fall asleep on their own faster.

  • Babies staying asleep for longer. Ferber method advocates also report that their babies stayed asleep longer and woke up less often during the night.

  • Less stress for parents. Parents who have used the Ferber method have reported feeling generally less stressed when using sleep training.


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Creating a Good Bedtime Routine

Is There a Modified Ferber Method?

As with any parenting technique, you can customise the Ferber method to suit your own needs. For example, if your baby has become very upset and is screaming while you are trying to follow Ferber, you could adjust the intervals and check on your little one more often. Remember that no two babies or families are alike. It may not work for you immediately or indeed at all, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on sleep training completely. A little modification of the Ferber method might help, although it could make the technique take longer to work. Also your baby may need more of your time and attention before they settle to sleep. Follow your instincts and do what you feel is best for you and your child.

Handy tip

The Ferber method (or any other) will not be effective if your baby is feeling unwell. Make sure that your little one is in good health when you introduce any sleep training technique. If you think they are unwell, check them for fever, a high temperature and/or diarrhoea.


Beyond the Ferber Method: Other Sleep Training Techniques

The Ferber method is just one sleep training technique for you to consider. There are many other tips for sleep problems for an unsettled baby and even for helping get a toddler off to sleep. Below are the five main sleep training methods for babies:

  • Crying-it-out. With this technique, you simply wait for your baby to stop crying and fall asleep without checking on them (unless in an emergency). It is often confused with the Ferber method.

  • Bedtime fading. This technique helps you identify the best bedtime for your little one. Gradually, you’ll shift your baby’s bedtime later each night (by about 10 to 15 minu

    tes) until you find the sweet spot when your baby is tired enough to fall asleep on their own.

  • Disappearing chair. Sit on a chair in the room, near your baby’s cot, as they fall asleep on their own. Gradually move your chair farther away from the cot each night. Eventually, you and the chair will be out of the room completely.

  • Countdown. Stay in your child's room for a set length of time, say 20 minutes, and gradually shorten it every night until you are leaving the room directly after putting baby down and saying night-night.

‘Hold on’. The ‘hold on’ strategy starts in the daytime to get your child used to waiting for you when you leave the room. Simply tell your baby to ‘hold on’ when you leave a room for a brief moment and each time you go, stay out a little longer. As your child gets used to you coming back, you build up trust with them and can then apply this technique at night too.

FAQs at a Glance

Sleep training is considered ineffective before your child has reached 6 months of age.

The Bottom Line

The Ferber method is just one option when it comes to sleep training, and it is up to you to decide what technique is best for you and your baby. If you need support with a wakeful, crying baby, you can go to your health visitor or GP as they will be able to offer you lots of advice and tips that may work for you.

The Ferber method – or ‘graduated crying-it-out’ – works on the principle of increasing the intervals between your response to your baby’s cries, going up to an interval of 10 minutes before you check on them. Experts have many different opinions on whether crying it out works or gives any benefit, and there is a lot of research available both for and against sleep training techniques – so do what you feel most comfortable with, taking into account your own baby’s individual personality, temperament and needs.

Sleep training is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age and research also shows that keeping your baby in your room until they are this age reduces the risk of SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome. There are other sleep training techniques available as well as the Ferber method. Ferber is said by many parents to have its benefits and the method typically takes only a few days to work. Lastly, sleep training won’t work if there is a possibility that your child may be feeling unwell, hungry, too cold or too hot.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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