Ferber Method Experiences

Sleep Basics

A sleeping child.
Using the Ferber Method, you can quickly get your child sleep through the night. Photo by Getty Images

Parents often visit their pediatrician when their kids aren't sleeping well, especially if they are waking up a lot at night.

Usually they are hoping there is some good reason that their child isn't sleeping, like maybe they have an ear infection, that can quickly be fixed.

Unfortunately, especially when the child has no other symptoms, their sleep problems are usually because of an inconsistent bedtime routine and poor sleep associations and not because of any medical problem that can be fixed with an antibiotic or other medication.

For most of these children, in addition to some general advice on developing better sleep associations, I have usually recommended that they read one of two books, either:

  • "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems," by Richard Ferber, MD, or
  • "The No-Cry Sleep Solution," by Elizabeth Pantley

If the parents don't seem to be up for the Ferber Method and its approach to allowing your child to cry for short, but progressively longer, periods of time each night, then the no-cry book is usually a good alternative.

Our Sleep Problems

While I have always had good experiences with the Ferber Method as I have recommended it to help the the children in my practice sleep better, I was recently surprised to find that I needed Dr. Ferber's advice again at home. Surprised, because with four children who went to bed easily and slept all night, I thought we had put sleep problems behind us.

A family vacation with limited sleeping accommodations led to our latest sleep problems.

Our youngest, who had been sleeping well in a toddler bed, decided that she didn't want to go back to sleeping alone in that bed when we got back home. As are typical for children with sleep problems at this age, she started to fight going to bed and would wake up crying several times at night.

After a month of prolonged bedtime routines and a lot of sleepless nights, as we tried to comfort her and get her back on her previous routines, thinking her sleep problems were just a phase that she would eventually snap out of, we finally thought it was time for the Ferber Method.

Ferber Method - Day One

I expected the Ferber Method to work, but after a month of sleep problems, which can lead you to feel that you will never get a good night's sleep again, I was a little surprised at how quickly it worked.

On the first night that we tried the Ferber Method, after getting ready for bed, reading a few books, getting in bed and saying good night, our two and half year started to cry as soon as we left the room. Going by the book, we briefly went in to check on her after three minutes and then again five minutes and ten minutes later. At that time, we thought we might be in for a very long night, but she thankfully fell asleep before it was time to check on her again.

She did wake up three times that night, but each time she was back to sleep after the first five minute wait.

Ferber Method - Day Two

We increased the wait times the next day when she went down for her nap, which she had been fighting and had been very inconsistent in taking. She cried after being put in her toddler bed for her nap, and we checked on her briefly after the first five minute wait. She fell fast asleep during the next ten minute wait though, slept for a good two hours, which she had not done in over a month, and was quite proud of herself for sleeping so well.

That night went well too, she fell asleep during the first ten minute wait and only woke twice, but quickly fell asleep each time during the second ten minute wait.

Ferber Method - Day Three

By day three we were wondering if this was still our child. No crying at nap time and only a few minutes of crying at bedtime, but not even enough time to trigger the first period that we were supposed to go in and check on her. And then she slept all night and has been sleeping though the night ever since!

Ferber Method Experiences

I think that our experiences with the Ferber Method are fairly typical, as Dr. Ferber states that parents should usually see "marked improvement" in their child's sleep "within a few days to a week."

Since not sleeping was taking its toll, including having a toddler who was sleep deprived and becoming more irritable and hyperactive during the day and having sleep deprived parents, we were thankful for a quick and easy solution.

Did she cry too much in the process? She actually ended up crying less in those three nights than she did just fighting bedtime each night in the previous month, so I don't think crying was a real issue.

And with a good night's sleep, she was actually back to her happy self during the day and very proud of the fact that she was sleeping in her bed all night.

The Ferber Method may not be for everyone, as some parents likely won't be able to let their child cry for even five or ten minutes at a time, but most parents should consider it if their kids aren't sleeping well.

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