You’re up in the middle of the night again, holding or feeding your infant twins. Even after several months, they’re still waking up two or three times a night (or more), requiring even more time to put them back to sleep. You did your best to help them sleep on their own, but nothing seems to work. The 10 to 12 hours of sleep everyone keeps talking about seems impossible, especially with twins. Or is it? With compassion, a sound routine and a new way of thinking about sleep training twins, they may be on their way to sleeping through the night.
What’s your goal?
Define your goal with sleep training twins. I wanted mine to:
- Sleep 10 to 12 hours straight at night
- Put themselves to sleep (instead of relying on rocking or nursing)
- Ditch the swaddle and pacifier
- Sleep in their own cribs in their own bedroom
- Wean themselves from night time feedings
When to begin sleep training twins
I’m sure you’ve wondered when to start sleep training twins. The Sleep Easy Solution recommends beginning sleep training once your babies are four months old and at least 14 pounds. Babies who are 15 pounds or more can also be weaned from nighttime feedings (details below on just how to do that).
You also want to avoid sleep training twins when they’re sick or dealing with changes. For that reason, if you’re going back to work, moving to a new home or taking a trip, start sleep training several weeks before or after such big changes.
Where to sleep train twins
Sleep train your twins in the bed and room you would like them to sleep in for the long-term. From the day we brought them home, my twins slept in bassinets in my husband’s and my bedroom. However we wanted them to start sleeping in their bedroom, each in their own cribs.
Place your twins in the same room if you want them to share one. If however you’ve set up two separate bedrooms for them, then sleep train them in their own rooms (they’ll wake each other up much less).
And if your twins are sharing a room with not just each other but with an older sibling as well, arrange a temporary sleeping area in another part of the house for your older child so he won’t hear his baby siblings cry during those first few days. We set up a temporary mattress for our older son in our bedroom.
Tools you’ll need
These are the basic tools I used during sleep training twins:
- A fan or other form of white noise
- Darkened curtains (not just blinds but thick curtains to block light out)
- A timer (I used my iPhone)
- An alarm clock (iPhone again)
- Pen and paper to track the check ins
Sleep training twins: the process
Explain the new routine
Begin your night with the routine you’d like to implement moving forward: take a bath, change into pajamas, drink milk and read books, for instance. Once you’re ready to put the babies down for the night, explain that you will be doing night times differently and that they’ll learn how to fall asleep on their own: “I’m putting you down in your crib in your bedroom and you won’t be rocked or sleep in your bassinet anymore. I’ll turn off the lights and check in on you. Mama’s right here.”
Check in #1: Set your timer to five minutes
Once we put our babies down, we set our timer for five minutes. If your babies are crying after five minutes, poke your head over their crib and reassure them: “Mama’s right here in the living room. You can do this. We love you,” are some things you can say.
For the same reason, don’t linger during check ins. Keep them to 30 seconds max. If you stand around any longer, your baby will think, “What are you doing just standing there? Pick me up already!”
Check in #2: Set your timer to 10 minutes
Once we checked in the first time, we set our timer to 10 minutes. If your babies are still crying after 10 minutes, repeat with another check in.
Check in #3: Set your timer to 15 minutes
Again, after the second check in, we set our timer, this time to 15 minutes. If your babies are still crying when 15 minutes are up, check in.
Further check ins: Every 15 minutes
Should your baby continue to cry, check in every 15 minutes until they fall asleep. When they do, celebrate! Your twins have learned to put themselves to sleep all on their own. Yes, it’s possible.
Note: Enter your email to get THREE free chapters of my expanded guide, How to Sleep Train Twins, including the sleep tracker below:
Weaning your twins from nighttime feedings
Babies wake up throughout the night for various reasons. For instance, they may not know how to put themselves back to sleep if they wake up. One of the biggest reasons, however, is that they’re hungry for milk or rely on nursing or sucking to fall asleep. You can help your twins adjust their eating patterns by encouraging them to take in their calories during the day (like you and I do) to sleep 10 to 12 hours straight at night. Here’s how:
Beat them to the punch.
Remember that alarm clock I mentioned you would need earlier? You’re going to use it to wake the babies up. That’s right.
A few days before sleep training twins, track down the times of the night your twins wake up. If you’re lucky, you’ll come up with consistent patterns. On the first night we sleep trained our twins, we set our alarm to 20 minutes before those times. For instance, if your twins tend to wake up at midnight and 3:30am, set your alarm to go off at 11:40pm and 3:10am. Then, enter their room and nurse or bottle feed your babies—even if they were asleep.
The goals here are two-fold: First, you’re breaking the association between crying and receiving milk. Previously, my twins were in the habit of expecting milk whenever they cried. Now, they’re getting milk—even if they didn’t shed a tear. If you’re nursing like I did, feed them for the amount of time you regularly do. If bottle feeding, offer the amount of ounces they normally drink. Do this for each of the times they wake up (e.g. once at 11:40pm and again at 3:10am).
On the second night of sleep training, we did the same thing—set our alarm and nursed—but this time, we reduced their nursing time by two minutes (if bottle feeding, reduce a little bit from the bottle).
And so, the second goal is to reduce their food intake in the middle of the night to encourage them to take their calories during the day.
We repeated this pattern of waking them up to dream feed on subsequent nights, reducing the milk on each night by two minutes until they stopped drinking milk entirely in the middle of the night.
What to do if your babies wake up crying in the middle of the night
My babies were finally able to put themselves to sleep. Yay! Except about an hour or two later, one or both of them started crying again. So we did the same 5-10-15 minute check ins we started with when we first put them down until they put themselves back to sleep again. We didn’t pick them up unless necessary (like to check for poop) and kept all check-ins short.
Celebrate and praise for a job well done
The next day, we praised our twins for their hard work. Regardless of how many times they woke up or how long they cried before sleeping, we celebrated their effort. They needed to know we believed in their ability to put themselves to sleep. Don’t feel upset if your twins didn’t meet your expectations or if you didn’t get any sleep (that should be expected during sleep training).
The subsequent nights
How long does it take before twins can sleep through the night? Singletons are easier: My eldest son learned to put himself to sleep after two nights of sleep training. My twins, however, learned to put themselves to sleep after a week. That’s the downside of sleep training twins in the same room: they wake each other up.
That said, I still opted to sleep train them in the same room since we planned to have them share one. Imagine the alternative: Just as they’ve learned to put themselves to sleep in separate rooms, they would then have to adjust to a new room, a new roommate, new sounds… I didn’t want to start all over.
What to do when they wake up too early in the mornings
Sleep training applies to the early mornings as well. Let’s say your twins are sleeping through the night, except one or both of them are now rising at the ungodly hour of four or five in the morning (This is where those darkening curtains come in handy).
Apply the same process: check that everything is okay. If so, let them know that it’s not wake up time yet and they should try to go back to sleep. Pop in at five, 10, and 15 minute intervals if they’re still crying. Get them up when it’s time to be up for the day (10 to 12 hours from the time you put them down).
My biggest tip
Be consistent. Don’t sleep train one night, feel bad the next and ditch the whole process, only to go right back to it the next night. Instead, give it some time. If you see no progress or if you find something odd, then try a different route than sleep training, or better yet, consult with your doctor with any concerns you may have.
What sleep training really is
When I first heard about letting babies cry before sleep, I swore I would never allow that with my baby. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would let their baby cry and not want to scoop him up in comfort. Or I figured that parents were exasperated and sleep deprived enough to resort to sleep training.
Then I learned that sleep training is giving your baby the opportunity to learn how to fall asleep on her own. We’re conditioned with habit. If your babies is used to sucking on a pacifier and falling asleep to the sensation of your arms rocking her to sleep, then they’ll learn that those conditions are the tools they need.
Except those tools are external. Your babies still requires someone to help them fall asleep. Sleep training is allowing them the chance to learn to fall asleep on their own using whichever method they prefer. My twins found their own tools: One twin learned that sucking on his thumb helped soothe him into sleep while the other would nod his head side to side before conking out.
Having twins is difficult, and sleep training is no different. Yet with a few days set aside, your twins will be on their way to sleeping through the night—all hours of them.
I expanded this post into a thorough guide, How to Sleep Train Twins. The 53-page guide includes tons of details down to the minute as well as how to sleep train for naps. You’ll also get answers to ‘what if’ questions other parents asked and important information on how exactly to check in on your twins. Get it here.