How Often Should You Check In During Sleep Training?

Wondering how often to check in on your baby during sleep training to make it effective? Learn which intervals work best, what to do about nighttime and morning wake-ups, and best practices for check-ins.

How Often Should You Check In During Sleep Training?

We’ve all heard that sleep training isn’t just about putting your baby down, closing the door, and calling it a night. But we also know that we shouldn’t pick them up at every whimper we hear to get them to stop crying. How can you balance the two to make sleep training effective?

After having done this with all my kids and researching all that I could about sleep training, this is what finally helped them sleep on their own.

The first step is learning how to prepare for sleep training, from establishing a routine to doing away with unsustainable sleep aids. Then, check out how exactly to check in on your little one with these steps below:

How often to check in during sleep training

One of the biggest challenges with sleep training is knowing what to do when your baby cries. Let’s talk about how to respond to his cries in a consistent and gentle way that still allows him to fall asleep on his own. Your role isn’t to swoop in and save him from every discomfort. Instead, think of it as giving him the opportunity to self-soothe so that he no longer has to rely on you to fall asleep.

Far from leaving him alone, you’ll actually be checking in on him every few minutes to reassure him that all is fine and to encourage him along the way.

First check-in: 5 minutes

After you’ve put your baby down and closed the door, the next step is to check in on him five minutes from when he cries.

If he cries right away, set your timer to five minutes. Once the five-minute timer goes off and you still hear crying, it’s time for the first check-in.

Open the door and do a quick survey. Check for poop or any awkward positions he might have gotten himself into. If he soiled himself, has a runny nose, or even vomits, tend to that quickly. No big fanfare—keep things subdued.

More than likely though, he’s crying because he’s not used to the changes he’s experiencing. Offer encouraging words: explain that you’re nearby in the next room, that you love him and know he can do this, and that he’ll have long, restful evenings from now on.

However, don’t expect him to quiet down with your check-ins. The point isn’t to stop him from crying but to reassure him you’re still here, sending the message that he should keep trying to fall asleep.

After you’ve checked in, close the door and set your timer for 10 minutes.

Second check-in: 10 minutes

Let’s say your timer goes off in 10 minutes and your baby is still crying. Follow the same steps as with the first check-in: make sure all is okay, reassure him you’re still here, express your confidence in him, and close the door. Then, set your timer for 15 minutes.

You’re gradually extending the time from five-, then 10-, and finally to 15-minute increments. Five minutes is a short enough time for him to “dip his toes” in the new sleeping arrangement before you come in again, but extending the check-ins to as long as 15 minutes gives him enough time to actually fall asleep without too many interruptions. In the beginning, you’ll find that he’ll cry less and eventually sleep during the longer, 15-minute stretches than in the first five-minute stretch.

Third and subsequent check-ins: 15 minutes

If your baby is still crying after another 15 minutes, check in again, following the same steps. And if he’s still crying after that, continue to check in every 15 minutes until he falls asleep.

Free resource: We’ve all made mistakes when it comes to sleep training. Join my newsletter and grab 5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing to see which ones are crucial to avoid:

5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing

How to handle nighttime wake-ups

Congratulations! Your baby has fallen asleep on his own… except now he’ll need help when he wakes up in the middle of the night. This is where it gets tough. Sleep training in the early evening is manageable when you’re awake and coherent, but going through the process at 1am after being jolted awake isn’t easy. Brace yourself and keep the end goal in mind to stay patient and motivated.

Treat nighttime wake-ups the same as the early evening. When he wakes up at night, start the same five-, 10-, 15-minute check-ins until he falls asleep. Follow the same steps, such as putting him down awake and not lingering for more than a few seconds. And keep your timer and pen nearby when you go to bed—you don’t want to stumble around to find these items when you’re woken up.

How to handle morning wake-ups

Aim for at least 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night. If you put your baby down at 7pm, he shouldn’t be up at 4am for the day.

So, if he does cry at 4am, follow the same five-, 10-, 15-minute check-ins. Explain that it’s not time to wake up yet, and he has to sleep for a few more hours. Keep checking in until your official wake-up time (if you put him down at 7pm, he can be up for the day at 6 or 7am).

If you find that he gets riled up at each check-in, check in every 15 minutes (instead of every five or 10), giving him more chances to fall asleep. Then, once it’s officially time to wake up, brighten the room and congratulate him. You might say, “It’s wake-up time, and you did it—you got through your first night!” This helps him know that there is a definite time to wake up and that all your previous interactions moments earlier meant that it wasn’t time to wake up just yet.

Keep his room distraction-free and conducive to sleep. This is where darkening curtains and a white noise machine come in especially handy, as they block out the early sun or any noises from the new day.

Get him up at the official wake-up time and congratulate him. Yup, let him know how proud you are of all he’s done. Sure, the experience may have been less than ideal and he may have cried a zillion times last night. But he went through a lot and deserves smiles and hugs the next day, not disappointment or frustration.

The more confident and encouraging you are, the more assured he’ll feel about sleeping on his own.

Expert tips

Now that you know when to check in, how do you make sure you use that time well? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Don’t pick your baby up if you don’t need to

 If he pooped or you need to move him out of an awkward position, then yes, pick him up, but don’t carry him in an effort to soothe or rock him to a calmer state. Doing so sends mixed messages and may frustrate him even more. Imagine finally getting picked up, only to be put right back down again. The same goes for patting or rubbing his head or tummy. Limit physical contact that might tease or anger him further.

Don’t linger

Stay in the room for 30 seconds max, not for an extended period of time. Staying a long time sends your baby mixed messages. He’ll get angry and think, “What are you doing, talking or patting me? Just pick me up already like you usually do!”

Set your timer based on when your baby cries

Each time he settles down, consider that as a “starting over” point. Let’s say he didn’t cry at the 10-minute mark (he was quiet from 7:05—7:15pm). But at 7:22pm he started crying again. Reset your timer to five minutes and check in at 7:27pm, starting the cycle again from the time he cried. 

Either parent can do the check-ins

It doesn’t matter which parent does the check-ins. It doesn’t even have to be the same parent each time. You can alternate check-ins, take the first shift while your partner does the second, or check in the first night while he does the next. Just make sure both parents have a chance to rest and get a break.

Frequently asked questions

What if my baby doesn’t cry right away when I close the door?

If he starts off quietly lying in bed, don’t set your timer just yet. You’ll only set a timer from when he starts crying, not from when you put him down. Let’s say you put him down at 7pm, but he didn’t make a sound until 7:10pm. Your first five-minute check-in would be at 7:15pm, not 7:05pm.

What if my baby wakes up early but isn’t crying?

You don’t need to check in—simply allow him to lie there and hopefully fall asleep on his own. But if he starts crying, that’s your cue to begin the check-in process again until your official wake-up time.

How long does sleep training take?

I’ve found this range to be pretty wide, from as few as one day to as long as five weeks. One factor that can extend the process longer than it should be is inconsistency. The more consistent you are, the better chances your baby will have of putting himself to sleep. Even if you had a challenging night, your expectations weren’t met, or you don’t think you can stand another night of crying, focus on consistency.

You do need to listen to your gut: if sleep training doesn’t feel right, then it may be time to rethink your approach. But the process will take longer or it just won’t work at all if you’re inconsistent. Changing plans midway will only frustrate and confuse him. Changing too much and going back and forth will make sleep training less effective. 

So, feel free to change your plan if you feel like it isn’t working—but do so after considerable thought.

The bottom line

Sleep training can be tough at the moment, but you’re in it for the long term, including rest for the whole family and your baby sleeping on his own. No more tiptoeing out of the room for fear he’ll hear a sound. No more rocking him to sleep for an hour, only for him to wake up the minute you put him down. A full night’s sleep for the whole family is within your reach.

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