One night as I sat next to my little girl for a few minutes at bedtime, it hit me that we were in the middle of using sleep training fading – again. But what is sleep training fading – and how does it work?
Fading is a gentle, behavior-based sleep training method designed to minimize or even eliminate tears. It can be used successfully for any aged child who is at least 4-6 months old and is one of the best methods for helping big kids and anxious children sleep better.
So let’s talk about 15 things to know and do in regards to fade-it-out sleep training.
What Fading (Fade it Out) Means
Fading things out means that you’re going to go from where you are to your goal slowly – by fading out the undesirable behaviors and slowly replacing them with desirable behaviors. Fading can be used for any sleep or general parenting situation where you have a problem that needs to be addressed and you have a goal you want to reach.
Now, that’s what it means on the most basic of levels. The very basic definition means that fading is a super flexible and very easy to implement sleep training method. And because it’s gradual, no tears are required to see success.
Example: my daughter loves me to lay down by her when she falls asleep. We started this latest iteration with me laying down next to her until she falls asleep. Over several days, I have been staying with her for less and less time – with the goal being that I can leave after tucking her in for the night.
Now, we’re still working on our goal. And that’s okay. But we have a goal and we’re seeing measurable progress.
How Fading Works
How fading works is by slowly making changes and tapping into your child’s natural sleep clock to make bedtimes easier.
So it takes something new and scary (at least from the baby’s perspective) and makes it an easier transition – ensuring success for everyone. Fading also helps you find an easier way to help your child go to bed and minimize their sleep onset latency.
Let’s talk about both of these.
Use Sleep Onset Latency to Titrate Bedtime
After reading countless sleep studies, sleep onset latency is often abbreviated as SOL or just referred to as latency. It’s a fancy term for how long it takes your child to fall asleep.
- Children who fall asleep in less than 5 minutes generally have a sleep debt and are exhausted.
- Kids who fall asleep within 10 minutes are generally getting enough sleep – and you’ve found their “sweet spot” in regards to sleep quality and quantity.
- If it takes more than 20 minutes for your child to fall asleep, there’s probably a problem that should be addressed.
Keep in mind that those are general guidelines, but they’re pretty good for most kids.
The reason this is important to fading is this: you want to mess with the timing of bedtime so that you can find that perfect window where it’s easiest for your child to fall asleep.
Doing so will make fading far more successful – and faster.
For example, our two youngest kids do far better with bedtimes (and I spend far less time in their bedrooms) if we start bedtime at 6:30 instead of 7 PM. This earlier bedtime has two big pluses: they’re better with me leaving the room earlier – and they fall asleep within 5-10 minutes.
Now, this sleep onset latency may be hard to find for younger and/or exhausted babies. If so, don’t feel bad. It was hard for us, too.
For our overtired babies, we just stuck with an earlier bedtime and a soothing bedtime routine – and that’s all we needed. It’s not until our kids became toddlers that this principle became more obvious to see – or track.
In other words, you may not need to worry about latency – and fading will still work great.
Fading Eases Transitions
Because it’s slow, it also lets you minimize (or even eliminate) any tears – making it a very popular and easy-to-use sleep training method.
While fading it out can be used in almost any situation, there are two popular approaches to implementing fading: timed check-ins and camping out.
|Timed Check-Ins||Camping Out|
|Comforting Your Baby||Comfort as needed but put your baby to bed drowsy and awake.||Comfort in your preferred style, while knowing that the end goal is to be able to put your baby to bed drowsy and awake.|
|Set-Up||Put your baby to bed and then leave the room. Allow your baby to self-settle (or even cry) for a predetermined amount of time (usually 5 minutes) before going in to check on the baby.||Set your chair next to the baby’s crib – sit there until they fall asleep.|
|Fade This Out||Go check on the baby every five minutes, while offering reassurances and comfort as needed. |
(This is NOT the same as the Ferber method, as that calls for progressively longer waiting periods between checking in on your baby)
|Every night, move your chair a tiny bit away from the crib. Within a couple of weeks, your chair should be outside of the room – allowing you to leave after saying goodnight.|
For us, the key to fading is to focus on a single issue at a time. So in some instances, you may have to do back-to-back fading it out for each and every issue.
- For babies who require being held to fall asleep, you may need to first fade from holding them to sleep to putting them down in their crib awake but drowsy.
- Then you can fade out having to stay in the room while they fall asleep via another fading out session.
Fading works because it’s slow. So go slow – and trust that it will work.
Why Fading Works
Fading works because it helps both us parents and our children to find a balance between helping and being independent. And it does so gently while giving each person involved the reassurance that they are, in fact, helping.
It’s a great mix of attachment parenting and behavior-based parenting – and studies show that behavior-based sleep training has no long-term effects on your baby. To read my article on the safety of behavior-based sleep training, click here.
In other words, using fading helps you transition from a crazy-worried parent to a calmer, more level-headed version of yourself who can handle this crazy, sleep-deprived situation with ease and grace.
In our situation, I didn’t fall in love with the fading technique until our kids became toddlers. However, it’s become a great transitionary sleep training method – that also has taught me a lot about parenting. It’s now one of my favorite and go-to methods for all of our kids because it just works – and it works in pretty much every situation we’ve tried.
When Can You Start Using Fading?
Fading is a behavior-based sleep training method that can be successfully used for any child who is at least 4-6 months old. Due to its inherent flexibility, it’s one of the few sleep training methods that will work with any age.
Some parents have reported success with fading for babies who are just weeks old. These friends and fellow parents do caution, however, to go even slower and be super patient with fading it out for newborns and babies less than 4-6 months of age.
We have used fading for our children as early as 4-6 months up to our oldest, who (at the time of publishing this article) is 8 years old. Granted, he thinks it’s just a gradual change – he doesn’t realize it’s anything else!
In other words, fading it out isn’t just another sleep training method – for us, it has influenced our overall parenting style, too. And it’s been a hugely positive influence.
How Long Does Fade it Out Take to Work?
Successful fading it out can take anywhere from a few days up to several weeks, depending on the plan and implementation.
Here are a few things that could affect the length of time fading can take:
- If you’re going to test different bedtimes to find your child’s sleep onset latency, expect that fade it out will take longer.
- Addressing multiple issues will require back-to-back fades OR a slower, single fade. In either case, it will take several weeks.
- With a single bedtime issue, fading may be relatively quick – especially with a few nights of earlier bedtimes to make up for any exhaustion.
When Fading Won’t Work for You
There are a few times that fading simply won’t work.
The biggest issue with fading is that there are no step-by-step instructions. It does require some thought, planning, and flexibility.
In other words, if you like step-by-step instructions, then fading won’t work for you – unless you create your own step-by-step instructions.
Fading may also be more difficult (or even impossible) if you can’t find the right bedtime for your child. It’s near impossible to fade anything out when it takes your child 20-30 minutes to fall asleep.
In those cases, you may either want to look at your child’s sleep onset latency OR try another method of sleep training.
Pros of Using Fading Sleep Training
- Fading is flexible and adaptable.
- Fade it out can be used at almost any time and at any age.
- Fading eases transitions.
- Success will happen (even if it is slow).
- Faded sleep training teaches everyone patience.
- Fade it out helps you find your child’s natural bedtime (via sleep onset latency).
- It helps ease anxiety.
- Usable in toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children.
For me, the pros make fading an amazing option.
Cons to Fading
- Fading does not have step-by-step instructions.
- Fade it out does not generally see overnight success.
- Fading is hard.
- Sometimes fading can seem so slow that it’s hard to notice success.
- Faded methods require a lot of patience.
- Fade it out won’t work well if sleep onset latency isn’t addressed.
- Fading is slow!
In my opinion, the cons are worth addressing. They are, however, strongly outweighed by the pros.
Fading is Great for Managing Sleep Associations
Whether you’re dealing with trying to break negative sleep associations or create positive external sleep associations, fading is a great go-to method.
Why? It gives you (and your child) time to adjust to these new changes.
For example, when we first introduced a white noise machine to our children, we were worried that it would disrupt their sleep. It was, after all, new.
So we started the white noise machine across the room – and on its lowest available volume setting. Over a few nights, we adjusted the volume by moving the white noise machine closer and closer to its intended space.
After only a handful of days, we had the white noise machine where we wanted it. And our kids? They were totally fine with it. Now, they love their white noise machine and sleep so much better with it!
We used this same, slow pacing (and fading technique) with other sleep associations (like weaning and pacifier removal) and have always seen success.
How to Use Fading up to 12 Months Old
For babies and infants, there are a few key things to remember. The first is to take things slowly. Let fading truly be a fade – and give it time to work.
Next, remember that there is a lot of growth and change happening during the first 12 months of a baby’s life. So if they hit a regression (and they will), know that you may have to go back a few steps – and fade things out again.
For us, the entire first year of our children’s lives has been full of constant sleep training. This is because babies grow and react to change (sometimes very poorly!). So, we had to be mindful of that and constantly work for the goal of a full night’s sleep with our difficult sleepers.
Not every baby will require that much work to sleep train, thankfully. But if your baby is a difficult sleeper like mine? Know that things will get better – eventually. Just keep at it – and keep using fading to work towards that end goal of great sleep.
How to Fade it Out for Toddlers
In my experience, sleep training becomes a lot easier as kids understand more words and language. Part of it is because as I have to explain what’s going on, it helps me better understand what’s happening.
The other part is that, as they grasp and understand the importance of sleep, they’re more willing to comply and go to bed already. Most of the time, anyway.
So to fade it out for toddlers, give them expectations. Even now, as I tuck my toddlers in for bed, they ask me how long I’ll stay in the room with them. Some nights (when I have obligations), it’ll just be while I’m tucking them in and giving them a goodnight kiss.
Other nights, though? I’ll stay for a few minutes – or until I have to “go potty” (or whatever other reason for leaving I’ve given that night).
My toddlers understand that going potty has strong importance – and they won’t fight that mommy has to go potty when she has to go. Okay, they may ask for an extra hug as I leave, but they’ll let me go to the bathroom.
And just for the record, I do try to follow through with whatever rationale I’ve given my kids for needing to leave the room. Needing to actually use the bathroom is a great internal timer for me at toddler bedtime!
For more information on how to adjust sleep training for toddlers and big kids, read my article on it right here.
Fading with Preschoolers
Fading with preschoolers is a lot more of the same, except their level of comprehension and understanding continues to increase. So with my preschooler, I’m able to give them a timeframe – as long as it’s a short one. My toddler can’t understand the concept of “five minutes” or “two minutes,” but my preschooler does.
So if I tell him I’ll spend that long cuddling after bedtime (and/or read an extra book with him), he knows that once that time (or book) is over, it’s time to go to sleep.
Just be sure to set the expectation upfront – otherwise, the fading will get harder and it’ll become the new normal instead of going away!
School-aged Kids and Fading it Out
This is a great age for fading it out – again, as long as there is a lot of communication going on.
Start by talking about why the change is needed – and let your school-aged child think of reasons why the change is needed. Then, set the expectation of what the current routine is – and what the goal is. Then, set mini-goals together to get everyone from the current normal to the goal.
That way, fading will be a group effort – and is far more likely to become a reality (instead of just a fanciful dream of yours). Plus, it’s just good parenting!
Fading Sleep Training is Amazing for Anxious Children
Fading really is fantastic for kids with anxiety – not only for helping them sleep better but also for helping them deal with associated anxieties. In our experience, it works perfectly when paired with a love and logic parenting style – for the best possible outcomes.
For example, our second son developed a debilitating fear of fireworks when he was about 18 months old. The loud noises woke him up (despite a cranked-to-max-volume white noise machine) and no other sleep training method seemed to help.
So as we kept talking about his anxieties with him, we used a fade-it-out, too. Because fireworks are a rare event, it did take four full years to get him over this particular concern – but now things are much better. He can now watch part of the show before going to bed just fine – and without any worrying.
We’ve also used fading (and some love and logic) to help our children better manage school-related anxieties that had started disrupting sleep. By talking about things, coming up with a plan, and then using some fade-it-out at bedtime (to reassure them with our presence and empathy), things were actually able to resolve.
So if you’re having some issues with bedtime, try using some extra cuddles and fading to help talk through whatever it is – and see some real progress in a timely fashion.
Use Fading to Skip Traditional Sleep Training
Because fading can be adapted for pretty much every age group of children, it’s a great way to skip “traditional” sleep training. Instead, you’re using fading to build healthy sleep habits.
This is the way that friends of mine were able to best sleep train their children from birth. Yes, they skipped traditional sleep training and were able to sleep train newborns by using a fade-it-out methodology. They just didn’t know it was called fading.
So if you’re looking for the most flexible method of sleep training, this is it. It’s really a great way to see results – once you’ve planned some basic steps on how to get there.
Just remember to be flexible – and then watch the sleep issues fade away.