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Progressive waiting- Helping Children to Fall Asleep Independently

“Progressive Waiting”

A Method for Helping a Child Learn to Fall Asleep Independently


When should children be able to fall asleep by themselves?

Before their second birthday - usually much sooner - most kids have learned to fall asleep alone. They no longer need to have a parent hold them or lie down next to them until they drift off. If they wake during the night, they can get back to sleep on their own.


Learning to fall asleep alone may be harder for a child with special needs:

Some children with developmental delays, autism or related conditions, can’t seem to fall asleep without a parent right beside them. Most of these kids have a very strong emotional attachment with their parents. Changes in familiar routines are likely to be met with intense resistance. When left alone in their own beds, they wail and call out until someone gives in. Despite their stubbornness, almost all of these children can successfully adjust to change – but only if their parents believe they can.


Improved sleep hygiene as the first step:

If your child is 2 years of age or older, he or she can learn to fall asleep independently. A review of your child’s sleep hygiene and bedtime routines should be the first step toward this important goal. Helping kids form good habits at bedtime makes it easier for them to become less dependent on constant parental presence during the night.


“Progressive Waiting”

Allowing a child to cry it out is an effective means of teaching the skill of falling asleep alone. Even though it works, this approach can be hard on parents’ nerves. A more gradual method, termed “progressive waiting” by Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatric sleep specialist in Boston, is gentler but just as effective.


Here is how progressive waiting works:

1. The bedtime routine is carefully followed, but instead of holding or lying next to the child until he or she is asleep, the parent says good-night and leaves the bedroom.


2. Crying and protest are sure to follow. After a pre-determined interval, perhaps 3 minutes, the parent returns.


3. After briefly comforting the child, the parent again leaves the bedroom.


4. If the crying resumes, the parent waits 5 minutes before making another brief visit.


5. Intervals between visits become longer and longer until the child finally falls asleep.


6. On the second night, a similar procedure is followed, except that the parent waits longer before making visits, say 6 minutes, then 10 and then 15.


The key to success with progressive waiting is for parents to set a schedule in advance and then stick to it. Stay calm. Be positive and reassuring, but be firm.


A safe and effective method: Progressive waiting, also called gradual extinction, has been the subject of careful research by pediatric sleep specialists. Results of this method compare favorably with any other method, and its safety is well-established.

Suggested Schedule for “Progressive Waiting”


Interval before first visit
Interval before second visit
Interval between later visits
1st night



3 minutes

6 minutes

10 minutes
2nd night



5 minutes

10 minutes

15 minutes
3rd night



5 minutes

10 minutes

15 minutes

4th night, etc



8 minutes

15 minutes

20 minutes


1935 County Road B2 West Suite 100 Roseville, MN 55113 (651) 636-4155