Gradual Retreat sleep training method

Gradual Retreat Method

Sleep routines are not for everyone and here at Channel Mum there’s no judging. We’ll simply give you the information to help you decide what is right for you and your family. Our Health Visitor and Sleep Expert Maggie features in our helpful video series The Baby Sleep Guide and she is also available along with our trained parent helpers to give you support and personalised help whatever stage of the sleep journey you’re on. Why not ask a sleep question? If you’re struggling Channel Mum is here for you and know you are not alone.

What is gradual retreat?

Gradual retreat or the disappearing chair is a gentle technique that essentially involves gradually doing less and reducing your involvement in helping your child go off to sleep. This is a good method if your child won’t settle on their own, requires a lot of rocking, singing or holding to get off to sleep, or they wake frequently in the night.

What age can you use gradual retreat from?

You can use this method of sleep training from 6 months or older.

How do I use gradual retreat?

In order to implement this sleep training method follow the steps below:
1. Ensure you have a consistent bedtime and positive bedtime routine, so that your child is given warning and knows that bedtime is next;
2. Put your child into bed when they are drowsy but still awake;
3. Sit beside the bed, but do not engage with them by speaking or looking at them (you may want to start by lying next to your child  or sitting next to them);
4. If they are upset then put a hand on them and gently pat or stroke them, as soon as they stop crying remove your hand;
5. Once your child is happily settling to sleep with you in that position, gradually increase the distance the next night. For instance if you were lying next to them, now sit next to them, and if you were sitting next to them, move further away from them;
6. Repeat this each night until you are eventually sat outside the room. If your child becomes upset when you move further away, return to the previous nights position and try again the next night.

How long will it take for this method to work?

This method can take several weeks, but it is important to be consistent with the approach so your child understands what is happening. If you would prefer to try and implement this method faster then you can follow this approach:

*Follow the points 1-3 as above;
*When your child cries, you put a hand on them and gently pat or stroke them;
*Once they have stopped crying remove your hand and move slightly further away.
*Each time they become unsettled, comfort them again with gentle patting or stroking, and once they stop crying move further away again;
*Repeat this until your child is asleep.

This method is still time consuming each evening and may take over an hour, but it is likely to take fewer days/weeks to get your child settling themselves off to sleep alone. If your child is resisting this go at their pace and give them 2-3 nights to get used to the new distance before you increase it again. Once at the door you can leave them but pop back at frequent intervals so they see you, gradually increasing the time you disappear for.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Move at your child’s pace with this method, if it is going well you can move your chair several times in one evening. Make sure you are going to be comfortable in your baby or child’s room; you might need a cushion or blanket to stay warm.

Baby ClinicCome and chat to Maggie, our team of trained parent supporters and other mums in the Channel Mum support group.

Health Visitor approved advice

This guide has been checked and approved by our in-house Health Visitor, Maggie Fisher in October 2018.

Other factsheets in this series

Safe sleeping for babies

Your baby’s average sleep needs

Sleep and awake states of your baby

What are your baby’s signs of tiredness?

Your baby’s sleep cycles

The effect food can have on your baby’s sleep

Comforting and soothing your baby to sleep

Sleep aids that might help settle your baby

Swaddling your baby

Bedtime routines

Using the ‘Controlled Checking’ sleep training method

Using the ‘Kissing Game’ sleep training method

Using the ‘Pick Up, Put Down’ sleep training method

Using the ‘Wake to Sleep’ sleep training method

You might be interested in

The Channel Mum sleep guide

How to sooth a crying baby

Controlled crying