Mar 242013
sleep training twins

Image credit: Pinterest

Sleep training is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting newborns, and it’s even harder with multiples. For one thing, there’s twice as many babies to change, feed, burp, and tuck into bed at every nap time. Also, you encounter the classic problem of one fussy baby waking up the other. Over and over again.

After so much success in establishing our daughter’s sleep habits — she was sleeping through the night at 3 months — we were cautiously optimistic about doing the same with our twins. We weren’t that lucky, of course. There were setbacks. There were surprises and bumps in the road. Ultimately, however, we had both boys sleeping through the night (7:30 p.m. to 7:45 a.m.) by the time they were 6 months. Here’s how we did it.

Setting the Stage: The Twins’ Nursery

Our twins share a room, which is pretty common. There was not much of a debate on whether twins should share a crib; we knew there were safety concerns so we have a crib for each of them. These are positioned at a 90 degree angle to each other, so the boys can see one another if they want but they don’t have to. Both are 4-in-1 convertible cribs so we can use them as toddler beds when it comes to that.

Darkening the Nursery

We put room-darkening shades and heavy curtains on both windows. Blocking out the sunlight and achieving total darkness is critical for sleep training, because it helps prevent early wake-ups due to sunrise. This has burned us a few times in the past when we’re not on daylight savings, because there’s an east-facing window. Just a sliver of sunlight getting past the shade and curtain and right onto a twin’s face has caused super-early awakenings.

Darkening the nursery also helpful for getting the twins to sleep at an early bedtime, which we’ll go into later.

graco sound machine

Graco Sound Machine

Providing White Noise

White noise is another important element in the nursery, for two reasons. First, it provides a steady background “hum” that covers up other noises — dogs barking, neighbors slamming their car doors, garbage trucks, thunderstorms — that might cause the twins to wake up.

Second, we generally only turn on the sound machine when it’s bedtime, so it’s one of the sensory signals to the twins that it’s bedtime. They hear the steady hum, they know it’s time to sleep. A Graco Sound Machine is perfect for this… it even works with an iPod.

Twin Bedtime Routine

Establishing a bedtime routine for your twins is crucial. Following the same steps, in the same order, at around the same time each night, tends to be habit forming for both you and the twins. For you, it helps you remember to do everything to get ready. For them, it’s a series of cues that prepares them mentally for going to bed. They know what’s coming, and they will come to understand that resistance is futile.

Here are some tips we’ve picked up in establishing our bedtime routine:

  1. Do both twins at the same time. This will make putting them to bed easier, and prevents disputes over bottles, blankies, pacifiers, and such.
  2. Start the routine at dinner. If your twins are eating solid food, make sure they get a nourishing meal at dinner. After dinner, we allow for about an hour of play time until we give them the bedtime bottles (now sippy cups) of warm milk.
  3. A warm bath can help. We don’t give our twins a bath every day, but when we do, it almost always helps them sleep better. Indeed, the bath-bottle-bed routine is a proven method that’s been in use for generations.
  4. Clean diaper, soft pajamas. Dressing each twin comfortably and in a dry diaper will make them both more comfortable, and signal them that it’s time for bed.
  5. Pacifier and crib. Two things are proven to reduce the risk of SIDS: letting baby sleep in the crib each time, and offering baby a pacifier. When both of these are part of the routine, they make a healthy, effective sleep habit.

It’s bound to be a little chaotic around bedtime, especially if you’re putting them to bed on your own. If there’s a spouse or family member who can help, take advantage of that! Four hands are better than two.

huggies twin overnight diapersOvernight Diapers

One thing that I highly recommend for when you start teaching your baby to sleep longer at night is an overnight diaper. These have extra padding and are super-absorbent, designed to last 8-12 hours while keeping your baby comfortable. It’s frickin’ amazing how much these diapers will hold. I’m convinced that they help our twins sleep longer, especially by preventing wet-diaper wake-ups.

Side note, we also use overnight diapers on road trips to keep the twins extra comfortable. We’ve had luck with both Huggies Overnites and the Pampers Extra Protection. There’s also an environmentally friendly overnight diaper from Seventh Generation.

Swaddlers and Blankets

halo sleep sackAt the newborn stage, we always swaddled the twins for sleep. It’s the only safe way to give them a blanket, it keeps them warm, and it mimics the snug comfort of the womb. They make velcro-assisted swaddle blankets that are super-easy to use, but I learned to swaddle with just a plain receiving blanket too. When they started kicking out of that, we went with a baby sleep sack (left) instead. It’s a sort of wearable blanket that zips from the bottom for easy diaper changes.

aden anais twin blankets

Aden+Anais Blankets

Now that our twins are over 12 months and we’re not as worried about SIDS, we let them keep a loose blanket in the crib. They cherish one blanket above all: the light, airy, Aden+Anais muslin blankets. We own about eight of these because our twins usually won’t go to sleep without them.

If you own some, you know why these are the #1 bestselling baby blanket on They’re just that good.

 Sleep Training Tips

Now that you have your nursery stage set, and your bedtime routine figured out, we can dig into the actual baby sleep training. You should have realistic expectations about how much your babies will sleep. If they’re under 3 months of age, they might only do 2-4 hours at a stretch and that’s normal. It’s hard for you because there are two babies, so you might only get 1-2 hours of rest at a time yourself between feedings.

You’ll know your babies are ready when they start sleeping for longer stretches – 5-7 hours at a time or longer. It might not happen at the same time for both of them — in fact it almost certainly won’t. Most other parents of multiples I’ve spoken to about this have one good sleeper and one not-so-good sleeper, just as we do. Put your good sleeper in the crib farthest from the door, so that you can extract the fussy one / early riser without disturbing his or her sibling.

Sleep training twins

Image Credit: Pinterest

Set An Early Bedtime

One of the most surprising yet effective techniques to help babies sleep longer at night is to set an early bedtime – maybe 45 minutes to an hour after dinner at the latest. For you, this might be 6:45 or 7:00. It’s earlier than you’d think. Intuitively, it seems like putting a baby to bed earlier would have them waking up earlier. But an earlier bedtime does two things:

  1. It helps align your twins’ sleep schedule with circadian rhythms, which are driven by daylight and nighttime
  2. It allows your twins to go to bed before they’re over-tired, fussy, and would fight being put to bed.

Another benefit, and I suppose you could take this either way: it gives you and your spouse a bit more time to relax in the evening before you go to bed. After some long days, that’s very valuable.

When One Twin Cries

We used to freak out a little bit when one twin was crying while the other was still asleep (or trying to be, anyway). The good news is that because they share a room, our twins don’t seem very bothered by each other’s cries. This isn’t always true — sometimes one of them will be bouncing and noisy and keep the other awake almost on purpose — but in most cases, when one boy fusses, the other one keeps on snoozing.

Most mornings, the older twin (and lighter sleeper) wakes up first. This is fine, because usually I can slip in and retrieve him before his brother wakes up. We always put them to bed at the same time, I just think that one of them needs more sleep each night than the other. This way, they both can get what they want and we have the nursery set up to make it possible.

When Both Twins Cry

I’m not a fan of the strict cry-it-out school of baby sleep training. Neither is my pediatrician, quite frankly, and I trust his opinion more than most. He actually advises that if you need to let them cry — when teaching them to sleep in the crib, for example — to go in every 10-15 minutes, don’t say anything, but reinsert the pacifier, tuck in the blanket, and then leave again. It reassures them that you’re still around but gets the point across.

There have been times when both twins wouldn’t sleep — they’d cry and cry, when we knew they sorely needed a nap or to go to bed for the night. We took a hard stance on a few occasions, letting them cry until they went to sleep. It’s hard to do, but it’s occasionally necessary, and we have never seen any ill effects (psycological or physical) from it. In fact, it’s usually the opposite: they wake up cheerful as can be, because they got the sleep they needed.

sleeping twins signThe Bottom Line on Sleep Training Twins

Sleep training with twins isn’t twice as hard as a single baby – like most other things, it’s about three times as hard. There’s two of them but only one (or two) of you. They aren’t likely to encourage one another to go to sleep, but they might easily wake one another up. I’ll leave you with one parting note, something that might encourage you.

Once our boys started sleeping through the night (because we did all of the things above), a curious thing happened. When we are getting the twins ready for bed, if we happen to put one in his crib before the other’s quite ready — especially if he’s out of the room, like in the bathtub — he won’t settle down until his brother comes in. Both of them going to sleep at the same time is part of the routine now, and they sort of need each other to do it.


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  12 Responses to “Sleep Training with Twins”

  1. Great article, thanks. My wife and I are due in September with girls and this site has been a great find! Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi– Did you have to do any type of sleep training with naps? My 4 month old boy/girl twins sleep great at night but are terrible at naps. They won’t sleep in their cribs during the day (they are fine with them at night!) and only sleep 20 -40 minutes for each nap. We are going to start sleep training this weekend with naps (controlled crying), but I’m afraid one will cry the whole time and keep the other one up — or they will just both cry! Any advice/input on naps with twins? Thanks for your help!

  3. The problem(s) I’m having are: A. My girls don’t nap well during the day which, of course, doesn’t help them rest well at night. B. When they do go down (usually around 7-7:30) they always wake back up around 8:30 and are ready and raring to go until almost 10. (!!) How in the world do I fix these?? My sanity is at stake. :/

  4. We have twins and they started sleeping through the night at 2 1/2 months and 3 months. We followed baby wise as did a number of our friends and everyone who I know has followed it has had the same positive experience. I know they aren’t lying because their babies have slept at my house(also part of baby wise sleep training). They are now 4 and we get comments all the time in restaurants at how well behaved they are. I believe that because they have enough sleep, they are in a better mood and listen better. We ALWAYS had them in the same crib until one started rolling over. One thing I think that is critical to twin sleeping habits. It CAN be done. We did it as first time parents and you can too. They went to bed at 7 and got up at 7.

  5. i trained my twin girls slept overnight since they were 8 weeks, and did not feed them at all during midnight, it worked pretty good. But now, they are almost 7 months, they awake and cry at midnight until i feed them formula, then they can back to sleep again, and sometime, i need to feed them twice. they have rashes on the faces, and heads, they can easily to take a nap in day time, no scratching their heads. But always having hard time to fall asleep at night time, and especially they like to scratch their heads, and keep crying 15-20 minutes.

    for your experience, do you suggest i should feed them at midnight? and should them take shower in the afternoon or evening?

  6. I have 8 month old twin boys and they go to bed at 630 every night. They wake at 11 and 3 and 6 drinking full bottles each time. We are bloody exhausted and just about had enough. The boys eat solids 3 times a day both eating 150 grams of fruit and veg each time in between bottles. What should we do?

  7. My twins are 8 month olds and not only do they not sleep at night in their crib or take naps in their but they won’t ever even play in their crib while they are awake. Please don’t think I’m joking when I say the second I put my boys in their separate cribs they begin to cry, hysterically and won’t stop at all until I take them out. I’ve tried everything the cry it out method, I’ve tried the soothing method and nothing has worked at all. I’m completely lost with what to do and I really really need help. I’m hoping that if I can get my boys to play in their without crying then maybe they will start sleeping. I’ll except any suggestions thank you!!!!

  8. I have 20 month old twins who wake regularly overnight. They have blackout plastic on their window and a white noise machine. Their bedtime is 6:30 with a good relaxing routine. They wake at 6:30-7 for a bottle in the morning then go back to sleep till 8:30. Any advice to get them sleeping through the night?

    • Putting my girls to sleep with me helped us greatly, they are much more relaxed and calm now. But of course this method doesn’t suit everyone

  9. Good advice about white noise – I usually use fruit dryer instead, the noise it makes helps my girls sleep better and dries fruit and vegetables at the same time.

  10. I hv one girl and one boy, girl is crying a lot for sleeping and she wants mother and at the same time boy also wants to sleep and he need mother as well. Both will cry vigorously. But if time given to boy he will sleep easily then his sister. I don’t know how to manage them to sleep specially girl. Please tell me the solution.

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