Sleep is a universal need, and it's not just parents who end up grumpy when their sleep is broken. Research shows that babies who sleep well at night are more likely to be contented during the day, while those who sleep poorly are more likely to be irritable. This is why adopting strategies to help your baby sleep soundly benefits both of you.

But although we all need sleep, and it is helpful to talk about the average sleep needs of babies, there is no such thing as an 'average' baby. This becomes more obvious if you have two or more children. Your first-born may be content to be put down awake in his cot, sucking his thumb happily for half an hour before drifting off, while your second may need to scream herself to exhaustion before falling asleep.

Equally, there is no such thing as an 'average' parent. Your neighbour may insist that controlled crying is the secret to getting your child to sleep successfully, but if you simply can't bear to hear your baby crying it may not be the right approach for you. Similarly, you may be keen to get your child to settle early so that you can have your evenings to yourself, but your friend may be happy for her baby to go to bed later because she is at work all day.

In short, all babies and all parents are unique. This is why many books contain a number of different strategies and advice on how to apply them, enabling you to choose the one best suited to you and your family. They can all be applied to babies and children of any age, either to encourage good sleeping habits from birth or to break a pattern of never-ending bedtimes or broken nights.

Your choice
Before you begin putting any sleep training into practice, you need to be honest with yourself. Take the following preliminary steps towards your goal:

1. Work out your strengths and weaknesses as a parent (we all have them).
2. Write down what ideally you would like to achieve: is it more important to you to have unbroken sleep from midnight, or for your baby to go to bed at 7pm, even if that means he might wake for further feeds in the night?
3. Use this frank assessment to decide which method is likely to be most successful for you and then adapt it, if necessary, to suit your family's f specific needs.

Whatever you do, don't go down one route because you feel you ought to, or because other people insist it's the right one. Then, once you have made up your mind which strategy you are going to adopt and what your ground rules are, be prepared to stick to them.