How to Use the Extinction Method for Sleep Training

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Tips for using the extinction sleep training method to get baby to sleep well. Get great naps and great night sleep for baby.

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If you are interested in sleep training your baby, you are probably wondering how to go about that. There are several options out there. One common method is called “Extinction.” This post outlines what the extinction sleep training method is, the pros and cons of this method, and how to use it. 

Healthy sleep is vital to the growth and health of your child. While some babies are born being great sleepers, most have to learn how at some point in some way. There are several options in sleep training. One such method is cry it out. When it comes to using the cry it out (CIO) method for sleep training, there are basically two options. One is “graduated extinction”–also known as Ferber. This method means that you will go in at some point during the crying to attempt to re-soothe the baby and then leave. The other option is extinction. This means you put baby down and do not go back in for any soothing.

On the surface, extinction appears to be harsher than graduated extinction. Indeed, using graduated extinction is usually easier on the parent than an extinction method. This post contains affiliate links. In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Dr. Weissbluth states, “While appearing harsh, it is my impression that the total amount of crying with “Extinction” is less than with “Graduated Extinction” because success occurs faster” (page 211). I am in agreeance with this impression. 

The Pros of the Extinction Method

  • It is simpler to follow–fewer rules and fewer variables
  • It typically leads to no crying at all much faster than any other method
  • It is easier to be perfectly consistent
  • It is short. “The whole process usually takes only a few days” (page 297)

The Cons of the Extinction Method

  • It is often harder on the parents than other sleep training methods “Small, soothing efforts such as kissing the forehead, rearranging the blankets, comforting, and patting appear trivial to parents, but they interfere enormously with learning to fall asleep unassisted” (page 299)

Great Sleep Training Books

The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise
The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise
The pros and cons of using the extinction method for sleep training Pinnable Image

The Key Points of the Extinction Method

  • You put baby down and do not return until after baby has slept. This is the absolute rule when putting baby down at night. During the day, you might set a time limit and get baby at some point to avoid sleep deficit and allow a short nap to happen. “Once your child is in bed, he is there to stay, no matter how long he cries, if you are using the Extinction method” (page 261). 
  • Be sure your waketime length is correct. This cuts down on crying time.

Anecdotal Commentary

I have written this blog for over ten years. Over the course of those years, I have heard from thousands of parents about their sleep training experience. 

Typically, yes, extinction method is the fastest and most effective way to go about things. It is a very effective method for a first time parent because it doesn’t require you to be able to make so many judgement calls. It is the method we used on our oldest, Brayden, and it was very effective for him. I quickly realized that checking on him only made it worse for him, and I didn’t want to make him cry more in an attempt to make myself feel better. 

With Kaitlyn (my second child), however, I quickly realized that she did much better with CIO when I did interfere. She cried less with my interference than she did with an extinction approach. So I must always throw in there that you have to trust your instincts and listen to your baby’s needs. Just because “most” babies out there respond fastest to extinction does not mean that extinction will definitely be best for your baby. Probably? Yes. But not definitely. 

I clearly had experience with cry it out that led to me having a couple of great sleepers. It doesn’t mean I didn’t fully hate it. Because of that, I looked to other options. The option I found and stuck with for my third and fourth babies is the 4 S’s. You can see a link that below. Without a doubt, this is my number one recommended method to go about sleep training. My last two babies slept better earlier and with basically no crying. I am not against cry it out in principle and I know it works. I also know it is hard on the hearts of parents, and that is why I love the 4 S’s. It is an effective method to achieve the desired results while being very low-stress. If you want some guidance on cry it out, be sure to see my post 6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method.

Sleep Training Tips and Info

These posts will help you sleep train your baby with confidence. Learn how to sleep train in the method that best suits you and your baby.

Related Posts:

 What age should you start CIO?
 Optimal waketime lengths
 Optimal Waketime Lengths
 Sleep training and trust




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5 thoughts on “How to Use the Extinction Method for Sleep Training”

  1. Hey! Help me!! I started CIO at 3.5 weeks. At first I did Ferber method, but 2 weeks passed and sometimes (often) she would still cry 45 minutes- 1 hour during naps. So, I switched to total extinction. She’s 6.5 weeks old now and we still haven’t made progress. Sometimes she falls asleep in her own (rare), but more often it takes her 20+ minutes to fall asleep. I should add that I tried the 4 S’s first, but she never settles during the “sit” part. Her waketime is about 50 minutes. What am I doing wrong!? I thought we’d be done by now. We have a good bedtime routine, I swaddle, I just don’t know what else to do. Help a sister out!

    Reply
  2. My 5 month old daughter usually goes to sleep with no fuss but she is still waking at night at varying times. Should I let her cry it out then? We have tried the ferber method but after several attempts at soothing her I usually give up and feed her so we can all go back to sleep.

    Reply
    • If you feel like she is waking for no reason, cry it out is definitely an option. I wouldn’t do that if you aren’t going to see it through, though. If you are going to try for a bit and then go get her, then you are really just leaving her to cry for no reason.

      If she isn’t hungry, isn’t cold, isn’t uncomfortable, isn’t sick…doesn’t have some reason for waking, cry it out can help a baby sleep through the night very quickly.

      Reply
  3. We are on night 4 of cio extinction. And only the middle of the night wakings are worsening. Tonight he cried (on and off) for 3 hrs. When i finally gave in, he was sitting up, “playing” with his lovey. Do I keep going with this method?

    I should add that 1st put down of the night is way better, cry of 5 min. But should I be concerned that in the daytime, he is more clingy and fussy?

    Reply
    • Hello! I usually say to focus on sleep training in the day and the night naturally follows once they get daytime down. So I would focus on your daytime training and then see how night lands. As he gets the skills for self-soothing, he should just sleep through without issue so long as he isn’t waking in the night for other reasons.

      Reply

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