How to Use the Extinction Method for Sleep Training

Tips for using the extinction sleep training method to get baby to sleep well. Get great naps and great night sleep for baby. Learn about extinction sleep training vs Ferber sleep training, pros and cons of extinction sleep training, and how to have success.

Baby sleeping in crib

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 great sleepers, most have to learn how at some point in some way.

How you sleep train your baby does not matter. There are many ways you can do it and achieve the same end result. Some methods are faster than others and some work better for certain babies than others.

baby feet

Different Methods of Cry It Out Sleep Training

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 method”–also known as Ferber Method. This method means that you will go in at some point during the crying to attempt to re-soothe the baby and then leave.

You typically go in at set intervals to resettle baby. You extend the length of each interval over time.

The other option is extinction. This means you put your baby down and do not go back in for any soothing.

You can also see my Ultimate Cry It Out Bootcamp to see how I did the CIO Method with my own infants.

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. 

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. So while this method seems harsher, it can be argued that it is less harsh because your baby will cry less overall.

The Pros of the Extinction Method

Here are some of the benefits 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)
  • It can result in solid long-term results

The Cons of the Extinction Method

Here are some of the cons of the extinction sleep training method:

  • It is often harder on the parents than other sleep training methods
  • People sometimes worry if this method of sleep training will lead to poor attachment or cause harm in some way

“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)

If you are worried about the effects of sleep training, see The Big List of Sleep Training Resources.

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 Key Points of the Extinction Sleep Training Method

Once again, it does not matter HOW you sleep train your baby. It is important that your baby learn to self-soothe, so you do want to do something.

If you do not feel comfortable with the extinction method and know you will not be able to handle hearing your baby cry or fuss, you can absolutely use another method. My personal favorite is Gentle Sleep Training: The Four S’s.

But this might be the best way for you to fix your child’s sleep problems and stop night wakings. You will see a significant improvement very quickly.

>>>Read: It’s time to take the guilt out of sleep training

How To Do Extinction Sleep Training Method

This is pretty straight forward.

You put your baby down in the crib and do not return until after the baby has slept. This is an absolute rule when putting your baby down at night.

“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)

During the day at naptimes, you might set a time limit and get your baby at some point to avoid sleep deficit and allow a short nap to happen.

Be sure your waketime length is correct. This cuts down on crying time and tears.

The keys to successful infant sleep apply to extinction sleep training just like any other sleep training method.

You need a solid sleep routine. You will want a consistent bedtime routine and a nap routine.

You can start off with a pacifier if you like, but since you are not going back in, if it falls out, it falls out and stays out.

When Baby Wakes Early from Nap

If your baby wakes early from nap when you are sleep training, I recommend you help your baby get back to sleep. As your baby develops those self-soothing skills, she will be able to fall back asleep independently, but right now, you want to avoid your baby getting overly tired.

If waking early from naps persists for a long time, you might need to do cry it out to solve it. See my Complete Guide to Troubleshooting Short Baby Naps for more.

 The Babywise Mom Nap Guide

The Babywise Mom Nap Guide

The Babywise Mom Nap Guide eBook helps you establish successful naps from birth through the preschool years. It is a great resource!

Anecdotal Commentary

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

Typically, yes, the 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 judgment 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.

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.

The only downside to the 4 S’s Gentle Sleep Training is that it works best with newborns. That is a perk in many ways, but it also means if your child is 6 months of age and you are just now wanting to do sleep training, the 4 S’s might not work for you. You might find that you need to do a cry it out sleep training to best meet your child’s needs for sleep.

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.

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This post originally appeared on this blog in January 2017

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