Looking for more information on the cry it out or extinction method for sleep training? Here’s everything you need to know about the extinction method for sleep training.

image of crying baby

When people hear the phrase “cry it out sleep training,” it often creates a very polarized response. Some parents cringe at the thought, while others swear by the practice.

In fact, this sleep training method has been around for a long time and it has been modified and re-worked into a variety of other sleep training methods

While cry it out (shortened as CIO) sleep training is not one of the methods I typically coach families through, I understand that it’s a method that can be used successfully.

Most sleep training methods involve some level of crying. In your effort to change your baby’s sleep associations and their effort to soothe themselves, they are going to be vocal about it.

I always tell the families I work with: there’s no reason to be afraid of crying. That’s how babies communicate, and they’re bound to have something to say about a change in their sleep routine.

But when you’re picking the right sleep training method for your family, you have to decide just how much crying your baby (but mostly you!) can handle.

Is your baby struggling with short naps? To help you better, grab my free guide to solving short naps to get practical tips of how to get your baby to take longer naps every single day. Click here to grab it, it’ll be super helpful.

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What is the Cry It Out Method / Extinction Sleep Training?

The Cry It Out Method, also known as Extinction Sleep Training, is a sleep training method that involves allowing the baby to cry themselves to sleep without any intervention from the parent.

This method involves putting the baby in their crib, saying goodnight, and leaving the room, allowing the baby to cry until they eventually fall asleep on their own.

This method is often associated with the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child” written by pediatrician Marc Weissbluth.

In his book, Weissbluth argues that sleep is essential to a child’s health and well-being, and recommends a structured approach to sleep training that involves allowing the child to cry themselves to sleep without parental intervention.

Just like other sleep training methods, the extinction sleep training method is designed to help your baby fall asleep without parental assistance.

In the end, the goal is to reduce parents’ presence in the sleep equation and help your baby improve their ability to fall asleep on their own.

The cry it out method is loved by some for its potentially rapid results, and hated by others because it’s the least gentle sleep training method.

How to Do the Cry It Out / Extinction Method

Sleep training is a holistic approach and encompasses more than just using one sleep training method at sleep times.

If you want to do extinction sleep training, make sure you also have your baby’s sleep space optimized with white noise and blackout curtains, are following baby’s wake windows, and have a consistent bedtime and nap routine.

To carry out the CIO method, the steps are easy: go through your baby’s bedtime routine, set baby down in their crib awake, and leave the room. Allow your baby to fuss and don’t come back until the morning.

While it’s a relativity simple method to implement, the difficulty is often found in remaining consistently hands-off, especially as you hear your baby crying.

I won’t lie—it’s hard to hear! I often say that the cry it out method involves a lot of tears, both baby’s and your own.

But here’s the thing: as hard as it might be on you, the crying isn’t going to hurt your baby. In fact, in certain cases, your baby might not fuss for nearly as long as you’d anticipate.

How Long Do You Let A Baby Cry It Out?

The idea behind the extinction sleep training method is that you let your baby cry for as long as it takes for them to fall asleep.

How long that actually takes will depend on your baby’s temperament (not to mention your iron-clad will to let them fuss).

In the beginning, it could take as long as 45 minutes to an hour for your baby to fall asleep.

If you choose to use the cry it out method, make sure you have a reliable baby monitor to watch them to ensure their cries aren’t indicative of a more serious crib safety issue.

Can You Use Cry It Our for Naps?

Sleep training for naps can be harder than sleep training at night. Wait to start nap time sleep training until after your baby starts going down easier at bedtime.

You only have a short window during the day for your baby to fall asleep for nap time, so you want to make sure they know how to put themselves to sleep first.

Is Cry It Out Harmful?

Parenthood is full of people with opinions, especially when it comes to things like sleep training.

In fact, the cry it out method can be a controversial one. That’s particularly true among parents who embrace a more gentle or attachment-heavy parenting style.

One of the arguments I hear against the CIO method is that is can be harmful to babies. I’ve even heard people say that letting babies cry it out causes brain damage!

However, several long-term studies have found that infants who were sleep trained and allowed to cry suffered no adverse effects to their attachment or behavior development.

The bottom line is that sleep training is safe and effective. Not only that, a sleep trained baby can actually benefit from a stronger bond with their parents once everyone is getting better sleep.

As long as you are sleep training them at an appropriate age and in a safe environment (following the ABCs of safe sleep), cry it out is not harmful to your baby.

What is the Best Age for Extinction Sleep Training?

For families who are wondering when to start sleep training, the answer has two parts. First, from a biological standpoint, your baby should be at least 12 pounds and around 4 months old.

Making sure your baby is physically ready to sleep train is important from a feeding standpoint. If you start too early, baby’s feeds are still irregular and can throw a wrench in the process.

But the second part of the answer is: you have to make sure that you are ready!

In order for sleep training to be effective, parents have to remain incredibly consistent and steadfast.

If you try sleep training for a couple days and then quit, it’s not because sleep training failed. It’s because you didn’t give it enough time to start making a difference.

The best cry it out method age will depend on your baby reaching the appropriate age and weight. But it also relies heavily on parents’ readiness to commit to the sleep training process.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is this: if you don’t feel ready, it’s okay. Take your time and save yourself the stress of embarking on a (admittedly tricky!) journey that you don’t feel ready to start.

How Long Does It Take For the Cry It Out / Extinction Method to Work?

You might be wondering how long does sleep training take using the the cry it out method?

The Extinction method tends to be one of the shorter sleep training methods, due to its cold turkey nature.

Families that stick with this method can expect to see some changes and improvement in baby’s sleep in as early as a few days. 

I’ve heard of the CIO method sticking for good after a matter of days. It typically doesn’t take longer than a week or two.

However, keep in mind that this method simply might not fit the temperament of your baby. And it might be hard for parents to handle, too/

If you don’t notice any improvement in that first week or if it all just feels like too much crying, consider pivoting to a modified cry it out method.

Baby D.R.E.A.M Mockup image

Get Better Sleep with The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System

If you want someone to walk you through the process of sleep training, let me help. The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System is for babies 4 months through 2.5 years old. I’ll walk you through how to establish daily routines, sleep schedules, and sleep training techniques to help you break the sleep associations you no longer find beneficial! Check it out here.

How Effective is the Cry It Out Method?

Just like so many decisions you make in parenting, there isn’t always one singular approach to things that will work for everyone.

I have heard of the cry it out method being super effective for some families. For others, it was an absolute no-go.

The reason there isn’t a one-size-fits-all sleep training technique is because every baby (and their parents!) have different temperaments and preferences.

The extinction method is effective for families who have a baby without severe separation anxiety. Not only that, parents need to be okay with hearing some prolonged periods of crying.

If you’ve noticed that your baby often fusses when you leave their sight, the cry it out method probably isn’t the best choice for you.

Instead, consider a sleep training method with a more gradual, gentler process like the Chair Method.

However, if your priority is a faster sleep training process, the cry it out method (or a modification like the the Ferber Method) might be worth a try.

What is the Difference Between Extinction and Ferber?

If you like the idea of a more hands-off sleep training approach but the extinction method feels a little too abrupt and stressful, you might want to try graduated extinction sleep training.

Also known as the Ferber Method, this slightly more gradual approach to the cry it out method still involves crying, but instead of leaving the room and not coming back, you control the crying process by checking back in at various timed intervals.

Ferber popularized this method in the 1980s. He describes the intervals in detail and how to do them in his book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.

Unlike extinction sleep training, the Ferber Method provides a framework for checking back in and soothing your baby while they cry.

The idea behind the Ferber method is that you check in to let your baby know you are still around. The time between those check-ins increases with each soothing so that your baby has a chance to also work on self-soothing.

As the intervals increase, so does the likelihood that your baby will understand that you’re not far away. They can begin to relax knowing you’re near, while also learning how to sooth themselves without your help.

Ultimately, the decision to use the Cry It Out Method is a personal one that should take into consideration both your baby’s temperament and your tolerance for tears.

It’s important to note that there are other sleep training techniques that may be more gentle and include more parental involvement. Make sure to consult with your child’s pediatrician to determine the best approach for your family.

Amy Motroni
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