What is it?
Extinction is a sleep training method used to help baby learn to settle to sleep independently. Crying isn’t the goal of extinction, but it is an inevitable side effect as your baby gets used to sleeping on his/her own. Your baby is put down to sleep in the cot and you leave the room and allow baby space to settle on his/her own. This process usually involves less crying overall and works more quickly than gentler sleep training methods.
How do I do it?
FOR DAY SLEEP/NAPS
- After making sure your baby isn’t hungry and has had a soothing wind down routine, place baby gently in the cot and whisper ‘sleepy words’ like ‘night night, sleep tight’/time for sleep now, shhh…
- Then leave the room and begin timing so you have an idea of how long your baby has been crying for. He/she may fall asleep or might not, but make sure to only allow baby to cry for an hour total at the most. You would set this time as less than an hour for younger children and children whose crying is very intense and emotional.
- If baby doesn’t sleep during that time, get baby up and consider that nap to be cancelled, and try to keep baby awake as close to the next naptime as possible.
- For the longer lunch time nap, get baby up and give him/her a quick feed and play before putting baby back down again for 30 to 40 minutes for a second try. Baby should fall asleep during this second attempt and get a nap in.
- If baby falls asleep and wakes after only 30 minutes at the lunchtime nap, you would use extinction to try and resettle him/her to finish the nap. If baby took 55 minutes to settle for example, and then fell asleep and woke after 30 minutes, you would not try and extend the nap but pick baby up for a feed or a cuddle.
- Use before a nap or after a short nap but never for more than an hour.
- The 1-hour rule does not apply at night and the time left to cry may be extended longer, however there generally shouldn’t be more than 45 to 60 minutes of proper crying on the first night.
This is when you leave baby for a certain amount of time before returning and assisting in the room. For a newborn you would allow 5 to10 minutes of capped extinction and for three to six month old babies allow about 10 to 20 mins. Then you would go in to comfort and assist baby using a Shush Pat, or Pick Up Put Down if over four months old (see additional handouts for descriptions of these). The idea is to give babies the opportunity to settle themselves in that small ‘cry down’ period.
Frequently Asked Questions
QU: Will extinction harm my baby’s brain?
Ans: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that allowing your baby to cry for short lengths of time will harm him/her in any way.
QU: Will my baby feel abandoned if I let him/her cry?
Ans: If you are a loving and nurturing parent who gives baby plenty of cuddles and playtime during the day, your baby will know that you are not abandoning him.
QU: How long should it take for my baby to learn to self settle?
Ans: With consistency, you should see positive results from between one to four days.