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Why CIO isn’t Working

July 24, 2012 |  by  |  1 YO, 2 YO, 9-12 Months, cry it out, parenting
Why CIO isn't Working

For most babies cry it out, if you take my sage advice, should last only a few days. After the first 2-3 days, some babies may complain 5-10 minutes at bedtime but that is not CIO. That is the baby expressing her disagreement with your decision that she needs to sleep.

However other babies will continue to cry progressively LONGER and LOUDER over subsequent nights. You will feel sure that CIO is just not working for your baby, that I am just another Internet idiot, and that the only solution is to go back to whatever “up all night” solution you had going before you attempted CIO in the first place because, horrendous as it was, it’s GOT to be better than THIS.

Or maybe you successfully navigated CIO and have been popping a nightly bottle of Champaigne to celebrate your success for weeks, only to find yourself with a previously happy baby who is now crying. Again. You and your partner have stopped your happy jig and are wondering what the hell just happened?

THIS is what is happening…

Extinction Burst

This is a great phrase to casually drop at the baby playgroup to establish yourself as someone who is capable of pronouncing multisyllabic phrases and is thus very smart (military industrial complex and LIBOR are also good). But these two words are not just helpful for their show-off appeal.

What is An Extinction Burst?

Sleep training via CIO is a method to break out of unhealthy sleep habits by forcing the issue because those habits are keeping everybody awake. It is essentially a form of “extinction therapy” where you are working to make the undesirable behavior (up all night) become extinct by no longer rewarding/reinforcing it. In this case the “reward” is you nursing, popping in the pacifier, rocking to sleep, etc. all night long. And for roughly 70% of you it will be amazingly effective.

However for the remaining 30% of you, your child will amp up the crying. Or take a break for a few days and then resume the crying. This is an extinction burst, which basically means that your child is doing even MORE of the behavior you are trying to extinguish now that you have removed the reinforcer.

Awesome right?

So what do you do about this? You have two choices:

1

Do nothing.

Let your child cry through the burst. Don’t go back to the rocking, nursing, pacifier use that prompted this. Put the cork back in the champaign bottle and wait it out. It’ll pass.

2

Accept chronic sleep deprivation as a way of life.

Go back to what you were doing. Nobody will sleep and it won’t get better for a long, long time. But you’ll avoid a night or two of extinction burst crying.

(Hint: I’m really hoping you choose option #1)

Also file the idea of extinction bursts away for future reference because this is not the last time you’re going to see it. Temper tantrums, whining, demands for (treats, toys, McDonalds), are all behaviors that are prone to extinction bursts.

For example, your child whines for a cookie every time you go to the grocery store. The first few times you give her a cookie because really, it’s just a cookie right? Then you realize you have your own personal Cookie Monster who is now demanding a cookie every time you pop in for a gallon of milk. So you calmly explain that cookies aren’t everyday food and you’re not going to buy them anymore.

Will your child quietly acquiesce? Give you a hug and thank you for being such a thoughtful parent? Or will they go from whining to SCREAMING. And if screaming doesn’t work, how about adding on some THROWING? Or (God save you) SPITTING and BITING? You power through the tantrum and get a few quiet weeks of grocery trips and think (phew!) that’s over with. Only to have the cookie fight start anew.

That’s the joyous experience of the extinction burst. And with every burst you face, you’ll have the same parenting choice that I outlined above. And in every instance I hope you choose #1.

Every single time.


493 Comments


  1. My daughter is 1 year, and is not a terrible sleeper, but she is not a great sleeper either. A typical night involves my husband or I rocking her to sleep. (Yes, I know, I read the blogs). We rock her for as little as 5 to as long as 30 minutes. She will then typically only wake us 0 to 2 times a night. Not so bad. When she wakes up , she will again need to be rocked or held 10 minutes to an hour. During the longer sessions, I try to put her down, bc she is asleep, maybe even snoring, and then when she is in the crib, she pops right back up. So, sleep training, tried it, but unsuccessful, because she doesn’t stop crying. She doesn’t cry it out. What I don’t read here, is how long? 2 hours, 4 hours, all night. Most people say 10-45 minutes and boom baby cried herself to sleep. Well, I tried 20 minutes, soothing every 5-10 minutes, then I rocked her to sleep. Then I extended to an hour, soothing every 10 minutes, then I rocked her to sleep, finally I let it go 2 hours, soothing every 10 to 30 minutes, then when I went to rock her she was pissed. Hitting me, which she has never done before, and it took another 45 minutes just to calm her down. I feel like I am taking a mild sleep situation, and turning it into a worse situation. Please advise! Soothing involves rubbing, kissing, and hugging bc she is standing, but not picking her up.

    • Good morning! It sounds like the checks/soothing are only making things worse and prolonging the crying, bc it’s like intermittent reinforcement. Alexis talks about it here:
      https://www.preciouslittlesleep.com/ferber-weissbluth-cry-it-out-smackdown/
      If you are willing to try again, commit to extinction. When parents say their baby fell asleep after 10-45 min, they most likely did the extinction method and did not go back in for checks/soothing.
      Good luck!

      • So the night of this post, we let our daughter cry uninterrupted. She cried, no screamed, for 47 minutes. It was awful. The next day she slept for 12 hours! WHAT? She napped 2 hours for her first nap and 1 hour for her 2nd nap. WHAT? Every day for the next 6 wks naps and nighttime were perfect and my husband and I would just laugh. Unbelievable. Then in comes bad babysitter. This could be unrelated, but we had a babysitter, who we eventually fired, who provided 3 bad naps: 1st bad nap, she went in room and woke her up after 50 minutes, 2nd bad nap she stayed in room after she put my daughter down, rocked her crib, my daughter woke up minutes later, and then there was a crying, holding, crying session, 3rd bad nap she let her fall asleep on her lap during nap time, and when my daughter woke up after 20 minutes she tried to put her down in her crib with another crying session. Then the one bad night time sleep where the babysitter woke her up after an hour so she could hold her. (Too attached?) This all happened over a period of 3 wks. Now my daughter still goes down great but wakes up too early from night time sleep and naps. During the glorious 6 wks she would wake up b/w 6 and 8, cry for about 20 seconds and go back to sleep on her own until 8:30 -9. She goes down at 8:30. Now she will cry, and go back down only if I pick her up for a minute. I probably should let her cry, but I am not sure. The past several days she woke at 7:30, 5:45, 5:45, and 6:30. She is definitely still tired when she wakes. She is cranky and she falls asleep on me as soon as I pick her up. During the glorious time she would wake up talking not crying.
        Additionally, she is only napping for about 1 hour for her first nap and 30-45 minutes for her 2nd nap. When she has a longer nap, she wakes up happy, when it is a shorter nap she wakes up crying.
        Please advise.

        • hi! could it be that maybe her wake times need to be adjusted? she could be getting ready to drop to 1 nap, and her schedule may need some adjusting. Good luck!

  2. We just started sleep training our 10 month old this week and we’re now on day 3. We just put her down and she’s been crying for about 40 minutes now. We go in to check on her and she’s either sitting up or standing at the crib. I also decided this would be a good time to train her to sleep without a pacifier so it’s now extra tough trying to conquer both.

    On day 2, she cried for almost 2 hours straight and woke up 3 times that night. It’s getting really tough and I keep reading posts of children who started sleeping through the night after day 3. It’s very discouraging. I wonder if there is anyone else in the same shoes as us.

    • I see this comment was last month & am wondering if things ever did get better for you? We are on night 4 with our 8 month old but it doesn’t seem to be getting better. It takes him an hour & 20-30min to fall asleep. I try to make sure he gets good naps so he is not overtired, but it’s not seeming to make a difference either way. Trying to decide to keep going the full week or throw in the towel. I want him to be able to self soothe though so he sleeps better & longer!

  3. I did total extinction with my 16 month old a few days ago. We are probably on day 5 or 6. He was using me as a human pacifier at night so I did a bedtime routine of nurse, bath, Jammie’s, books, cuddles and bedtime. He was doing really good but yesterday started teething again. He woke up around 1 am (had been asleep since 8) and started screaming his head off and was standing in the crib. The past couple of days whenever he would wake up he wouldn’t stand because he was too tired, just cry and grumble a minute and then go back back to bed. I went in to comfort him because I didn’t know if it was his teething that caused this, but now I am worried that it’s the dreaded extinction burst! Do you think that time going in to comfort him has caused a problem? I held him for maybe two minutes and put him back down in the crib after telling him it was still bedtime. He cried for about 5 minutes before going back to sleep. I guess my ultimate question to finish off the novel I’m writing (sorry!) is when is it ok to go in and comfort baby if he wakes during the night due to teething, not feeling well, bad dream, etc.? How many days do I need to do total extinction before I can go to him when he wakes up? The previous night he only woke up once at 4 am and grumbled a bit, then slept till 7 so I was really thinking he was getting the idea!

  4. I am on night 3 with the cry it out and it jas only taken my daughter a maximum of 45 minutes to fall asleep. I went in twice to calm her down (just shhh shhh and give her a binky back) but only because she started coughing so bad and i could tell that she needed to clam down a little bit. But shes waking up a few times during the night and them gets up bright and early at 5am. And won’t sleep all day. No matter what. So my question is do i cio at nap times after she is already done with cio at bed time? She will be a year old next month and im ready to pitch the bouncer and the swing. Also how long will it last of her waking multiple times a night? She doesn’t start screaming but she starts whining and looking for a pacifier. She doesn’t get bottles at night time but I am not ready to take the paci away just yet.

  5. Hello,
    I started CIO 3 days ago with my 9 month old baby. I did it because he is use to eat(formula) once in the middle of the night. First night he cried for 1 hour, second night for 45 minutes and third night for 8 minutes. The only thing different is that I’m picking him up to cry in my arms until he falls sleep again or put him drowsy when he is super tired of crying. Is it too bad? this makes ME fell less bad, I’ve tried before the CIO leaving him crying on the crib for only 2 nights in a road because it breaks my heart.

  6. I have a 9 month old baby girl. We have gone on and off with CIO. We seem to fall into a routine that always has us putting her down to sleep. She always falls asleep during her last bottle. So we put her in the crib asleep. She will sleep for 5 hours..wake up and eat and sleep for another 5.. Sometimes she will sleep for 4 hours and then wake up every 2..It really just depends… Lately as of the last week. She wakes up 1-3 times a night and it takes me over 45 minutes to get her to go back to sleep. She will be asleep in my arms but when i put her in the crib she pops up and starts screaming. Having us rocking and singing to her until she is asleep. My question is…IF we do CIO at night, what do we do during the day with her naps? I just tried to have her down for a nap and she was asleep in my arms..when I placed her in the crib she woke up and screamed for 30 minutes, and whenever she cries hard she poops… So then I have to go in and change her..at this point she is wide awake, happy and nap time is missed…What do I do in this circumstance.. . Should only bed time be CIO…what about naps? HELP… I feel lost.

  7. My two year old is not sleeping again..this website helped me a lot a year ago when after trying all possible sleep methods, read all possible books and websites and went to a sleep training school for 4 days and nothing worked.I was against CIO but as i was exausted I did it and it worked.In this 1 year we had to re do it a few times but only for a night. However, now at age of 2 it seems like the magic of CIO stopped working. I mean I really don’t know what is happening..he just won’t stop screaming even after an hour..and I mean screaming and banging the side of the cot. He isn’t hot..cold..hungry..sick..no bottles..pacifier..nothing at all. The night routine is the same..he goes to sleep at 7..has a1.5 hrs nap in the day..no sleep after 2pm..gets enough running during the day..I mean I’ve followed all the rules in baby sleep training..follow all the do’s and don’ts and here we are all sleep deprived. He was always an early riser but I accepted that as he was sleeping from 7 to 5ish..he even got to a point of sleeping until 6! And then bang all of a sudden we r back to square 0. Every night I’m telling my self that I have to push through the crying but after 1 hour it becomes unbareable and we all end up worked up and I take him in my bed. So what am I doing wrong? I am truly desperate, and I know this won’t just stop by itself any time soon . Thanks for all your support.

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