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:


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.


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.


  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:
      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 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 bottles..pacifier..nothing at all. The night routine is the same..he goes to sleep at 7..has a1.5 hrs nap in the 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.

    • Sounds like you might need to push bedtime back later 7 is kind of early depending on his daily schedule,nap times and when he wakes up. Hope this helps!

  8. I have a 20 week old that I’ve been sleep training for the past two weeks using Extinction, and he still has at least 5-6 night wakings at night aside from the 3 or 4am feeding. He naps horribly, so I’ve been wearing him the past two weeks so that he gets a solid 4 hours of nap on a daily basis. This is not sustainable, but it’s the only way that he will get adequate naps in so that he’s not overtired at night. I did try nap training about 3 days ago and they were disastrous so we stopped that. Why is my little bub still waking up so much at night even though he’s getting 3.5-4 hours of nap? Bedtime routine is bottle, bath, swaddle, book, and put down awake. He’ll usually fuss for 5-10 minutes and falls to sleep, but wakes up 2-3 hours later and continues waking up throughout the night. I am getting so worried that my little bub is not getting enough sleep for his age. What am I doing wrong!?

    • Hi! It’s possible that he’s napping too much during the day- 4 hours during the day is a lot. If you check out Alexis’ article:
      – it breaks down what is “normal” baby sleep by age. If your LO is sleeping 4 hours during the day, you can really only expect him to sleep a max of 10 hours overnight. When does his last nap end and when is bedtime? Is there a long enough gap between the two?

      • Hi Sam,

        Thanks for your response and the link you sent me! According to Alexis’ article, my almost 5 month old should have about 3 hours of nap time maximum considering they’re one hour each? His last nap typically ends by 5:30pm (30 minute catnap), and then laid down awake in crib by 7pm. He really can’t stay awake for 2 hours because he’ll be super cranky and fussy. I even tried 1.75 hours and he usually wakes up 45 minutes later, so I’ve decided to stick with 1.5 hours of awake time before putting him to bed. When I tried nap training, he only slept about 30 minutes per nap, so that’s almost 5-6 naps per day just to get 3 hours in for total daily nap. He is getting better at self-soothing at night though. He still has multiple night wakings, but he doesn’t cry at all, mainly just gnawing/chewing on his hands. It’s just I don’t know how long he does that every time before he falls back to sleep.

  9. How long is it okay to let a baby cry during extinction burst? Ours cried for an hour and we caved and picked him up only to realize he may have been slightly hungry but was otherwise fine (no gas or wet diaper). Now I feel like we are back to square one :(. Please help.

  10. Hi, my second child is 4 months old and she fall asleep on her own when she was just a few days old (it wasn’t my intention). I started a bed time routine for night sleep and morning nap and is the same, nurse, bath and bed. This same routine and CIO worked with my first and she sleep from 7:30pm to 6 or 6:30am (we cannot get her to sleep until after that time). She doesn’t wake up at the same time during the night, at the beginning she used to wake at 6:30 but sunce I started to cover her hand so she doesn’t suck her thumb she wakes between 4am and 5:30am.I nursed her and put her in bed and she goes to sleep on her own without fuzz. My problem now is that she started to cry for hours every time I put her in bed (exept after the feeding in the middle of the night), and she was never like that. Because I have a 3 year old toodler I can’t rock her to sleep every time. What am I doing wrong, should I let her suck her thumb? She doesn’t use a pacifier (I don’t like them), my first one didn’t use it. I would appreciate any advice. Thanks

    • The info I got from my Dr just this week for my twins 4 month visit encourages the self soothing of sucking on a pacifier, fingers or thumb. It said when your baby cries give her a pacifier, or her thumb or fingers to suck on. I suggest you allow her to suck a thumb or fingers to self soothe. A self soothing baby is a happier baby.

  11. This is night 11 for CIO with my 5 month old. We were starting to see progress, but a couple of nights ago things back tracked and it is now taking her almost an hour to put herself to sleep. I guess we may be going through this extinction burst.

    I am still nursing her to sleeps for naps because I wanted to get her nights down before starting, but now I wonder if that was a bad move. I did try a couple of her naps in her crib when we first began sleep training, but she just cried the whole hour for all naps, and I had to do rescue naps. Should I just keep trying with naps and let her cry the whole time? 🙁

  12. But my newest baby, ten months old now, will have NONE of it. He will scream and scream until he hyperventilates. We will leave him for an hour and check on him, calm in down. Wait another hour… he will do this forever on end. It is almost panic attack-like and he does not stop. He used to nap like a dream, even if nights were difficult and now he will not even nap. He will scream through the entire nap time to the point that he skips all naps in the day. I’ve had to start having him nap in a front pack just so that he gets a short snooze. The only way he will sleep is if he is next to us in bed or next to me on my chest. Is this just severe separation anxiety? Help me!

  13. My 3.5 mth old hit the 4 month regression a few weeks back and started waking 2 hourly at night from bedtime onwards despite being able to self settle. She has a good bedtime and nap routine and goes down wide awake with no fussing and just lies there calmly until she drifts off in 10-20 mins. Given she can self settle I decided to do extinction for any nighttime wake ups within 4 hours of her last feed. Night one she woke a few times and cried 5-15 mins and back to sleep. I went in at 10 and 3 to feed before crying started properly. Night 2 she did the same but her longest cry was 30 mins. Night 3 last night she cried for 2 hours from 2-4am! I was due to feed her but didn’t want to go in when she was crying so I waited for her to conk out at 4am and then when I heard her stir at 5am I ran in to feed her before she cried. I’m trying to avoid the feed to sleep association that’s I figure is causing her 2 hourly wakings.
    Is the 2 hours an extinction burst? I’m exhausted! Please someone tell me this will get better?

  14. Cry it out has NEVER worked for us, my little one just cries & cries, stands in her crib & will not sleep! She will cry for hours…. she use to sleep thru the night but when she turned 8.5 months all that went out the window. She now wakes up 5-6 times a night & then is up bright & early at 6am! It’s horrible, I’ve tried everything & she sleeps when she wants to sleep not when we want her to sleep. Im exhausted all the time bc I also work full time so I’m up several times per night then go work 12 hours. 🙁

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