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Extinction Bursts and Sleep Training

This "extinction burst" expression sounds like a scary word when it comes to sleep training but let me explain to you exactly what it is and how it could actually be a sign of sleep progress!

Extinction burst - A term used in the behavioural sense that describes an “undesirable” behaviour worsening before it improves. Many of us are not familiar with this term even though we may actually see it in our children especially toddlers and often.

This blog I explain exactly what it is, an example and when you may see child is experiencing one.

An Example Your child is very used to having a cookie every morning with their breakfast and you have decided that you are taking that cookie away. Your child will probably have something to say about it, perhaps throw a little tantrum but you have made your decision and you stand strong by it, you are not going to give in. Who has cookies for breakfast anyway> Yes, I know…the Cookie Monster! A few days later your child has started to forget about it and has now got used to the idea of no cookie at breakfast. Then suddenly they have remembered. Perhaps they saw the cookie jar or something triggered their memory of it and BOOM….they throw the most almighty tantrum and really let you know about it. It is painful to watch and to support your child though this tantrum but you are not going to give in.

​​That is the “extinction burst”. They are really pushing hard for that cookie now.

You must stand strong and stick to your guns. If you give in now you are sending these message that you are a pushover and all they need to do is scream and shout and they will get that cookie. The same applies for sleep training. Perhaps you have taken the dummy away or that feed in the middle of the night, and for a few days, it was tough, then it got easier. You started to see small positive changes then all of a sudden...boom it was like night one again and they are pushing back, making it known they are wanting that dummy back or that feed and will not give in until you give in. Here is the “Extinction burst”.

Do They Always Occur?

Extinction bursts are very common especially during sleep training but can be short lived as long as you stick your plan. You must be consistent. Every. Single. Day and night! You are breaking a habit and your child is very strongly attached to so it is only right they will try their luck to get it back! If I got cookies for breakfast once upon a time I would try my hardest to get them back!

It can be very discouraging and confusing for parents. Suddenly your baby made some progress and then they are waking and crying more than ever before. If you give in now, offer that reinforcement they were previously having to sleep, which many parents at this point do, you will most likely find yourself back at square 1 again. I encourage you to keep going.

Hiring a sleep consultant is one thing that has helped so many families in these situations because they have that support in the background to encourage them on their way and explain the process and what to do in these tricky and exhausting moments.

When May These Bursts Occur?

Depending on your chosen sleep training method extinction bursts usually occur between night’s 3-5 but may be as late as 7-10 nights in. Every child is different and not all will have a burst. If you feel confident in what you are doing and on the right path keep going, you will success and achieve your family sleep goals! Don’t lose faith! You are doing a great job helping to support your child though these bursts knowing the final outcome will be healthier sleep for your child and the whole family!

Please share this blog with a friend who may find a nugget of help and light in here and as always if you feel you would like some help in the sleep department do get in touch, you can book in for a free discovery call HERE to find out how exactly I can help your family overcome your sleep challenges!

Happy sleeping everyone,


Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant



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