Behavioural sleep interventions in infants: Plan B - Combining models of responsiveness to increase parental choice

J Paediatr Child Health. 2020 May;56(5):675-679. doi: 10.1111/jpc.14818. Epub 2020 Feb 19.


In families with infants between the ages of 6 and 18 months, sleep disruption can be significant, often putting parents at risk of a range of negative psychological and psychosocial consequences. Commonly prescribed sleep interventions typically involve 'extinction' methods, which require parents to completely or periodically ignore their infant's overnight cries. These methods can be effective in many, but not all cases. For over 40 years 30-40% of parents have consistently reported difficulty ignoring their child. For this group, ignoring their child is behaviourally and/or ideologically difficult with attrition often leading to a perceived sense of failure. For these parents the treatment may be worse than the problem. On the other hand, there is emerging evidence to support the use of more responsive methods for those who find extinction approaches behaviourally or ideologically challenging. In this paper we propose an integrated, less polarised approach to infant behavioural sleep interventions that better caters to those who have difficulty with extinction methods - our so-called 'Plan B'. This approach potentially resolves the often opposing ideological and theoretical perspectives of extinction versus responsiveness into a practical, complementary and pragmatic treatment framework. Recommendations on how best to implement Plan B are also presented. In our view, Plan B could provide practitioners with a logically integrated well-targeted suite of clinical interventions that could potentially improve compliance, reduce attrition and ultimately benefit the sleep and well-being of all infants and their parents, especially those who struggle with traditional extinction methodologies.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Child
  • Crying
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Parents*
  • Sleep*