We are trying to get our 12 month olds sleep routine improved now that both of us will be returning to work.

We've been working on getting the settling routine sorted out each night, and haven't quite yet got to him falling asleep on his own, but he does now settle quickly at the end of the routine in our arms. We will be moving to trying to get him to settle in his cot soon.

Once settled he will tend to do about 3-4 hours in his cot before waking screaming. When cuddled he will settle down in about 10 minutes and can generally be put back in his cot.

However often he will wake several times. Last night he went down at 8, woke at 10, woke at 12, woke at 1am. Each time putting him back in his cot.

At that point we gave up and brought him into our bed where he slept through to 6am.

When waking up he is often on either all fours or standing in the cot whilst screaming.

The main problem is that he's no longer sleeping "solidly" and will often poke and prod his mum in his sleep, and she therefore doesn't get a great nights sleep. And with us both back to work we both need our sleep as much as possible.

  • how was it the time before? Did he always wake up several times in the night and you finally want to stop it, or is this waking up new? (Our son stopped waking up several times a night with about 14 months, if I remember correctly, the time before was very hard.)
    – BBM
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 12:02
  • His sleeping hasn't really changed. Sometimes we get 4-5 hours sometimes 2-3 between wakes. What has changed is his mum about to go back to work, thus needing better sleep; and as he has got bigger, his causing more disruption in our bed :).
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 12:12
  • Just to let you know. We started this on Friday and apart from last night where he took over an hour to fall back asleep at 4am it seems to be working. We've gone from 2 hours to settle to less than 20minutes. Hopefully this will continue :)
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 12:44

4 Answers 4


We just had our 12 month check-up with our pediatrician, and she mentioned that around this age toddlers may start to experience nightmares. This ties in with their development of more imaginative play.

When a child wakes up from a nightmare, they will eventually learn to self-soothe. However, this can take some time. By cuddling the child, you may actually be prolonging the process by which they learn to self-soothe.

Disclaimer: There are some rather deep schisms in the parenting community regarding sleep practices related to self-soothing. I am going to describe the school of thought espoused by my pediatrician, but this is not a condemnation of the other school of thought that supports always comforting a crying child, nor is it a claim that one way is "right" and the other "wrong".

The steps we were recommended were as follows: When the child wakes up in the middle of the night, immediately go in and speak reassuringly. You can stroke the child's head, pat his back, hold his hand, etc.; whatever physical soothing and reassurance works best for your child that does not involve picking up the child or feeding him.

Once the child has calmed down, leave the room. Chances are good the child will start to cry and/or scream again. Do not come back in for 20 minutes.

If, after 20 minutes, the child is still crying, you can go back in and repeat the first step (i.e. comfort without picking up or feeding until he quiets).

Repeat this as many times as needed until the child goes back to sleep.

How long this process takes varies widely from child to child. Many children will start sleeping through the night again within one to three days. Others may take up to two weeks. For some children, this technique might simply not work at all.

Also, as an alternative, instead of waiting 20 minutes, you can start off by waiting 5 minutes before coming back in, then gradually increase the duration until you reach 20 minutes. This is more for peace of mind for the parents than the child, but it can be extremely difficult for most parents to sit there listening to your child cry without immediately running back in to comfort them.

  • 1
    Yup - the controlled crying worked for us with all 3 kids, working up from a few minutes at the start to longer periods. It is tough on the parents, and I do know some who think the idea is crazy, but it avoids the 'positive reinforcement' that giving them comfort sets up.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 13:33
  • We've tried self soothing a few times but always get caught out by him standing up once he wakes. It's obvious when we go through that he's been standing the whole time he's been crying...
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 13:51
  • @Dan that's perfectly normal at that age. Our son (who just turned 1) stands at the edge of his crib whenever we put him to bed, and literally bounces up and down laughing until he gets tired and lays down to go to sleep. Standing the whole time only means that he'll get tired a little more quickly.
    – user420
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 13:53
  • We're going to try this tonight How long should we expect it to take before he falls asleep / before we give up? 1hour? 2hours?
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 20:18
  • 1
    We've followed a similar method, and one thing that helped was for Daddy to go in at night when it's not time to feed. Mommy is still very associated with food and nursing, so he seems to go back to sleep easier for Daddy without eating. Although in our case, we do pick him up, just don't leave his nursery and then put him down when he's calm.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 18:50

This is a touchy subject for some parents who suggest a "no cry" method, but we used the "progressive wait" approach suggested by Richard Ferber, MD who is "associate professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston." You can find details in his book: Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems and the thoughts below are based on my reading of the book.

Basically the idea is that your key problem preventing your child from sleeping through the night is that you put your child to bed already asleep, and he associates going to sleep with you cuddling with him. Everybody wakes up at various points during the middle of the night and if your child associates going to sleep with cuddling with you, rather than self-soothing, that is what they are going to need.

A second problem is that it is distressing to your child for you to have suddenly disappeared. One moment you're there, and the next (conscious) moment after waking, you are not there. It would be kind of like if every time you woke up in the middle of the night (and everybody does that often--you just don't remember it because it is so brief) and your pillow was missing from under your head and you had to retrieve it from the floor. That would be more of an annoyance to you than distressing, but the analogy is decent, and it would disrupt the quality of your sleep.

So what's the solution? Well, teaching your child to go to sleep without anyone present. Some folks just do a "cry it out" approach (you lay the child down and let them cry until they fall asleep), but Ferber recognizes the stress that has on the child and developed his "progressive wait" approach as a direct wait of teaching your child to sooth himself and involves less overall crying than the "cry it out" approach.

In brief, the Ferber method is as follows (similar to Beofett's answer above, but has some differences):

  1. Starting with a nighttime sleep period (not a nap), lay your child down awake after a short but pleasant bedtime routine. (The bedtime routine allows the child to start associating the routine with going to sleep and starts the processes of getting them in the "its sleepytime" mode). The bedtime routine is important!
  2. Say goodnight and leave the room. Your child will likely start to cry.
  3. Pick an amount of crying you're comfortable with (lets say 3 minutes in this example--it could be more or less) and after that amount of time go back into the room and reassure him (talk to him, rub his back) without picking him up or feeding him. Do this for 1 to 2 minutes and leave the room. Your child will likely still be crying at this point. Your goal here is not to stop the crying (although it's fine if he does stop crying); it is just to reassure him that you're still around for him.
  4. Your child will start (or continue) crying again. This time wait 6 minutes (3+3) before going in and reassuring him for 1-2 minutes and leaving.
  5. Keep repeating this pattern, increasing the the amount of crying by 3 more minutes. So on the third cycle you wait 9 minutes before going back in to reassure. (The amount of time reassuring never changes. It stays at 1-2 minutes). If you wish, you can pick a maximum length of waiting that you won't go over no matter how many cycles you've done (e.g., 21 minutes).
  6. Eventually your child will fall asleep, but will likely wake later in the evening and start crying for you. Every time he does, repeat this pattern of letting him cry 3 minutes before going in to reassure him and then waiting longer and longer (6 minutes, 9 minutes, 12 minutes, etc) in between the 1-2 minute reassurance times.

So that's night #1. It will be a hard night for you and your child. For my children, it involved around two hours of crying in total (between all of the wake ups), so pick a night to start this when either you or your child being well-rested the following day isn't critical. Many parents report it taking more time, some less.

Naps should be handled the same way and since the child's "drive to sleep" isn't as strong at nap time, you may hit a situation where you're child has cried for an hour and not fallen asleep. At that point, do the unthinkable and skip the nap. You'll have a crank child. Do not do a cuddly activity where they child might fall asleep. Try and keep them awake until the next nap time, but you might end up doing the next nap a little sooner than usual and that's OK during this period. When that nap time comes around do the same routine as stated above.

What happens on nights (and days) 2, 3, 4, etc? Well, it works the same way except you increase the minimum time you wait before going in to reassure him. On night #2, for our example, you would wait 6 minutes before going in to reassure him and then 9 minutes after that, and 12, etc. You also increase the maximum amount of time you wait (24 minutes instead of 21 using our example).

A few additional points:

  • If you're child seems like he is going to fall asleep during one of the "reassurance periods," cut it short and leave before he falls asleep. This will cause him to start crying again, but remember the goal is to help him learn to fall asleep without your presence.
  • You have to stick to your guns and follow it through if you're going to use this method. According to the book some parents will say something along the lines of "this method doesn't work. My child has been crying for 2 hours so I had to pick them up and stop the crying." While well-intentioned, the problem is that by picking the child up, it has encouraged the child to cry more and for longer periods knowing eventually the parent will give in and pick them up.
  • It is ideal if you and your spouse/partner can switch off going in during the reassurance times, each going in every-other-time.
  • If it sounds like your child is about ready to fall asleep, but it is time for you do do a reassurance session, you can delay it. If you child falls asleep, great! You don't have to be super rigid about the times--the biggest thing is that the wait time increases each time.
  • After you've gotten your children sleeping on their own--you may have setbacks. If a young child is really sick or something big is happening, you may end up with a temporary situation where he may not be able to go to sleep alone. You may have to go back to cuddling to sleep, but keep it temporary. After the situation has resolved, and go back to the normal bedtime routine (of laying them down awake), if the child resists, you can start over with the Ferber method. The second time through will go super-fast for your child though--not nearly has much crying involved. He has already learned out to self-sooth, it is now just a matter of informing him (via not picking him up) that it is time to go back to doing it himself.

It is hard doing this--don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Hearing my children cry like that knowing I could end it quickly was very sad. I cried myself. However, my goal for this was to help my child get better sleep, not to help help myself, and it very quickly paid off. Night #1 is the hardest, and can involve hours of crying. Night #2 was better, but still somewhat brutal. Night #3 was a turning point for both of my children and involved much less crying. By night #4 things were pretty routine and there was a minimal crying. Around night #5 we could lay our children down and they would fall asleep on their own and sleep through the night. It was amazing! In the span of a few days we went from frequent wake ups to basically sleeping through the night. We keep our baby monitors turned way up, so we would still hear when they'd wake up in the middle of the night and adjust their position in the crib, but there wouldn't be any crying and they'd be back to sleep quickly. They got sooo much better sleep and were happier for it during the day.


Not a real answer, as I can't provide a solution, but I'll share my experience:

We had the same problem (in addition it was very difficult to get our son to sleep, so it took a lot of time to get him to bed and during daytime he permanently needed someone directly near to him, so we were really exhausted).

It went better when he was about 14 months.

I don't remember that there was much we could do to make him sleep longer intervals without interruption.

I think he slept better when he was in our bed with us. The problem: for people which have problems to fall asleep again after being woken up at night this can be very hard.

Is it difficult for both of you to sleep in the same bed with him? If it is easier for you than for your wife, maybe you could take him with you to "protect" your wife form being poked and prodded...


From your question, it sounds as if this is the first time you have moved him out of your bed and into his own space. This is a very difficult transition. If your child is accustom to sleeping with you, it will be a hard for your child to adjust to not having that constant physical attachment. I would suggest that you start by putting his bed right next to your bed so when he stirs, you are able to reach over and comfort him before he fully wakes. After he adjusts to being in his own bed in close proximity, then ease him into completely his own space.

It is important to remember that change is always hard, especially for young children who do not have the brain development to reason through these changes not being a rejection. Take it one step at a time and expect that it will not happen all at once.

  • To clarify we have been trying as much as possible to have him sleep in his own bed, but up until now the best night sleep for all of us has been at least some of the time with him in our bed. This is becoming less optimal as he gets larger and mum prepares for work.
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 13:50

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