Help! How Do I Get My 1 Year Old down to Sleep?

Updated on May 28, 2009
J.L. asks from Escondido, CA
15 answers

My son is 1 year old and I have always either breastfed him to sleep or given him a bottle to go to sleep. I would love to be able to read him a book at night, then lay him in his crib and have him fall asleep! But that is not the case if I try and lay him down in his crib before he is asleep he SCREAMS and CRYS until he throws up all over the place. I feel so bad when this happens it breaks my heart.
I guess what I am asking is should I continue to help him fall asleep or should I do the cry it out method? And what time should a 1 year old go to bed at night? Please HELP!!

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answers from San Diego on

I can relate to what you are going through. My DD is now 17 months and around 1 year we had major issues with putting her to bed. It was never a problem before that. It was a phase for us and it lasted for about 2 months. We just stuck to a routine of bath, books and then bed. It took awhile and it was very trying on us, but sometimes we would have to read her more books, or go in to comfort her a few times and then put her back down, but she eventually got the idea that it was bedtime.

Another thought, I do notice that the earlier she goes down, she easier it is and the longer she sleeps. Her bedtime is 6:30 and to this day, if we put her down at 7, it is a lot harder to get her to settle down.

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answers from Honolulu on

Well, first of all I don't think there is a "right or wrong" time to put baby to sleep. Just listen to your son's body. I have some friends who put their kids down at 7pm, and others who kids' take naps at 5pm, and then go to bed at like 11pm because the daddy comes home really late from work, so its the only way for Daddy and Baby to spend time together. Whatever works for you guys (AND him, of course.)

Also, please don't let your son cry until he throws up. Just think about how you would like it if someone did that to you? He is a person too, after all!

Just my opinion is; do whatever it takes to put your son to sleep happily. Eventually he will put himself to sleep (by his own choice), but for now, rock him, cuddle him, sign to him - whatever it takes. They are only this small for a very short time, so enjoy it now while you can. Someday, all you will want is a hug and he will be "too much of a big boy" to give mommy hugs, and THEN, you will be happy you cuddled him while you could ;)

Good Luck!

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answers from Los Angeles on
Check out the book SLEEPLESS IN AMERICA. It's not a "how do I get my baby to sleep alone in his own crib book" (that's Ferber - cry-it-out method), but it will help you a lot with regarding how much sleep a child needs and what would help your child feel comfortable at night.

Should you do the cry-it-out method? Depends on who you ask.... ask me and the answer is no. I don't think it's "good" for babies and toddlers to cry themselves to sleep (induces stress, high cortisol levels harms the brain - it kills brain cells). If any baby is so upset that they are throwing up, that's really not good.

Even Ferber updated his "recommendations" and backed away from some of the stuff he wrote. Here he admits to co-sleeping (woo hoo - a step for mankind and babykind!)

BUT I think there is a middle ground... yet I don't know HOW to do it gently.

I nursed my kids to sleep till they were 3 (that was a bit much, I know) and then lay with them till they conk out.

Though looking back I wish I nightweaned my 2nd child at 2 yrs because the nighttime nursing to sleep wasn't working well for me.

Essentially, MY middle ground is, they are not in our bed (family bed - hubby doesn't like being kicked at night - go figure - LOL), they are in their own bed, BUT I do lie with my youngest (she will be 5 in 2 weeks) to sleep. When she wakes up around 5 am, she quietly walks down a long haul, quietly knocks on the door and I quietly walk back (no arguing, no lectures, no punishments) and I cuddle back to sleep and stay there.

How perfect is that? Everyone gets their needs met. Hubby gets his need for sleep, young children get their need to feel save and loved at night and I feel no guilt and I know I'm doing the right thing.

My kids (9 yr old boy and 5 yr old girl) share a bedroom. He's in a twin bed and she's on a mattress on the floor next to his bed. She's been there since age 1. (They have never slept in a crib. They hated it.)

When she was born, DS was 4. He would insist on cuddling with us (me and baby) while I nursed her to sleep - when she was in her room. Of course it was uncomfortable, but I let it continue. Within a few months, he realized, "this is so uncomfortable, I'm going in my own bed, later!" And from that point on, I didn't "have to" cuddle with him to sleep. Woo hoo!!!!

While ALL of us would love the fantasy of putting a child down in a crib and walking away without doing any of the "work", I don't think we can or should. I have a friend (now in her late 50s) who was adopted as a 3 yr old child. She is Japanese. She has fond memories of being rocked in a chair and read to as her nighttime routine. Wouldn't just leaving her in a bed, blowing a kiss, and shutting the door be easier on the parents? Guess so, but consider the child's feelings.

I have a friend who did CIO (we have the same age kids) and she used to brag how easy it was to get her to sleep. Around age 1.5-2 her daughter wised up and realized, "Hey! I don't like this!!!" So the parents were forced to driver her around for naps (all I had to do was the "bad habit" of lie down and nurse my kid, or just lie down with her). Or her daughter would wake up at 5am and there was NO WAY to get her back to sleep, so one of the parents had to stay up. Yikes.

Nothing is perfect. You have to make concessions. Find what works for everyone, without the trauma. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi J.,
I have the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Mark Weissbluth, and I know several people who have used is successfully and have great sleepers. He does advocate either the cry it out method or a version of the Ferber method (cry it out with gradually increasing times between checking in on the baby). I like the book because it recommends schedules and strategies by age group. He does say "extinction" (crying it out without checking on the baby) is his preferred method because he's found it easier for the parents to get the kid back on their routine when there is a disruption. Personally, I guess I follow my own modified cry it out method. My daughter is old enough that she is crying because she doesn't want to go to bed and miss out on anything, not because she's hungry or wet or anything else. So I only let her cry it out if it's past her bedtime and she's fighting my soothing methods of trying to put her to sleep (nursing and/or rocking) because she doesn't want to go to bed. My limit is 8:15 pm, because I'm usually tired and want to relax for a little while before I crash into bed.

A 1 year old should go to bed between 7 pm and 9 pm at night; it helps if you are consistent with your routine so they get used to the "sleep cues" and to going to bed at the same time every night.

My daughter is 19 1/2 months old and I am still nursing her to sleep every night. I figured she will only need this for another year at most, so what's the harm? Why make her suffer, when I can nurse her peacefully to sleep as long as I can put her in her crib after she has gone to sleep? The doctor advocates a 7 pm bedtime, but what's worked for us is 8 pm. A few weeks ago, I tried putting her down without nursing her to sleep, and she screamed. We tried moving her bedtime up to 7:30, but all it did was increasing her crying from 5-10 minutes to half an hour. I decided it just wasn't worth it, so we went back to the 8 pm bedtime. It depends on when and how many naps your son is getting during the day. Is he still taking two naps? Is he tired and cranky at night?

We keep to a consistent routine of bath, pajamas, stories, brush teeth, nurse, and put down in crib. If she falls asleep nursing but wakes back up when I put her in her crib, I don't go get her. Bedtime is bedtime. She did that one night last week, but she cried for less than 5 minutes. Last night she was so exhausted I think she fell asleep almost immediately upon nursing. I have started talking to her about not nursing when she's a big girl, like her friend (my sitter's daughter, whom she LOVES). She nods her head and says yes, but I'm not sure that she really understands yet. But I think it's important to get it in her mind.

The one area where my situation and yours might be different is that my daughter goes to the sitter's house 5 days a week, and she naps without nursing there. So she is used to napping without it. I think that will help when we stop nursing and she has to go to sleep on her own.

Good luck to you.

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answers from San Diego on

Help him fall asleep. He is just a baby. My 10 & 7 year old go to bed fine, however my 5 year old still needs her mommy and that's what she gets! They all grow up and before you know it, you'll wish he needed you more! My husband and I were and are always there to comfort our children when they need us. Bedtime is so special and a great bonding time.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Absolutely the best book out there to help you is called "The Baby Whisperer" by Tracy Hogg. It can tell you everythng you need to know. She doesn't believe in the crying it out method and has a very gentle and soothing method for you. I promise you, this really is the BEST book out there.

She even has a book for older kids too--that may help you with your older child. Kids aren't born knowing how to put themselves to sleep, it is up to us (as parents) to teach them how to do it and obviously the younger you start the better--but don't give up for your older child either. I can't remember what the other book is called, but I'm sure it will be listed with the Baby Whisperer, when you look it up!! I promise you, this will be the best book you use (and useful for a lot more than just sleep problems)--Good Luck!!



answers from Los Angeles on

I did the Ferber method with both my girls. It's a great book, easy read and explains WHY it's important to get them to go to sleep on their OWN! it worked in 3 nights for me!! My girls are not awesome sleepers at age 3 & 5.



answers from Los Angeles on

I just slowly took steps to distance myself and help my son do it himself. I stopped nursing him to sleep but still snuggled him, once he could do that for a few days/ week, then we moved on to laying on the bed or couch touching but not snuggling, then in his crib touching, then not touching, then across the room, you get the idea.
Let him have a few days of good results with each step. He'll do well with one or two of the steps and you'll think you can move on more quickly but it is probably a fluke (he was over tired or something else and so he fell asleep easily and it won't be so easy the next night). Giving him a chance to accept each separation step helps him develop a new normal and forget what it was that he used to need.
I agree to not let him cry it out, my son developed separation anxiety at age 3 due to some other issues, it is not pretty or fun to have a 3 yr old glued to your lap every waking moment. He needs to know he can count on you.
Good Luck



answers from Los Angeles on

My son is just a bit older than yours. I nurse him still but i put him down fully awake. In fact, he's sitting up in his crib when I put him in. That has helped to teach him to self-soothe and what he does is very funny to me!! But that's another oprah entirely. I don't like the cry it out method at all!!! I think it's cruel. The baby is crying for some thing and as parents it's our job to attune ourselves to their needs.

As far as what time the baby should go down... well my son goes down at about 6:30pm and sleeps until about 6 am. He doesn't sleep through the night though, but I know he DOES get hungry at night... lately it seems as though he's very restless so it maybe a growth spurt. Watch out for those ... they really mess things up!



answers from Los Angeles on

Have you tried swaddling? He may be too old for it though, but it wouldn't hurt to try. :) The idea is to wrap him up so he can't jerk his arms and legs because these involuntary actions can cause him to become alarmed.



answers from Los Angeles on

The main thing is you need to be consistent with whatever you do. Start a bed time routine and stick to it. whatever method you use is up to you just make sure you do the same thing every night for a few weeks to give him a chance to adjust to it. If you give in just once then you ruin all of your hard work. Good luck!



answers from San Luis Obispo on

Hi. I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old and I have done the Babywise method from when they were about 1 month old and by 3 months they slept throught the night.

I don't know how good or fast the other methods work, but I am a firm believer that if you pick one method and follow it to the letter and be consistent for long enough, it will work.

If you get random advices from different sources, you will mix the style of training and will most likely not get a result.

So, my best advise to you is to pick one method that is proven (cry it out, babywise, or whatever you like best)follow what the book says and keep at it no matter how hard it looks until you get a result.



answers from Honolulu on

Here are the links for a similar posting on Mama Source.

The key thing is ROUTINE and CONSISTENCY. Everyday. Crying it out is not necessary.

Also try and give him a "lovey" to have and cuddle and sleep with. My son LOVES his stuffed cow and used it since he was 6 months old.

There is nothing wrong with helping him to fall asleep.... all humans at some point or other need help with that. He is only 1 year old. Even some adults have a hard time winding-down and then sleeping ALL night, unless they have a routine or relax first or what have you. But most people have a soothing habit prior to bed... they certainly don't drink coffee 5 minutes before going to bed... they try to wind-down first, watch tv, or relax. So, same for a baby or child.
For example, I don't horseplay with my kids before bedtime... I dim all the lights, quiet things down, tell them verbally bedtime is coming up... then cue them to brush their teeth, change into pajamas, have a cup of milk or something, we watch a CALM soothing show or read a book... then after they are wound-down, then off to bed. The SAME everynight. I don't give "options" to them. I just go about doing the routine. Now, all I have to say is "Okay, lets start our routine...bedtime soon" and they know what to do.

It's all about "transitioning" a child to the 'next' thing you want them to do.

I nursed both my kids to sleep too.... my daughter is now 6 years old and my son is 2.75 years old... they both go to bed just fine now. No problem. They GREW INTO IT... naturally, BUT I have done the same pre-nap and pre-bed routines with them since they were 6 months old. They need to "learn" it and then adopt it, which can take time.

Then, aside from all the developmental quirks and growing pains and increased hunger which relates to their increasing growth, then teething pains then night-terrors then night-mares or illnesses or colds.... a child will always have hiccups in their sleep "ability"....although while you keep their pre-be/pre-nap routines the same. This is only normal.

But no worries. For my kids it takes me about 1/2 hour for me just to WIND-DOWN my kids PRIOR to sleep time. THEN, they go to bed... and we have the same routine EVERY night and EVERY day. This then gives THEM constancy and normalcy....and most importantly "cues" them as to what is coming up.

Then, make sure he is napping too... and not over-tired when you put him to bed... "over-tired" kids actually have a HARDER time falling asleep and they wake more.

It will be okay... but you need to build a routine/habit with them... over time. And keep it constant.
It's growing-pains for them, but for "us" also. We also have to learn "how" to put them to bed, that is peaceful. Bedtime should not be a trauma or battle.... although it is not always easy. LOL

All the best,


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi J.,
I have never believed in the cry it out method. I personally just could not do that to my child; it is just too traumatic for baby -- and parent. We've always practiced attachment parenting and we have a very strong, loving bond with our four-year-old.

I nursed our daughter before bedtime until probably about 17-18 months, then slowly started dropping nursings until we finished up at 21 months. Our daughter shared a bed with us and at 2 years she said, "I want to go to bed in my own bed." Just like that. I was so proud of her! We had put a twin bed in her room at 18 months to start the process off with napping. When she would go to bed, my husband or I would have to lay with her until she fell asleep, just to keep her in the bed. Sometimes it would take 5 minutes, somtimes it would take 30 minutes.

Finally, at 3 years, I began talking to her about putting herself to sleep. Little conversations here and there to get her used to the idea. Then, over a Christmas holiday, I told her she was now going to put herself to sleep, that mom and dad were not going to lay down with her any longer. (Frankly, I'd had enough!) Worked like a charm. She went right to sleep and has ever since.

So, although we have been a bit delayed at some of the milestones as far as getting baby to sleep, we did it in our own way and with little discomfort or trauma to our child -- or us. It was also done at an age that our child could understand the reasons and could accept them. It may not work for everyone, but it has worked for our family. Everything in good time! Good luck to your and your family!



answers from Los Angeles on

Your son needs to learn how to soothe himself to sleep- or yes there is a good chance he will continue to struggle with sleep like your daughter has. He is crying when you have tried to put him down alone out of protest of change. It doesn't mean the change isn't necessary. At 1 it will take a bit longer than it does at an earlier age but great to do it while he is still in a crib.

First, you need to establish a bedtime routine (you may have this in place already)- bath, pjs, brush teeth, story, to bed- make it simple! And then say goodnight and put him to bed. At this point he should be taking two naps a day- each about 2 hours- maybe a bit less or a bit more- at 9ish and 1ish... and then a 7/7:30 bedtime would be great- put him down at 7 and go back and get him at 7am. He will learn how to soothe himself. And it won't take that long- a few days, maybe a bit more since he is older. But your life will change. And sleep is so necessary for health, brain development, attitude...

If you are uncomfortable with this you can try extinction- where you go in and check on him at decided upon intervals- making the time between each one longer each time. (Sometimes makes it take longer). You can't pick him up, feed him- just soothe him with your words, rub his back, and leave- not a long stay.

Here are some posts that may help you too:

If you have any more questions or want ideas for your five year old's sleep please contact me at [email protected]

Some questions I would have for you:
-What time does he go to bed?
-What is his sleep environment like?
-What is your bedtime routine?
-Feeding schedule/what does he eat?

C., mother of 3, sleep consultant, sleep blog writer

Next question: Ferber Method for Naps and Bedtime