How I Got My 1 Year Old To Sleep Through The Night (Without Leaving Her To Cry)

My youngest was a bad sleeper until 15 months. When I say she was a bad sleeper I’m not one of those Mum’s complaining about my baby waking up once or twice a night, or complaining about early starts. It reached the point where a really good night would start with a 3 hour block followed by hourly wake ups. In a state of desperate exhaustion I contacted Sarah Ockwell-Smith saying "My 1 year old just wont sleep". I paid for a sleep consultation and with her help my youngest finally slept through the night.

My one year old asleep in a sleeping bag on a toddler pillow and in a cot

As a newborn my youngest was a good sleeper and I was grateful that I appeared to have been lucky second time round. At just a few months old she would sometimes wake up just twice. When she did wake up she would have a feed then go straight back to sleep. It was all great until the 4 month sleep regression hit and months later her sleep still hadn't recovered. I honestly thought my baby was broken and I would never get a good night's sleep.

The only way I could find to get enough sleep to function was to co-sleep from her first wake up. As we were breastfeeding she would wake up, reach for my nipple, latch on and go back to sleep. We were surviving, but I couldn't go out in the evening because she wouldn’t go back to sleep without me and my quality of sleep was awful.

For some time I considered getting a sleep consultant or a night nanny to help with sleep training, but most of what I read worried me. I did not want to leave my baby to cry so if anyone advocated controlled crying or cry it out I automatically stopped listening. I had bought Sarah Ockwell-Smith's The Gentle Sleep Book when my youngest was a baby and her gentle parenting ethos is very much in alignment with my own parenting style. I discovered she offers a range of sleep consultations including in person visits, Skype and email and they cost far less than I would expect for a leading parenting expert. I decided I was going to go for it, but due to her popularity she was closed for new bookings and I had to wait about 6 weeks before I was offered an email consultation. By this point I had been waiting so long for a decent nights sleep another few months didn’t seem too bad.

My toddler nursing while we sleep in a black and white grainy photo

The Sleep Consultation

Sarah sent me a list of questions to understand what my concerns were, what a normal day looked like for us and what we had tried so far. After reviewing my essay she said she thought she could help, but warned it wouldn’t be an instant fix and we would need to be consistent in our changes for at least 6 to 8 weeks.

The plan she sent through was long and written specifically for our situation. When I read it through initially I was upset. It felt like I had been doing everything wrong. I had to leave it a while before rereading it several times. It was only then I could take the comments on board and I was ready to give her advice a try.

A baby in a red baby grow in a King size bed grinning

The Sleep Plan

The plan covered food, nap times, sleep times, activities, bedtime routines and focusing on me. Importantly for me she didn’t push to night wean or to move Little in to her own room. She did suggest that if we wanted to move Little into her own room in the next year we would be better to do so at the time of the other changes and we decided we would because we wanted to have another baby fairly soon. We also decided to partially night wean Little because I was due to go away for a couple of nights and I wanted her to be able to settle without me there.

I’m not going to share all the advice Sarah gave because it was long, detailed and she tailored it to our situation. Different people will need different plans, but within a month a good night (which wasn't every night) for Little was going to sleep around 8 and waking up about 5. I tend to bring Little into our bed when she wakes up and feed her while I doze if it's early.  We still had a bit of work to get later wake ups, but it wasn't a big problem for us.

What I really liked about the plan is it brought together a lot of her advice which can be found in her books, website and Facebook page and made it make sense for us. We moved Little’s nap back to after an early lunch, moved her bedtime back and moved meal times around a bit (dinner is now at 5.30 with a top up meal a couple of hours later). One of the most controversial changes for us was bath time. Sarah stressed the importance of quiet time for the last hour my daughter is awake which means bath time now is shorter and has NO TOYS. We struggled with this, but the improved sleep we have is a definite pay off. Other key parts of the bedtime routine include dimmed, preferably red lights (you can read about why here) and a repetitive routine after the bath with the same story each night.

As well as better sleep most nights Little has a good nap most days. It’s often tempting to stay home all day on our own because (teething and health dependent) Little can sleep for 2 to 2 and a half hours, but must be awake by 2.30pm. Particularly with a later bedtime this gives me essential me time to relax, nap or (more usually) work. Having time to myself in the day, and my body to myself at night, has made me feel more balanced and happy.

My daughter asleep in her cot in the Gro Company Orla Kiely Martian Sleeping Bag

What Made My 1 Year Old Finally Start Sleeping? 

It wasn't any single thing. If it was easy and there was a quick fix then there would be no need for sleep consultants. The secret would be well known and all parents would get enough sleep. I'm sorry I can't provide all the answers in this post, but getting a baby or toddler to sleep well isn't that simple.

Everyone (from babies through to adults) wake up numerous times each night as we move through sleep cycles. Normally we are able to get ourselves back to sleep and we don’t even remember waking up. Unlike most sleep training our plan wasn't focussed on getting her to sleep on her own, it was about making sure that all her needs were met so that when she did wake up at night she was comfortable and would move into the next sleep cycle.

Moving Little into her own room definitely helped her sleep. I don’t think we were waking her up because she would often wake up before I even went to bed, but when she woke up briefly in the night she would see me there, or expect to see me there, and decide that she would rather cuddle up next to me than be in a cot on her own. Once she was next to me she would decide she wanted milk every time she woke up. Without the distraction of me and without being hungry, cold, hot, scared or uncomfortable Little normally goes back to sleep on her own at the end of each sleep cycle.

Finding the right timings for naps and bedtime really helped us. It meant I spent less time getting her to sleep and she normally wakes up happily instead of crying with tiredness. This also helped us to have a more consistent routine every day so Little knows what to expect and when bedtime is coming. Sarah suggested that we should be aiming for Little to go to sleep around 8pm, this is a lot later than many people seem to put their children to bed, but it is based on when the levels of melatonin rise in toddlers, this is post talks more about this and how much sleep children need.

What Didn't I Change About My Daughter's Routine?

I still feed Little to sleep each night. As she gets older she will need to go to sleep on her own, but this isn’t a priority for us at the moment.

I still feed her in the night if she wakes up and won’t go back to sleep because I know that any extended wake ups are because she is hungry or in some form of discomfort.

We still have a fairly relaxed approach to routine. I try and keep to the timings for food and sleep where possible, but they don’t always work for us as a family. Occasional variance doesn't cause us problems now, but I do notice the impact of some changes like not having quiet time before bed.

What I Recommend If Your Baby Or Toddler Doesn't Sleep

Get help. The only thing I regret is having 11 months of awful sleep which could have been avoided by getting help earlier. There are lots of books and websites dedicated to helping you get your child to sleep, but I don't think you can beat an expert listening to your situation and telling you what they recommend. I think you need to choose an expert who has a similar parenting approach to you to ensure you are comfortable. My heart breaks every time I read Facebook posts where Mum's say they are going to start controlled crying or cry it out even though they really don't want to, but they are so desperate for sleep.

The only time I let my daughter cry was when I night weaned her. This involved cuddling her for a few minutes while she cried to attempt to get her back to sleep another way, but she was in my arms (or her Dad's arms) the whole time and it was only for a few minutes. She was never left alone to cry.

The email sleep consultation from Sarah Ockwell-Smith which included an analysis of our situation, a bespoke, in depth sleep plan and 24 hours to ask additional questions cost £149. How much of a bargain is that? I'm not saying that it isn't a lot of money and that many parents will struggle to part with that much money, but in one month I went from getting woken up at least 6 times a night to an average of once a night. I would have paid ten times the amount. If you have a 1 year old (or any age child) that wont sleep I strongly recommend speaking to a sleep expert.


  1. Wow I've never heard of sleep consultations before, I had no idea it was a thing! Interesting that you think giving your little one their own room helped as I've been contemplating moving our youngest out of room for a while now. I'm glad sleep is better all round for you now, it must be such a relief! x

  2. We found that my daughter slept so much better when she was in her own room. Sleep deprivation is so evil, my daughter suffered with silent reflux as a baby so sleep was something noone got much of. I am glad that things have turned a corner for you now!

  3. my son is nearly one and has started to become disturbed during the night since christmas. Its been hard, especially as i have two other children and my husband works shifts. Ive started to consider his nap times and wondering whether he needs to drop a nap and just have one int he day instead of two. I will keep trying until i find what works for us. Im glad you've managed to fix things for you and your daughter.

  4. This is amazing! Moving H into his own room definitely helped him sleep. I'm so glad Sarah managed to help you :) and that you're now getting sleep! Yay! xx

  5. Amazing that it worked out for you! A Good night's sleep can make such a difference. X

  6. I wonder if she can work with sleep issues and autism? I might have to investigate further. Thankfully my little lady has been a very good sleeper from the start. She just needs to pass this information on to her brother!


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