Sleeping FAQ: 9-12 months – Night Waking

My son refuses to go back in his cot when he wakes in the night

My 10-month-old son is really good all day, but is tired by 7pm and goes straight to sleep in his cot. He is awake when he goes in, but very dozy and goes to sleep straight away. He may cry out once but that is all.

In the night he often wakes between 10pm and 3am and will not settle himself or go back into his cot if I take him out. He just screams and screams. I have tried everything: giving him a bottle, giving him water, giving him a cuddle, controlled crying. I gave up on this after 1hr 20 minutes at 2.30am. I have started to bring him in bed with me, where he sleeps very well. On some occasions he will sleep all the way through from 7pm to 6 or 7am. There does not seem to be any reason or pattern as to why or when.

His daytime sleep is erratic. On the 3 days he attends nursery he generally does not sleep there. On the days he is at home he will sleep for 1-1.5hrs at around 10.30am and possibly have another 20-30 minutes at about 4.30pm.
What should I do when he wakes in the night to get him to settle? Or should I be doing something in the day to get him to sleep through the night.

He takes 2x 8oz bottles at 7am and 7pm. He eats three meals a day and drinks a small amount of juice with his meals.

Your sons night-time waking is probably due to overtiredness. He is also associating falling back to sleep with being in bed with you. He is losing a lot of daytime sleep which he still needs at his age. As well as not sleeping much on nursery days, he is having his longest sleep in the morning when at home so going down at 7pm exhausted.

On the days when he is at home, get him more used to having a short nap of 30-45 minutes at 9am and settling for a longer nap after his lunch. This should help him go down less exhausted in the night. Try to get him down by 12.30am and get him to have 1.5 to 2 hours. To put this in place, cut back on his 10.30am nap by 15 minutes every few days and begin also to push it back to 9/9.30am. It may take a week or so to really get this in place but should help him catch up on the sleep he is missing on nursery days. In the beginning he may still need a very small catnap in the afternoon, especially if the sleep at lunchtime takes a while to fall into place. Settle him in his cot whilst still awake. Check he is not thirsty before going down at 12.30pm by offering him a drink of water.

On the days when he is at nursery, bring his bedtime forward by 15-20mins so he is settled by 6.45pm at the latest. Although this will not totally make up for his lack of sleep in the day, it may help him settle down to sleep more gently rather than falling into a deep sleep immediately.

Once this daytime sleep is more regular you can begin to sort out the night waking. At 10 months your son is aware that if he cries for long enough, you will take him into your bed. In order to break this habit you will need to use controlled crying so he learns to settle back on his own in his cot. This is going to involve some crying and persistence on your part if you want to make it work.

Look at the Contented Sleep Guide p45 which gives you detailed instructions on how to do it. Also read through some of the case studies, which will help you to see that controlled crying can take a while to really work. It is the only way that your son will learn to fall asleep on his own. As he falls straight to sleep each night and is away from home on several days a week his cot is probably not a very familiar place to him.

Get him more used to this by using it for short periods of playtime by day. Put him in there when awake and engage him in play. Once he is happily playing leave his side for a few minutes and busy yourself in the room so you are still in sight and can talk to him. Gradually extend these times of play until he is content on his own for 15-20 minutes at a time.

At ten months he may be attached already to some kind of comforter such as a toy or muslin. If not, it may be worth finding a small toy to tuck into his cot beside him to help him settle back to sleep better. A good trick is for you to sleep with the toy for a couple of nights so your familiar smell is on it when given to your son.