Toddler Sleep Help: My 1 and 3 Year Old Share a Room and Neither One of Them Sleep!

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  • October 28, 2010

This week’s “Ask the Sleep Lady” Toddler Sleep Help question:

” I need toddler sleep help! I have huge problems when it comes to putting my boys to bed. I have a three year old and a one year old. My three year old Parker gives me trouble every night. Sometimes I can’t get him to bed before 10:00 or 10:30 pm and he wakes up 3 and 4 times a night asking for warm milk. I have told him no milk in the middle of the night but then he starts yelling for it. But the big problem is my one year old Trevor and Parker just started sharing a room this week. And they wake each other up all through the night. I never get more than three hours of sleep. Any ideas to help me ?????”  Amy S.

Dear Amy-

You must be very tired! I have many ideas to help!

I noticed that you said your sons “just started” sharing a room. You can either temporarily separate the boys and sleep coach them and then put them back together with some understanding of the sleep manners expected of Parker since he is older; OR sleep coach them in the same room now. Just know that it may take a little longer with this latter option since there is no way around them waking each other up, just like with multiples (more on that later).

Since Parker is probably fairly sleep deprived he may be able to go to bed as early as Trevor needs to (7-7:30pm) in which case you can have the bedtime routine together.

If you choose to keep them in the same room then you can sleep coach them at the same time and use the Shuffle techniques. You can sit between the bed and crib and go over to the individual bedsides as needed to comfort each child. If both parents are available, you can each sit by one of your child’s bedside or crib during the first Shuffle position.

Many parents tell me they are worried about one child waking the other child in the sleep coaching process, so as a result they have been rushing in to soothe one child in order to avoid the other child waking up—like you giving Parker warm milk during the night when he screams. It’s tempting I understand but try not to fall into this trap. You are only going to perpetuate one child’s night wakenings by reinforcing one or both children’s sleep crutches. Whether you sleep coach one child at a time or both together you risk them waking each other up during the night either way! Parker may also know that you don’t want him to wake up Trevor and has learned that if he screams you will get him the milk. Then he’s in charge! Three year olds are smart!! You want to give the message that “No” means “No” so if you say “No more milk during the night” then it has to mean just that. If he wakes Trevor up in the process, you can either go over and attend to Trevor and come back to Parker or have the other parent attend to Trevor. Your response to Parker in regards to milk should not change. If you cave when he screams louder then you are teaching him to scream louder to get what he wants. I know this will be hard but it will be critical to your success!

I would follow each of the age related chapters for your boys in The Sleep Lady’s Good Night Sleep Tight. It will be important to have the family meeting with Parker that I outline in the 2.5-5year old chapter. I would also create a sleep manner chart and include as one of the Manners “Put Self Back to Sleep Quietly During the Night without Milk”. Make sure you explain the privilege of sharing a room and the behavior that is expected of Parker.

Remember, Amy this will take a little longer with two children in the same room but it is NOT impossible! Stay consistent, loving but firm.  You can do it! Your entire family will benefit by this!

Sweet dreams,


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Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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  • KK says:

    My oldest did similar things when the kids started sharing a room. If the eldest was awake that was fine, but if she was inconsiderate of her sleeping sister then we would take the little one into our bed so she could stay asleep. If the little one was noisy and waking up the sleeping older sister, then we took the sleeping child into our bed to get good sleep. The sleeping child was rewarded so to speak and the troubled child was dealt with appropriately and noisily as necessary.

  • Angela says:

    I just wanted to mention that even when the older child seems to “get it” and you start to relax, he may start trying again just to make sure the rules are still there. Don’t give up or it will take even longer to rid him of his milk habit. Good luck!

  • Cynthia says:

    I have a 6 year old who I trained using the shuffle who has slept wonderfully the last 5 years. Now I have a 1 year old who I have trained but still doesn’t sleep well. Her latest is to not want to fall asleep by herself for naps. She goes to sleep by herself at night with not even a peep out of her but when it comes to naps, if I don’t put her down completly asleep she will cry for hours and not fall asleep at all. I don’t know what to do….Please help with any and all suggestions. Thanks, Cynthia V.

  • Kaeja says:

    I was wondering if your older son was still napping because my son stopped napping at 3 years and 3 months. It seemed craxy for him to stop his nap because he was a wreck in the afternoons but I couldn’t handle the 10pm bedtime anymore. It took a few hard weeks of rough afternoons. No big outings or really even the park. No drives over 10 minutes long either or he would fall asleep. For a few weeks he napped once or twice a week and then we stopped altogether because it took so long to get him to sleep and then such a late bedtime. The KEY thing is though if you stop napping, dinner is at 5 or 5:30 latest, then bath and in bed reading books by 6:30 latest!! Now my son goes to sleep like a dream. I read three books and he is asleep within 1-2 minutes after turning out the light. And between 6:45 and 7 pm!!! He does sometimes wake in the night but 2/3 of the time he sleeps a full 11-12 hours.

  • andrea coombs says:

    I love your book! I used it successfully for both of my girls. My oldest was 10 months old, nursing 3 times a night and awake for the day at 5am. I was exhausted. I read your book and she slept through the night and started waking at 6am and later 7am in only 10 days. I felt like a new person. I used it to get my second daughter to sleep through the night when she was 2 months old! I have been using it for my son, who is three months old and he was doing well. We were down to one nursing a night. He went down between 930 and 11 and would wake 4-5 hours after going down and then wake up around 8am. But this last week he has been fading earlier, around 9pm or sometimes 830pm and wakes twice in the night, around 1am and 5am. Then he sleeps until 9 or or 10am! I don’t sleep in, however, because my girls get up at 7am. I tried the last two mornings not to feed him at 5am, but he cried so loudly that he woke both the girls. When I did feed him at 5am he nursed for 10-15 minutes. That’s a full feed for him. He doesn’t make it to 3 hours between eating during the day. Only 2.5 hours. I’ve tried to space this out too, but he gets frantic. Please help! Thank-you, Andrea.

  • Lakshmi says:

    Hi Kim,

    You were so helpful with our older daughter–we met with you and you developed a sleep plan that is still in place 2 years later!

    We now have a 9 month old and we sleep trained her early–but then she started daycare. The daycare staff are not able to put her down in her crib and walk away, which is what we used to do, so the sleep training has eroded and out daughter no longer sleeps through the night. In fact, she now gets us many times a night and is sometimes inconsolable. Can you provide any suggestions about how to manage an inconsistent routine at daycare and at home?


  • Viv says:

    I have a 3 year old and now a 7 month old. With the former I used the Shuffle and was successful, however, now with the 7 month old nothing seems to work. He will actually sleep through the night several days in a row then all of a sudden stop and reverts to waking every 2-3 hours at night. I follow all of the rules: He is put to bed awake, he has a lovey, we use white noise, we do not pick him up, I wait until 3 or 4 a.m. to nurse him, and, surprisingly, he does not have any of these issues during the day (he takes FANTASTIC naps lasting around 2 hours twice a day). He self soothes (sucks his fingers) and seems to be a happy baby, but he won’t stop waking at night and it is sucking the life out of me/us. What am I doing wrong??? Why will he sleep through then stop??? I’ve tried increasing our nursing sessions throughout the day (he’s also on solids/table foods) and even try to hold him more during his awake hours. He is on a cream for eczema issues, but his skin is under control right now. Also, if it is a skin issue wouldn’t he wake during his naps too? He takes beautiful naps so I don’t understand why nighttime doesn’t work for him. In any case, please help. I’ve read your book a million times and I can’t find the one trick that will make the difference. My husband is very supportive and when he’s home at night he goes in to do the Shuffle. Where am I going wrong?

  • Beth says:

    I am starting to hit the point of desparation with my 14 month old. I don’t think he ever really slept long periods of time since day one. He is a 30 minute napper on a good day and I know that I have contributed a lot to his poor habits. I don’t believe his issue is falling asleep on his own, it is putting himself back to sleep on his own. Maybe the two are related, I don’t know.
    I have “babied” him a lot. He has had congenitive eye issues and has had one surgery at 6 months and another is scheduled for the beginning of January. We also had major water damage to our house from all of the snow we got in Baltimore last winter. As a result, I had to sleep on his floor for two months.
    Please help!

    • KimWest says:

      It is easier to put yourself to sleep initially and harder to put yourself back to sleep so they are related. I would start with my book Good Night Sleep Tight or the workbook if you want to “sparks notes” version. You can also consider an individual appt. Your next step would be to figure out if you are going to start now or after his next surgery. I would suggest now so he is well rested for surgery which will help with healing!
      You are right we did get alot of snow last winter! I had water damage too!
      Best of luck, Kim

  • Carolynn says:

    My 1 year old son takes great naps and sleeps pretty well at night. The problem(s) are his naps are beside his dad or I on the couch (usually 1-2 hour naps) and not in his crib. At night he sleeps from 9-930 until 5-6ish (when he wakes up to nurse) he goes back to sleep after nursing and wakes up around 8 or 9. The issue is he still sleeps in his pack n play in our room next to our bed.

    I’ve attempted naps a few times in his crib many months ago but he’s never slept in his crib in his room. We nurse in his room, change his diaper and play but never sleep. At first it was a huge comfort measure for me with him being right beside me. Now when he wakes up he immediately stands up and wants me because I’m right there. Usually I can get him to lay back down and shh him and he’ll go back to sleep. I nurse him at night and rock him until he’s asleep. Most of the time if he wakes up at night I do not have to rock or nurse him back to sleep, I can just tell him to lay down and give him his pacifier and he’ll go back to sleep.

    I need help transitioning him into his room for naps and bedtime. He’s grown accustomed to having us right there when he sleeps and I don’t know how he’ll react when he wakes up in a room by himself. For my comfort I have a video monitor so I can see him. I only work 3 days a week and still nurse him so I am always the one to put him to sleep and get up with him.. Also, I can NOT do the cry it out method. I’ve read one of the older books about laying them down drowsy but awake and I’m not sure if that would work for us. I don’t mind rocking him to sleep I just want him to sleep in his crib. Also, I don’t rock him for naps we just lay on the couch and he snuggles up and goes to sleep so I don’t know where to begin on getting him to nap in his crib.

    Thank you in advance for all of your help.

    • Hannah says:

      Perhaps you could try having him sleep in his crib and you could sleep beside him for a few nights (in his room) and then do the Shuffle?