We think it’s just babies who interrupt our sleep. But the awful truth is, heaps of kids keep waking up, well into their twos, threes and fours. It’s tough. But it’s common. Here are some ways to deal with night-waking in your toddler and preschooler.
What happened to my dream sleeper?
It’s such a relief when your baby finally starts sleeping through the night in their own cot or bed. However, for many parents, this dream patch only lasts a while. Suddenly, the two-year-old is inexplicably waking up once or twice in the night. And all the old tricks you used to use to get your infant back to sleep aren’t going to work on a demanding toddler.
Returning to those old sleep-deprived nights can be torturous. But rest assured, night-waking is remarkably common in toddlers, with up to half of children under the age of five waking occasionally.
Why is it happening?
Unsurprisingly, toddlers wake up for all sorts reasons. The tricky part is figuring out what’s happening on which particular night. Some children might just wake up out of the blue occasionally, others develop a more regular habit of crying out. Here are some typical night-waking triggers to watch for:
- A developmental leap
- Too hot or cold
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Fear of the dark
- Illness, such as stuffy nose or ear infection
- A wet nappy or needing to go to the toilet
- Overstimulation during the day, or extreme over-tiredness at night
- Hungry or thirsty
- Teething (first and second molars come in between the ages of 18 and 30 months)
- Wanting to sleep in your bed
What can I do?
While toddlers are capable of resettling themselves, there will be nights when they need your help to get back to sleep. This is manageable if it’s the odd night here and there. But if you’re dragging yourself out of bed a few times every night, you might need to find some more permanent solutions to the night waking, such as:
- If the issue is simply that your child is hungry or thirsty, give them an extra snack before bed, or keep a bottle of water next to the bed at night. Consider the room temperature as well and adjust bedding accordingly. If you suspect a wet nappy might be waking them, experiment with different nappy brands, or try to accelerate the nighttime potty training.
- If your child doesn’t have a special comfort object, you could introduce a blankie or special soft toy to help them soothe themselves back to sleep. A good night light can also be a comfort for little ones who are afraid of the dark.
- Try to get your toddler into bed at a good time each night. And also stick to a good nap schedule during the day. Over-tiredness can actually cause night-waking, which then has the knock-on effect of them waking up tired, and the cycle continues.
- If you haven’t done so yet, get a good calming bedtime routine in place: a bath, a nice story, lots of bedtime hugs, and a final goodnight where your child falls to sleep on their own without relying on you or bottles to drift off.
- Hold off on rushing in when your toddler cries in the night. Give them a chance to resettle. Sometimes going in and providing lots of cuddles can end up encouraging night-time waking.
- If you do go in, try keep it brief, with little talking. Check to see how they’re doing, reassure them for a few minutes, then leave the room when they’re calm.
- For those toddlers who come into your bedroom and want to sleep with mum and dad, you could try temporarily putting a mattress beside the bed.
- If you’re still struggling to find a solution, chat to your GP to see if there are any physical reasons why your toddler might be disturbed at night.
And just remember to hang in there. The night-waking will eventually fade out!
Is your toddler waking a lot in the night? Share your experiences with other parents.