Not all toddlers wake up at night, but in my experience, most do. I was blessed with three healthy kids, all intent on having multiple midnight conversations with mama and papa. I am convinced that my lovely kids felt these were midnight conversations and bonding sessions with us; to me, they were tormenting us!
It’s a nightmare! On the days that the kids had decided they were too tired to have these bonding sessions, your nightmares got the better of you. First, you are partially awake, thinking that your child was up; eventually, you come to your senses and notice this is you in a hallucination dreamland.
If you have toddlers, you may be familiar with the reasons behind them waking up at night. They are not ready for bed, thirsty, want to play, scared of the dark, and want attention. The list of reasons is long and endless. My dear friend, that is currently experiencing this magical life wonder, gave me nostalgia throwbacks. An unduly sentimental yearning to go back to those days, NOT!
In any case, I decided to recollect and look at some of the reasons why toddlers wake up at night and how you may possibly get them to sleep better. One possible option may be the Scandinavian method of clod sleep.
Toddlers cannot be forced to sleep through the night, whilst some may be poor sleeping habits, which with some caring, you can resolve. They wake up because they need something — whether it’s food, a nappy change, or an extra cuddle — and there’s no way you can know what that is in advance; the beauty and the unwarranted gift of being a parent.
The best you can do is get them back to sleep as quickly as possible so they don’t become overtired. Here are some common reasons Why do Toddlers Wake Up At Night?
Short naps during the day can make toddlers wake up at night
Short naps during the day. You may have heard that the first few years of life are the most important for sleep, with rapid brain development and growth happening at this age. This is very true, and it means that your baby needs to sleep more than ever before!
It can be very frustrating for parents when their baby only wants to sleep for short periods throughout the day, but this is actually a good thing. It means they are getting all of their essential rest at night while sleeping longer in the morning. As your child gets older, their sleep cycles will change again so that they may start having longer naps during the day (this usually happens around 12 months).
They may need more sleep than you think. Research says that Babies tend to be pretty social and sleepy creatures, which can make them seem like they never want to stop sleeping! However, if you’re worried that your little one isn’t getting enough hours during the night, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about this. Especially if they’re still waking up early despite having longer naps during the day or if they seem unusually tired all day long. Your doctor can help determine and explain why your child or toddlers wake up at night?
Bedtime is too late:
Tired toddlers who don’t get enough sleep during the day are more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. This can happen if your child’s bedtime is too late for their age and needs.
For example, an 18-month-old should generally go to bed by 6 or 7 p.m. However, if your child is still up and active at 9 p.m., they need to go to bed earlier to be tired enough to sleep through the night.
You’re letting them fall asleep in front of a screen
The light from televisions, computers and phones can affect melatonin production and make it harder for kids to fall asleep naturally. Particularly if they’re already overtired. And while it may seem like a good idea to put your toddler down after he’s been consuming screen, it can make them more excited and awake instead of putting them in the right frame of mind for sleep. So, try turning off screens well before bedtime; it ensures fewer chances that your toddlers will wake up at night.
Sleep associations contribute to why toddlers wake up at night
Your toddler may also have developed “sleep associations,” which are habits that help them fall asleep and stay asleep. For example, suppose your child falls asleep watching TV, listening to music, or nursing. In that case, those behaviours may become linked in their mind to going to sleep. Therefore, when it comes time to sleep without them, they become upset and won’t go down without them.
A break in routine:
A change in routine can also cause your toddler to wake up at night. For example, if you recently moved or if there was an event that caused a shift in your daily schedule, it could be causing your child’s sleep problems.
For example, suppose you have been on holiday and getting up earlier than usual. In that case, this could be causing the kids to wake up at night because they are used to getting up earlier than usual. This is because their body clock has shifted away from its regular routine.
An excellent way to help your child get back to sleep is to put them back in bed when they first wake up. Taking them back into their rooms when they wake up or time for their next nap. They will learn that it’s still nighttime.
Illnesses or teething: Is a likely reason why toddlers wake up at night
Your child may be waking up at night because of an illness, like a cold or bronchitis. Illnesses can cause coughing, sneezing, and nasal congestion, disturbing your child’s sleep. A fever may also wake your child up at night because they don’t feel well and are uncomfortable with their own body temperature.
If this is the case, you should speak with your doctor to determine how best to treat the illness so that it doesn’t linger for weeks.
A bad dream or night terror:
The most common reason toddlers wake up at night is a bad dream or night terror. Toddlers can have nightmares, just like older children and adults. They may wake up crying and frightened, but they can’t tell you what happened in the dream. If your toddler wakes up from a nightmare, try to stay calm. If she keeps waking up after nightmares, talk with your doctor about ways to help them get back to sleep.
Try holding the child until they settle back to sleep. Tell them it was only a dream and that they are safe. If they are too upset to go back to sleep, sit with them until they calm down. If they continue to have nightmares regularly, try talking to your doctor about strategies for helping them through their fears.
Hunger from low blood sugar:
Yet another reason toddlers wake up in the middle of the night is hunger from low blood sugar (also known as hypoglycemia). When kids don’t eat enough carbohydrates throughout the day (including snacks), their blood sugar levels drop, becoming hungry.
If your child isn’t eating enough carbs during the day, this can also cause difficulty falling asleep at night. To prevent these episodes from happening:
- Make sure your toddler eats regular meals throughout the day
- Offer snacks between meals (but avoid sweets before bedtime)
- Avoid sugary drinks after dinner
It could be a developmental leap
You may notice that your toddler has started waking up at night because of a developmental leap. I found a book called ‘The Wonder Weeks‘ that became my bible on child developmental leaps. This book was on point and helped me stay calm during these weeks; a must-read book.
The developmental leap means that your child is growing and developing faster than expected, which will cause them to need more sleep to keep up with their bodies’ changing needs. This is especially true for older toddlers transitioning from one stage of development (such as crawling) into another (walking).
You might also notice that your toddler wakes up more frequently during the day due to increased energy levels and physical activity levels (especially if you have more than one child).
They think it’s morning
Toddlers often wake up because they associate nighttime with the morning. This can be due to seeing the light coming through their window or hearing the sounds of birds chirping outside.
They want your attention. Toddlers are very social beings, and they rely on their parents for comfort and security. If you’re sleeping soundly when your toddler wakes up, there’s nothing you can do to make him feel better. Instead, they might be trying to get your attention so they can feel better and go back to sleep more quickly.
Too hot or too cold in the room:
Cold feet or hands can wake you up, so if your child is too warm or too cold, they could be restless when they sleep. If your child’s room is too hot, consider cooling off the bedroom with a fan while they sleep and putting on extra layers of clothes before putting them down to sleep. If your child sleeps with blankets, consider removing some of their blankets during the day so that they don’t become too hot while sleeping at night.
They have a sleep regression, which is totally normal (but oh-so exhausting):
Finally, one of the reasons why toddlers wake up at night is that they’re going through a sleep regression, which is a period in a child’s life when they have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Sleep regressions are totally normal and can happen at any age.
However, they’re more common during the toddler years because children start developing more of their own personalities and preferences, including what time they want to go to bed and how much time they want to sleep.
Most children go through two significant periods when learning how to sleep: between 4 and 12 months old and again between 18 and 36 months old.
During these periods, your child may start waking more often or staying awake longer during the night — even after going down quickly at bedtime — because their body isn’t ready for the new skill set. Your job is to help them learn how to fall asleep independently again…and that takes time!
In short, why do toddlers wake up at night? Unfortunately, it can be a common problem for all parents. Many parents find out that their newborns can sleep comparatively well at night. But once they turn one, they begin to wake up frequently at night, frequently enough to disrupt their sleep pattern.
Toddlers waking up at night is a common issue. This can go on for a few months before sleep patterns stabilise again. A couple of contributing factors include being able to roll over, which may need to be changed. It may take a while to get your babies sleeping through the night, but it’s possible! Try these tips to help your toddlers sleep better at night.
- Danielle Pacheco, (11 March 2022), ‘Children and Sleep’, Sleep Foundation, [Accessed 04 June 2022]
- Gwen Dewar, ‘The social world of newborns: Why babies are born to learn from our sensitive, loving care’, Parenting Science, [Accessed 04 June 2022]
- Mary L, (January 2021), ‘Kids and Sleep’, Kids Health, [Accessed 04 June 2022]
- WebMD, ‘Children and Colds’, [Accessed 04 June 2022]