Why Is My Toddler Waking Up at Night?

Why Is My Toddler Waking Up at Night?

As toddlers transition from infant sleep patterns to consistent nighttime slumber, frequent disruptions and wakings often try parents’ patience. Early bedtime battles and overnight calls asking for milk, cuddles and comfort grow increasingly exhausting.

While frustrating, night wakings are developmentally normal and expected at this age as little bodies and minds go through enormous changes. The good news is parents can take proactive steps to help toddlers learn to self-settle and return to deep sleep independently.

This guide covers common causes of night wakings at this age and techniques to overcome sleep disruptions while meeting your toddler’s needs. With the right approach, more restful nights are within reach for the whole family.

Also Check Out: Children’s Music by Plooshi

Reasons Toddlers Wake at Night

A variety of physical, emotional and psychological factors contribute to night wakings:

Transitioning Sleep Needs

Toddlers drop from two naps to one before consolidating sleep primarily at night. Disruptions occur as this shift progresses. Early bedtimes with too much remaining sleep drive at bedtime leads to untimely wakings.

Developmental Fears

Vivid toddler imaginations breed anxieties about monsters, darkness, isolation, separation from parents and new noises that disrupt sleep.

Physical Discomforts

Growth spurts, teething pain, congestion, hunger, needing to urinate and other discomforts wake toddlers seeking the comfort of parental contact.

Change in Parental Response

Toddlers who encountered responsive parenting meeting their needs immediately as babies expect the same overnight. Any change in parental reaction confuses them.

Testing Limits

As autonomy grows, toddlers experience newfound independence and control. Night wakings become opportunities to assert their will and delay bedtime.

Learned Sleep Associations

Toddlers come to associate certain conditions like feeding, rocking or co-sleeping with falling back asleep, disrupting their self-soothing skills.

While sometimes trying, addressing the causes behind night wakings with consistent approaches adaptable to toddlers’ evolving needs is key.

Signs of Overtiredness

Watch for these red flags signaling your toddler isn’t getting sufficient sleep:

  • Cranky moods, crying and tantrums
  • Hyperactive, impulsive behavior
  • Aggression and difficulty listening
  • Lack of appetite or interest in activities
  • Dark circles under eyes and yawning
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks

Overtired toddlers have more difficulty sleeping soundly and self-soothing when waking at night. Adequate daytime sleep is crucial.

How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need?

Sleep needs vary, but guidelines recommend:

  • 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours total daily including 1-2 naps.
  • 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours total daily including 1 nap.
  • 5+ years old: dropping nap, 10-12 hours nightly.

Aim for your toddler to sleep through the majority of the night as naps decrease. If waking persists or mood/behavior issues emerge, consult your pediatrician to rule out medical factors and determine if more daytime sleep is required.

Techniques to Minimize Night Wakings

Try these methods to encourage uninterrupted sleep:

Consistent Soothing Bedtime Routine

Baths, stories, songs and cuddles signal winding down time every night. Toddlers growing accustomed to the routine transition smoothly into sleep.

Respond Quickly to Night Needs

Attend promptly to legitimate needs like hunger or bathroom trips to avoid escalation into playtime. Keep activities boring with minimal talking or stimulation.

Offer Transitional Objects

Let your toddler adopt a soothing lovey or blanket for bed to support self-settling and independence. The object provides a sense of contact.

Reinforce Staying in Bed

Praise every effort staying tucked in bed overnight, even if multiple resets are required. Avoid scolding; progress takes patience.

Use Toddler Nightlights

Dim, plug-in night lights allow minimal visibility for newfound fears of the dark while still cueing the brain it’s sleep time.

Focus on Self-Soothing Skills

Provide tactics like quiet singing they can use to calm themselves when rousing overnight instead of calling out.

Set Limits Firmly and Gently

Clearly communicate the plan is to stay in bed overnight unless urgent needs arise. Stick to boundaries while showing empathy.

Consistency helps toddlers unlearn sleep associations requiring parental intervention overnight as their autonomy expands.

Why Your Toddler Ends Up in Your Bed

Co-sleeping often results from:

Difficulty Self-Soothing

Toddlers who haven’t yet mastered settling themselves when rousing seek external comfort.

Attempting Delayed Bedtime

Toddlers discover joining parents’ bed leads to later bedtimes. Wakings become a stall tactic.

Separation Anxiety

Fears of isolation spark a need for parental proximity overnight.

Recent Sleep Disruptions

Illnesses, travel, or schedule changes trigger regression to contact for reassurance.


What starts as a rare exception becomes a convenient habit hard to break for all.

With empathy and consistency, toddlers can overcome reliance on co-sleeping when their underlying needs are addressed compassionately.

How to Stop Co-Sleeping with Your Toddler

If your toddler has an entrenched co-sleeping habit, try gradual steps like:

Phase Out Slowly

Over successive nights, move toddler bed closer to your room, then nearer the door until completely separated. Some crying may result. Offer reassuring check-ins.

Resettle Without Taking from Crib

Attend to needs in their room without bringing to your bed. Be present but boring. Praise staying put.

Use Transitional Objects

A comforting lovey provides tactile reassurance of parental closeness.

Add Toddler Night Light

Enables self-soothing while seeing surroundings are safe.

Reinforce Staying In Bed

Emphasize they are big enough now for their own “big kid bed” to motivate pride.

Keep Morning Interactions Brief

Avoid letting early risers join your bed with prolonged cuddling. Close contact rewards waking.

With empathy, patience and consistency, toddlers take pride transitioning to solo sleep as their skills progress.

Handling Early Morning Waking

When toddlers rouse too early in the morning, try:

  • Maintaining darkened room until desired wake time
  • Playing soft white noise to dull disruptive house sounds
  • Keeping morning interactions low key. Avoid stimulation.
  • Using the bathroom immediately but not turning on lights
  • Having them snuggle a lovey or stuffed animal
  • Praising remaining quiet but not leaving the crib or bed
  • Calling for you only after an agreed “ok to wake” time
  • Using a wake up light to delay illumination
  • Gradually adjusting bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments

With consistency, toddlers learn waking earlier carries no rewards or engagement. Desired wake time resets their biological clock.

Toddler Night Waking Sleep Training Tips

These methods help toddlers learn to self-soothe overnight:

Fade Bedtime Assistance

Over successive nights, gradually reduce soothing interventions when putting to bed. Don’t respond immediately when cries start. Pause 5-10 minutes before briefly resettling. These small steps condition self-driven sleep.

Explain Sleep Stages

Toddlers understand sequences. Explain how bodies make chemicals to help sleep. Set expectations they can relax until morning without you.

Pair Rewards With Staying in Bed

Offer intermittent treats or praise for persisting overnight in their bed. But avoid providing external soothing that hinders self-settling.

Use Bedtime Pass System

Allow one parent re-tuck-in pass nightly. Limiting parental contact recalibrates learning independent sleep.

Let Them Use Security Objects

A favorite blanket or stuffed animal provides comfort replacing reliance on your presence.

Add Visual Timer

Demonstrate with a time-tracking device you’ll return at intervals to check on them if upset, building trust.

Seeking Additional Help with Sleep Issues

If frequent waking and difficulty settling impact daily functioning and you’ve exhausted behavioral approaches, speak with your pediatrician. Some causes like:

  • Sleep disordered breathing – apnea, snoring
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Ear infections
  • Seizures or migraines
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Food allergies
  • Urinary problems
  • Sensory processing disorder

May require medical evaluation and treatment.

For sleep struggles without underlying diagnoses, your pediatrician may suggest formal sleep training consultation with a credentialed toddler sleep consultant. They can design a customized plan addressing your child’s specific sleep challenges and needs.

Toddler Sleep Training FAQs

What causes separation anxiety at bedtime?

Fears of isolation, darkness, and being apart from parents spike around toddlerhood as imagination and cognition advance. Consistent soothing routines and transitional objects help them self-soothe.

Why does my toddler keep getting out of bed at night?

Night wakings become opportunities for toddlers to exert independence and test boundaries. Praise every effort staying in bed. Explain the plan is to stay tucked in all night – they can!

How much sleep does an active toddler need daily?

Energetic children may need 11-14 hours of total sleep time daily including one nap until around age 3-4 when night sleep consolidates. Watch for crankiness signaling inadequate sleep.

How can I get my toddler to sleep alone?

Use loveys for comfort and security. Start bedtime routines early to prevent sleep associations. Employ gradual retreat. Reinforce staying in bed with praise. Ensure the room feels familiar and non-threatening.

Why does my toddler have night terrors?

Night terrors stem from an immature CNS and transitioning sleep cycles. They often peak around 3-4 years old. There is no associated dream imagery despite appearances. Remain calm during an episode and avoid waking your child.

What should I do when toddler wakes at night?

Attending quickly to legitimate needs like hunger or the bathroom helps prevent escalation. Keep interactions boring with minimal stimulation. Avoid engaging in play or bringing them into your bed.

How do I handle early wakings?

Use blackout shades to limit light. Play soft white noise to muffle household sounds. Keep morning interactions quiet and low-key. Gradually adjust bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments until desired wake time results.

When should toddlers drop daytime naps?

Time varies individually but most toddlers transition from two naps to one sometime between 18 months – 3 years old. Drop the second nap when resistance emerges and night sleep consolidates.

How can I night potty train my toddler?

Limit evening fluid intake 1-2 hours pre-bed. Have toddlers use potties just before bed. Use overnight diapers as backup. Place potties bedside for easy overnight access and establish middle-of-the-night pee routines.

The Key Takeaway

While frequently disruptive, night wakings are an expected part of your toddler’s development and transition to consistent sleeping through the night. With empathy, patience and consistency using methods tailored to your child’s needs, restful nights do return again. Sleep-deprived parents take heart – this too shall pass! Sweet dreams.

Listen to Sleep Stories for Better Toddler Sleep

If you find a calming bedtime routine results in improved sleep for your toddler, we encourage you to try KidsSleepStory.com.

Over 400 original children’s bedtime stories transition seamlessly into soothing background noise soundscapes. Think crickets, waves and rainfall – all proven to quickly lull toddlers to sleep.

The embedded sounds block disruptive noises to allow restful slumber all night. Getting consistent deep quality sleep makes for happier, more focused toddlers during the day.

Give KidsSleepStory a try! Make it part of your new evening routine and see the sleeping benefits for yourself. Sweet dreams!