Every mama dreads it: your toddler or child, who has been sleeping peacefully through the night for months, is now waking up Every. Single. Night. Multiple times. I know it makes you want to pull your hair out; I’ve been there. Oh, have I been there. This new nighttime waking drives you insane, quickly. I am one of those mamas that truly needs a decent amount of sleep to function. I know some of you out there live on fumes with a smile on your face, and my hat goes off to you. Me? I need at least seven hours, plus a cup of coffee for that smile to appear.
Honestly, though, how often do you sleep through the night as an adult? You get too hot, you get too cold, you have a weird dream, or you have to go to the bathroom. Our kiddos are no different. They wake up too; they just still rely on you, mama, for comfort. Here are the most common reasons that toddlers and children might wake up during the night.
If you have a kiddo with asthma, sleeping through the night is just not going to happen. It’s hard to sleep if you can’t even breathe comfortably. With my kiddos, the first sign of an ear infection was ALWAYS regular nighttime waking. For whatever reason, my kids rarely have a fever with an ear infection, but they always wake up frequently during the night. If your child is a snorer, they might have swollen tonsils or adenoids. Always, always, consult your pediatrician if you believe your child has a physical condition that may be impacting their sleep habits.
Stress or anxiety
Interestingly, also one of the most common reasons that adults wake up during the night! Any changes in routine can be immensely stressful for toddlers and young children. From a new sibling to a new school or childcare arrangement, change is hard. It is especially difficult when you haven’t yet developed the coping skills to deal with it. To make matters worse, children of this age also have very active imaginations, which can lead to intense nightmares during seasons of stress (and even seasons without stress!).
Being overtired or not tired enough
It’s tempting to believe that if your child had to miss his nap on a particular day, that he should definitely sleep well at night! Unfortunately, though, children that are overtired have poorer quality sleep when they DO fall asleep because their bodies are so over-stimulated. Conversely, children that nap too long during the day are also likely to be up at night. They’re just not tired enough!
To prevent nighttime wakings, there are several steps that you can take.
- Make sure you have an established soothing bedtime routine.
For best results and less nighttime waking, your bedtime routine should be consistent every night, free of screens, and you should be leaving your child’s room before they fall asleep. That way, your child learns to fall asleep without you being physically present.
- Make sure your child’s room is cool, dark, and comfortable to sleep in. Our family has found sound machines to be invaluable for bedtime. If I forget to pack one on vacation, you’d better believe I’m stopping at Target before night falls. My kids can’t sleep without them. A “lovey” or another comfort item can also be incredibly helpful to help your child back to sleep on her own. A good lovey should be big enough for your child to find in bed on her own, but not so big to be dangerous to have in bed. Stuffed animals and blankies are great for this purpose!
- If you’re already in the throes of night-waking with a toddler or young child, though, don’t worry there's still hope.
When you hear your child fussing, don’t rush in right away. Give him a few minutes to see if he’s really awake and needs you. If so, go into his room and provide some gentle reassurance that you’re there for him. Avoid picking up your child if possible, but do gently pat their back and let them know that you’re there. Again, it’s best to leave your child’s room when they are drowsy, but still awake.
- Whatever you do, be consistent!
I know that the easiest thing to do is almost always letting your child crawl into bed with you- we’ve all done it! However, this will not facilitate your child’s ability to sleep independently. And if sleeping independently is your goal, I encourage you to be consistent about taking her back to her own bed. I will, say, though, that I always make exceptions to this in times of illness. A sick kiddo just needs mama, and you’re likely to feel more at peace, knowing your little one is nearby.
Consistency is always key! Consistent bedtimes, consistent routines, and consistent responses will set you up for success.
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About the Author:
Stacy grew up in Minnesota but spent the next several years of her life traversing the globe, temporarily setting down roots anywhere and everywhere. Stacy is extremely passionate about the world of adoption and foster care, having spent a year in Uganda adopting her oldest daughter in 2008. Stacy married her husband Jesse in 2011, and they moved to Oklahoma City to grow their family. They currently have three children; a 12-year-old girl, a 6-year-old boy, and a 1-year-old boy. Though she will be parenting for the rest of her natural days, she deeply appreciates the age differences between her kids. Stacy obtained a Master’s degree in child psychology in 2007, but currently uses it only on her own children! A stay-at-home mama since Baby #3 was born, Stacy has stayed busy keeping her children alive and relatively entertained. She loves her little crazy crew fiercely and uses writing as her creative outlet. When she’s not chasing her kiddos, Stacy is likely traveling or daydreaming about traveling. She also enjoys coffee shops, copious amounts of “cop drama” shows, and perusing Pinterest for ideas that have little chance of ever getting done. But they’re good to have. Just in case.