Is your 2 year old waking up at night for hours? Learn how to stop kids from playing and being awake to sleeping through the night instead.
Many parents are caught off-guard by sleep issues in the toddler stage. Haven’t we gotten past the newborn sleep deprivation? they ask. Other times, they do see sleep issues, but the “typical” kind, like separation anxiety at night, or waking up multiple times.
So, when your toddler—who has no trouble falling asleep—wakes up in the middle of the night and plays for hours, you wonder what in the world to do.
After all, she’s happily playing, singing, and even chatting. Other times, you’ll see her trying to fall asleep—rolling, tossing, and turning around, before she calls for you again. You even thought it was a phase she’d outgrow, but after weeks and months of the same thing, you still see no improvement.
What to do with your 2 year old waking up at night for hours
For any parent who has conked out from sheer fatigue, you don’t understand why your 2 year old wakes up, especially when she had been awake all day. After all, she isn’t exactly sleeping in the next morning. In fact, she’s up at her usual time, which means she isn’t getting enough hours of sleep.
You’ve tried responding to her needs, keeping the interaction minimal. Her daily routine has been the same, too. You’ve tried everything, from cutting her nap short to checking her diet to keeping her active during the day.
So, how can you get your 2 year old to sleep all night?
First, check with her pediatrician to see what she recommends and to rule out issues you may not see. Then, take a look at these tips you can try that just might change your child’s nighttime behavior:
1. Prevent the excuses
Does your 2 year old wake you up saying she needs a cup of water or a change of diaper?
Now, if this were once in a while, then sure, pour her a cup of water or change her diaper. But if you find that she’s relying on these excuses to be awake, find ways to prevent them from happening.
For instance, fill a sippy cup and place it by her bed. Remind her that her diaper can last the whole night. Set a box of tissues by the bed if she wants to blow her noise. Tuck her sheets in tightly to prevent them from getting too ruffled. And take her to the potty one last time before going to bed.
By taking care of her needs before she falls asleep, she’ll have fewer reasons to wake up and get out of bed.
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2. Don’t get up and reinforce the habit
It’s tempting to get out of bed the minute you hear your toddler stirring. You’re so used to bolting upright at the tiniest sound, after all. But getting up and accommodating her needs—despite your good intentions—just might be sending the wrong message.
You see, getting your attention rewards her for her behavior. And yes, this includes any reprimands to go back to sleep or to stop talking. The more responsive you are to her behavior, the more she’ll continue to do it, especially if you get riled up.
So, how do you respond?
If she’s simply singing, playing, or chatting quietly, then let her do so. But if she’s waking others up, poke your head in the room and let her know it’s time for bed and go back to sleep. Don’t make it any bigger than that—close the door and move on.
What if she’s asking for things, like a cup of water or a favorite lovey? Granted, this might be a one-off night where she really is thirsty, or she hardly loses her lovey. But if it’s become a habit, don’t reinforce it by accommodating her needs. She can wait in the morning to tend to either request.
3. Get a toddler alarm clock
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You and I can rely on a clock to tell us when to start the day. Toddlers, however, still can’t tell time. So anytime you say, “It’s still time to sleep,” your 2 year old can understandably be confused. After all, we’ve all woken up with mornings so dark we weren’t even sure it was time to get up yet.
That’s why a toddler alarm clock might just be your next best bet. These clocks light up at a certain time of the morning, letting her know when it’s okay to wake up for the day. More important, anytime the clock is not lit up means that it’s time for her to sleep.
Take a look at these favorites from fellow parents:
4. Remove stimulating and loud toys
Even today, one of my boys will zip right past me when I open their door and head straight to the living room. He’s eager to play, and knows that his favorites are all lined up on the shelf outside his room.
The upside? No matter how early he wakes up or how often he wakes in the middle of the night, he knows better than to look for toys in his room.
If your 2 year old wakes up in the middle of the night because she’s excited to play with toys, take those toys out of her room. Remind her that they’re best played during the day, and will be waiting for her when she wakes up.
In the meantime, keep low-key and quiet toys, like stuffed animals, in her room at night.
5. Play in her room during the day
While you do want to remove stimulating toys at night, that doesn’t mean that she can’t play in her room during the day.
In fact, spending time in her room during the day just might help her sleep. She might be waking up because of the excitement of being in her room after not having been there the whole day. But by playing in her room, she would’ve had her “fill” during the day.
6. Create a conducive sleep environment
Our environment affects how well we sleep. For instance, we fall asleep quicker and more soundly in a dark room than a lit one. Take a look at your 2 year old’s room to see if you can change her environment to help her sleep better.
- Add darkening curtains to block light from outside
- Use a white noise machine to muffle sounds that might startle her awake
- Turn the lights off (or use a dim nightlight)
Another change you might want to consider is getting her a new toddler bed. If she’s still sleeping in a crib, she might be having a difficult time falling back to sleep because she’s outgrown it. A bigger bed could be all she needs to sleep comfortably through the night.
7. Give your toddler plenty of downtime during the day
Have you ever had a difficult time falling asleep because the day’s events were so… eventful? Or you couldn’t fall asleep from the excitement of the following day?
We all process our subconscious thoughts throughout the day, but the best times to do so is when we’re doing nothing. When we’re sipping a cup of tea, enjoying a shower, or driving our usual route. It’s in that downtime when our brains process all the information we feed it.
Now, imagine you’re a child shuttled from one activity to the next, or in front of the computer or television often. Having a packed agenda that is all input with no time to rest doesn’t give that child a chance to process the information she’s learned.
So, what does she do? She processes it the only time she does have nothing to do: in bed.
Make sure your 2 year old has plenty of downtime during the day. This means carving out a few hours of the day where she’s free to play, sit, and decide what to do. She might process the information she’s learned through pretend play or think about what she has seen as she gathers leaves at the park.
By giving her time to process her thoughts during the day, she’ll feel better able to “shut down” and finally fall and stay asleep at night.
Hearing your 2 year old waking up at night for hours is no pleasant sound. But as you can see, you can help her fall back to sleep and break this habit once and for all.
Avoid getting up if you don’t have to, and keep interactions brief and minimal if you still must. Prevent the excuses by giving her what she usually asks for before bedtime rolls around. Use a toddler alarm clock so she knows it’s time to keep sleeping.
Remove stimulating toys from her room that she’d rather play with than go back to bed. That said, she can still play with those toys in her room, but only during the day so she has her “fill” of them. Make sure her room is suited for sleep, from keeping it dark to transitioning to a new toddler bed.
And finally, carve out plenty of downtime during the day where she can process information then—instead of at night.
Sure, your 2 year old waking up at night for hours is at least playing and in a good mood. But with these tips, she’ll learn that the middle of the night is the time to sleep—not to play, chat, or sing.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Through the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
- 20 Examples of a 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule to Try
- Toddler Waking Up at 5am? What to Do with Early Risers
- How to Rock a Morning Routine for Toddlers
- 5 Tips to Help Your Overtired Toddler Finally Go to Sleep
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