Need to wake your toddler from long naps? Waking a child up up can make lead to cranky days. Learn what to do when your toddler won’t wake up from nap time.
I had a “good” sleep problem with my twins: they napped a lot.
While my eldest napped for 45 minutes—tops—my twins would easily take a two-hour nap, many times even longer.
The long naps were fantastic when I needed a break, but not-so-great when they botched the rest of their naps or bedtime. Even an extra 30 minutes would mean they wouldn’t sleep right away come bedtime, or that the next nap was pushed further back.
Not cool then.
So, I’d wake them up according to schedule to avoid oversleeping.
The problem though, was the waking up part. What do you do when your toddler won’t wake up from nap?
You and I know what it’s like to get woken up from deep sleep—it’s not pretty. And when done wrong, kids will often respond by screaming, crying—you name it.
What to do when your toddler won’t wake up from nap
And boy did I do it wrong at first.
My previous methods began by opening the door to their room, wide enough for the light in the hallway to wake them up. If that didn’t work, I’d open the curtains and blinds, hoping for the same effect. And if they were still asleep, I’d turn the fan off so that the silence would wake them.
Sometimes even that didn’t work. But no matter what stage they’d wake up using these methods, one thing was for sure: they’d wake up cranky.
I could see why: Waking up to a different sleep environment is confusing when you’re still sleepy.
So I was forced to come up with new ways to wake them up. Ways that wouldn’t result in cranky kids, but still make sure I was able to wake them up by a certain time.
And it worked. Instead of inconsolable, grumpy toddlers, my twins woke up in good spirits, ready for the rest of the day. Below are the steps that finally helped:
Step 1: Keep the room the same, for now
Has someone ever woken you up from a nap by yanking the curtains wide open? (Or was my eldest sister just that cruel to me?) Anyone who has ever been startled awake by a change in the environment knows how difficult it can be to wake up.
Your toddler is no different. Going from sleep to having her environment changed so quickly is enough to set her off on a bad mood. She may have been rousing from sleep, disoriented from one change to the next. You can imagine why she’d wake up grumpy and upset.
Instead of a sudden change in environment, keep it the same—for now. Avoid pulling the curtains, turning the fan off and the light on, or shaking her awake all at the same time. You’ll have far more luck keeping her room the same and changing it toward the end of wake up time.
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Step 2: Create a slight disturbance
With the room still the same, now you can start creating a slight disturbance of sleep to wake your toddler up. Certainly not with the sudden opening of the blinds or turning off of the fan.
But you might rub your hand over her back or comb your fingers through her hair. Maybe you’ll adjust her stuffed animal out of her arms, or pull the blankets down a little. Or perhaps allow yourself to make a bit more noise opening the door than you usually do.
Think of these slight disturbances as tiny reminders that it’s time to wake up. They’re gradual signals and cues to gently rouse her from sleep.
Step 3: Keep conversations short and simple
At this stage, your toddler still isn’t ready to communicate or even process anything you’re saying. Now is not the time to start lengthy strings of conversations.
Instead, once she stirs, smile and say something brief like, “Good morning,” or “Hello there.” Keep your voice low and subdued so as not to startle her too much. And keep it brief—she’s far from the mood to talk just yet.
Step 4: Lie down with your toddler
One of the easiest ways I’ve woken up my kids without a fuss is to simply climb in bed with them as they began to wake up.
You’re extended her nice, “just woke up” feeling by snuggling with her. This works well if she sleeps in a large toddler bed or twin bed, giving you the perfect opportunity to join her as she wakes up.
If she sleeps in a crib or small toddler bed, you can carry and place her in another area of the room. Bring her to a recliner or a comfortable pillow on the floor and hold her there. Or, simply sit by her bed and try to snuggle as best you can by hugging her or laying your head down next to her body.
Then, give her a few minutes to stir with you right by her side. She’s less likely to fuss about waking up when you’re lying right next to her, ready to snuggle.
Step 5: Offer comfort items
As your toddler starts to wake and stir, now is a fantastic opportunity to offer her a few comfort items.
You might hand her a sippy cup of milk she can drink, which was always a favorite of my eldest. Give her the stuffed animal she had been snuggling with when she fell asleep. Or hand her a toy she can play with, now that it’s wake up time.
This transition will keep her mind focused on the positive things she can do now that she’s awake, instead of feeling angry that she had been woken up.
Step 6: Transition the room
Finally, only when she’s awake and feeling content, can you transition the room. What had been one of the first things I had done in the past turned out to be better saved for last. Now that she’s in good spirits from snuggling with you and holding her stuffed animal can you change her environment.
Turn off the white noise, draw the curtains, and turn on the light. Encourage her to get out of bed to use the potty, or suggest a diaper change. And now is when you can start talking in your normal voice level.
The key is to reserve this change for the last, once she’s had a few moments to stir and wake up in a good mood.
My twins didn’t always need this transition time. Sometimes they’d hear me open the door (their gentle disruption), or they’d sit up and wake themselves up on their own.
But there have been many times when not even the loudest noises would wake them up. This was when I started following these steps to transition them from deep sleep to light sleep and finally to awake time.
And you can do the same.
Start by keeping the room the same for now, and instead create slight disturbances like rubbing your toddler’s back or making small noises. Lie down next to her, keeping your conversations subdued and simple. Offer a few comfort items to make the transition into awake time feel more positive.
And finally, only once she’s completely awake, should you then transition the room to its former state before the nap.
It’s one thing if she wakes up all on her own—cranky or happy. But other times, you need to wake her up, and knowing how to do using these six steps so can make all the difference.
Get more tips:
- 1 Year Old Nap Schedule: Examples that Actually Work
- Helping Your Toddler Transition from Two Naps to One
- What You Need to Do when Your Toddler Won’t Nap
- What to Do When Your Toddler Wakes Up Crying from Naps
- How to End Bedtime Battles and Get Your Child to Finally Sleep
Do you struggle with getting your child to take a nap? Download my PDF, The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get a break while your child naps. Join my newsletter and grab your copy below: