Struggling when your child won’t stay in bed? Discover 7 things to do when your toddler keeps getting out of bed in the middle of the night.
Getting your toddler to stay in bed all night has been a challenge. You’ve tried positive reinforcement, crafted a rewards chart with stickers, and even threatened with punishment.
Still, every night, she ends up sleeping in your bed (and hogging up the space).
Sure, you transition into the bedtime routine smoothly, and she’ll even fall asleep after you’ve turned off the lights.
But at least once a night for the past several weeks, she’ll wake up for various reasons. Some nights, she wants a drink of water, on another, she “needs” a specific toy to sleep with. And sometimes, she’ll even throw a full-on tantrum, especially when you won’t oblige and tell her to go to bed instead.
When your toddler keeps getting out of bed
You’re at your wits end, and for good reason.
Lack of sleep means you can’t function as clearly as you should. Your work is suffering and your temper is short. All these wake ups are making the whole household—including your other kids—miserable.
Thankfully, you’re not without options. The trick is to plan ahead, knowing that the short-term difficulties will lead to long-term changes in your child’s sleep patterns. Take a look at these tips to keep her from getting out of bed:
1. Don’t bend to your toddler’s requests
Middle-of-the-night requests are some of the most challenging. Maybe your toddler wants to sleep in your bed, or wants you to find his stuffed animal, or read more bedtime stories.
These requests can be genuine, but they can also stem from his desire to test your boundaries. Just how far can I get away with this? he wonders.
Now is the time to hold your ground. Barring a few circumstances (potty accidents, feeling sick or scared), don’t oblige the request, and instead walk him back to his toddler bed. Keep your interaction subdued—even discipline or well-meaning conversation rewards his wake ups.
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2. Prevent the wake ups in the first place
Does a common reason wake your toddler up at nighttime? Try beating her to the punch.
- Does she ask for water or say she’s thirsty? Leave a sippy cup by her bed.
- Is she awake from hunger? She should eat enough during dinner time (this also prevents crankiness!).
- Does she get up to pee and can’t fall back asleep? Limit how much liquids she can have in the evenings.
- Is her bed and room uncomfortable? Consider what it feels like to sleep and stay in bed all night. If her pillows bunch up and the mattress is lumpy, find ways to make her bed and room more conducive for sleep.
Sometimes what seems like incessant, useless gripes turn out to be genuine concerns. Don’t wait for her to reach that point—prepare her sleeping arrangements to avoid those issues to begin with.
3. Tire your toddler out
Help your toddler stay in bed all night by tiring her out during the day. The best sound just might be the yawns during story time before bed, when you know she’s expelled enough energy and is ready for sleep.
When she has way too much zing and it’s 10 minutes until light’s out, she has even more reason not sleep through the night.
So, use a good part of the day for activities. In fact, our pediatrician told us that kids shouldn’t remain sedentary for more than hour at a time. That means they shouldn’t sit with a computer or even read a book in the same place for more than an hour.
Instead, they should take breaks and switch between rest and activity throughout the day.
4. Time your toddler’s naps and bedtimes well
The time between nap and bedtime can feel like a “dance” sometimes. Schedule nap time so it’s not too close to bedtime—aim for a good two to three hours of awake time between the two. Otherwise your toddler won’t feel sleepy enough to actually fall asleep.
Another option is to push her bedtime back. If she’s in bed by 6:30pm, you might have better luck if she sleeps around 7:30 or 8pm, especially if she had just napped not too long ago. She may not be tired enough if her bedtime is too early.
And of course, you can also wake her from the last nap, allowing you to keep bedtime at its normal time. Should her last nap start creeping past 4:30pm for instance, you might want to wake her up before then so she’s still sleepy come 7:30pm.
5. Avoid punishments
Have you had a meaningful conversation while you’re half-asleep? Me neither. The middle of the night is not the time to discipline, scold, or reason with your child.
For one thing, he isn’t coherent enough to understand the impact of his behavior. Telling him he can’t watch television the next day if he keeps getting out of bed doesn’t mean much. He can’t tie going to bed with watching television the next day.
He’s also half-asleep (even if he may not sound like it). He’s not making profound decisions, and any teachable moments will likely get lost. You’re also half-asleep, which can lead you to say or do things you’ll later regret. You might not follow through with consequences, say harsh words, or lose your temper.
Instead, ignore his requests and keep things subdued, without resorting to punishments.
If he needs to tantrum, comfort him or give him space, but don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a battle—now isn’t the time. The more attention you give his wake ups, the more he’ll assume this is all normal.
6. Find underlying reasons
Kids’ gripes aren’t always as petty as they seem. Take, for instance, your toddler’s relentless requests to read a book. It’s just a book, you might think.
But she still wants you to read during the most inconvenient times. An argument ensues, a tantrum bursts, and this petty thing has become a battle.
But the reasons aren’t always so superficial. Wanting to read could spell her need for genuine attention. One you may not have been giving because she’s noticed you’re stressed or sick. Or she could be afraid of sleeping in the dark, and can’t or won’t admit it.
Before you write off these frustrating episodes as yet another petty excuse, dig deeper. What changes are going on in your household? I notice that stressful events in my life coincide with how often my kids act up. Coincidence perhaps, but something tells me it’s not.
Understand your child’s needs. These middle of the night wakings may not just be about sleep. You’ll also grow more empathetic to her struggles. They seem insignificant if you only see it as a request for water or play time. But on a deeper level, they can signal a different need.
7. Talk to your doctor
I’m one of those people that relies on my kids’ pediatrician for any concerns I can’t seem to resolve on my own. If your toddler is chronically failing to sleep and you can’t figure out why, consider calling his doctor.
She might help you uncover health issues you may not be able to pinpoint on your own. And she could point you to best practices and offer further advice. It doesn’t hurt to ask for help, and doctors are a great resource for any issues that baffle you.
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It’s never easy when your toddler keeps getting out of bed in the middle of the night, but with a few changes, you can turn things around.
For starters, don’t oblige his requests, even if it means dealing with toddler tantrums at bedtime. Prevent the wake ups from happening in the first place. Experiment with his schedule by tiring him out during the day and fiddling with his nap and bed times.
Avoid harsh punishments, especially in the middle of the night, and find underlying reasons for these wake ups. And finally, talk to his pediatrician, as she can point you to resources and offer medical advice.
No more sleep-deprived wake ups, friend! Now you can have your full night of sleep—and even your bed—back once more.
p.s. Check out The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan, a hilarious children’s book to encourage your toddler to sleep in his own bed:
Get more tips:
- How to Respond when Your 3 Year Old Won’t Stay in Bed
- What to Do When Your Toddler Is Hysterical at Bedtime
- Children’s Books about Bedtime
- 6 Tips on Helping Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed
- How to End Bedtime Battles and Get Your Child to Finally Sleep
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