Is your toddler waking up at night and not going back to sleep? Learn 6 solutions to help your child sleep through the night again.
What is going on?! you might be wondering.
Your toddler suddenly won’t sleep through the night anymore, waking up at night and crying many times. She won’t go back to sleep either, despite several hours still to go before she usually wakes up.
She’ll go to bed fine with no fuss and will sleep through a long stretch. And sure, she’s woken up at night from time to time in the past. But at least she’d go right back to sleep—these days, not only does she keep waking up, she also refuses to settle down to sleep.
Sometimes, she’ll sit and chat or toss around in bed, but other times, she’s hysterical, waking the whole house every night. You’re left either holding and rocking her to sleep, or bringing her to your bed just so she stops crying.
The next thing you know, the both of you are in bed awake until it’s time to get up for the morning.
When your toddler is waking up at night and not going back to sleep
It’s never fun waking up in the middle of the night or in the early morning, but it’s even worse when your toddler won’t go back to sleep. She’s screaming for you at the same time every night, but you can’t get her to settle down. Instead, you’re both exhausted from the lack of sleep the previous night.
Many reasons could be contributing to her sudden wake-ups, from separation anxiety at night to her changing sleep needs. That’s why the best place to look for solutions is with her pediatrician. A quick call can be all it takes to ease your worries and give you a roadmap of what to do next.
When all has checked out, what can you do in the meantime to help her sleep well again? Take a look at these tips to do just that:
1. Keep your toddler active during the day
Let’s start long before you even put your toddler down: what she does during the day.
Try to keep her active during the day so she can feel appropriately tired by nighttime. She’ll be less likely to wake up in the middle of the night full of energy.
Our pediatrician had told us that kids shouldn’t be sedentary for more than an hour, other than while sleeping. If she’s been reading or playing with stuffed animals for an hour, encourage her to do something active.
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2. Shorten long naps
Next, let’s take a look at how your toddler is napping during the day. Most toddlers take one midday nap, but how long they do can affect how well they sleep at night.
Let’s say your toddler only needs 12 hours of total sleep within 24 hours. If she’s taking a giant three-hour nap during the day, she could be ready to go by the early morning.
See what happens if you shorten the nap, even by half an hour. Hopefully she can get more of her sleep at night rather than sleeping a long stretch during the day.
However, don’t do this if she’s taking short naps to begin with. If all you can get from her is a 45-minute nap, don’t shorten it further to 30 minutes. This only applies for those taking long naps.
Learn how to handle your 2 year old waking up at night for hours.
3. Push bedtime later
I tend to err on putting kids to bed earlier than later (8:30pm is the latest bedtime I would suggest). But some kids are in bed early—much earlier than they might need to be.
You can imagine that, with an early bedtime, your toddler could be awake and rested even in the middle of the night. She already had her long stretch of sleep and isn’t sleepy enough to doze off again.
Instead, experiment with pushing her bedtime later, even in 15-30 minute increments. You can hopefully transition her sleep so she’s asleep later in the morning (but again, don’t go past 8:30pm).
4. Put your toddler to sleep awake
Do you still feel compelled to rock your toddler to sleep, or hold her in your arms until she drifts off? Does she still need you in the room to fall asleep, or to sleep in your bed before you carry her to her own?
The biggest downside of you putting her to sleep is that she has no opportunity to do so on her own. By putting her down awake, she gets to do that for herself right from the start. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, she’ll know how to put herself back to sleep.
By learning that she can do this herself, she won’t need you (and cry for you) to do that for her in the middle of the night.
Check out these examples of a 2.5 year old sleep schedule.
5. Let your toddler fall asleep alone
What do you do when your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night? If you’re like many parents, you felt compelled to go to her room each time she cried and stayed there until she settled down.
Except doing this reinforces the very habits you’d rather do away with. She learns that she can’t fall asleep alone and that you’ll bend over backward for every tear or complaint.
Instead, be firm and let her know that it’s still time to sleep.
First, check to make sure that all is okay or if she truly does need your attention. If she doesn’t, say that it’s time to sleep and that you’ll get her up at a designated time in the morning. Then, close the door and go back to your room.
Set a timer for about 15 minutes to check in on her again should she still be crying. Repeat the same message: it’s time to sleep, and that you’ll get her up at the designated time. Continue to do this until she eventually falls asleep.
This way, she has an opportunity to fall asleep on her own, but she also knows you’re still here (and trying to sleep yourself!).
6. Get a toddler alarm clock
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Many parents have had great success with using toddler alarm clocks. Since kids this age can’t grasp the concept of time as well as you and I do, an alarm clock for toddlers can help.
Rather than telling your toddler that you’ll get her up at 7 o’clock, use the alarm to mark that time. Some will light up a certain color, while others will play a tune. Either way, she has a clear signal that she can get out of bed.
The most important part is to stay consistent and follow through. Keep wake up time the same every morning, and do get her up when it’s time. That way, she knows that she really can get up when the alarm goes off and doesn’t get mixed signals.
Take a look at these favorites:
With your toddler waking up at night and not going back to sleep, no wonder you’re exhausted. Thankfully, you can try a few tricks to help her fall back asleep.
Keep her active during the day so that she’s actually tired at night (instead of roaring to go). Shorten long naps so she gets a longer stretch of sleep at night. Push bedtime back (but no later than 8:30pm) to avoid waking up in the middle of the night.
Put her down to sleep awake so she learns to sleep on her own. Don’t feel compelled to go to her room each time she cries—instead, check in at set times so she knows it’s still time to sleep. And finally, use a toddler alarm clock to signal when she can be up for the day.
Hopefully, with time and consistency, she’ll sleep through the night once again!
Get more tips:
- How to Keep Your Toddler in Her Room at Night
- Top 6 Tips to Get Through the Toddler Sleep Regression
- How to Establish a Solid 2 Year Old Bedtime
- 5 Tips to Stop Your Toddler Waking Up Too Early
- How to Create a Toddler Sleep Schedule
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Got a four year old that for the past week she won’t go to sleep any later than 2 am. We send her to bed early and she just flips and goes crazy while she’s in bed. Almost like she can’t seem to stop. When she finally goes to sleep she’ll go to sleep for a couple hours and wake back up and stays up for a good chunk of the day. She’ll then fall asleep sometime in the afternoon for a couple hours and we wake her up because we want her to sleep at night but it doesn’t matter. She continues to do the same thing. She broke that sleep pattern one night and slept decent but last night, yet again, wouldn’t go to sleep till 4 and woke up at 6. She’s been up and going since and it’s now 1:30pm. She constantly can’t seem to stop moving. She keep trying to transition to sleeping during the day and not at night. We have a new born and between the baby being a baby and our four year old that refuses to go to sleep when she needs to it almost feels like we’re about to start pulling our hair out and we don’t know what to do.
We’ve tried sending her to bed early to calm down and that doesn’t work. We’ve also tried kid melatonin and it puts her to sleep for a tiny bit but she gets back up full of energy.
She’s been like this for a while but it’s been getting worse. Starting to think she has ADHD. All I know is if something doesn’t change soon I feel like we’re gonna go crazy… Any advise?
Nina Garcia says
Hi Zach! I would guess that her behavior is tied to you having a newborn. It’s normal for her to regress and demand your attention when she realizes that she has less of it because of the baby. Try to praise her for the times she does sleep well or even behaves well in general. Try as well to spend one-on-one time with her, without the baby or talking about the baby. And keep her days as routine as possible so that she feels comforted by familiarity. If you do suspect that she might need extra help, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to her pediatrician for a diagnosis, either. Good luck—I know how hard it is to have both an older child and a newborn!