Toddler Waking Up at Night and Not Going Back to Sleep

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.

Toddler Waking Up at Night and Not Going Back to SleepWhat is going on?! you might be wondering.

Your toddler suddenly won’t sleep through the night anymore, his cries waking the whole house every night. You’re left either rocking him to sleep or bringing him to your bed just so he stops crying.

You’ve had a consistent bedtime routine and no major changes in his life. He also goes to bed with no fuss and sleeps through a long stretch at first.

And sure, he’s woken up at night from time to time in the past, but at least he’d go right back to sleep. These days, not only does he keep waking up, but he also refuses  to sleep.

The next thing you know, the both of you are in bed awake until it’s time to get up for the morning. What can you do to help him sleep well again? Take a look at these tips to do just that:

2 Year Old Refuses to Sleep

Keep your toddler active during the day

Let’s start long before you even put your toddler down in the crib or bed: what she does during the day.

Try to keep her active during the day so she can feel appropriately tired by bedtime. She’s less likely to have disrupted sleep and 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.

Free resource: Struggling with raising a strong-willed child? Join my newsletter and grab 5 Tips to Raising a Strong-Willed Child! Discover 5 ways to nurture and work with—not against—her inner spirit and strong personality:

5 Tips to Raising a Strong Willed Child

Shorten long naps

Next, let’s take a look at how your toddler naps during the day. Most toddlers take one nap, but how long they do can affect how well they sleep at night.

Let’s say yours only needs 12 hours of total sleep within 24 hours. If nap time is three hours long, he could be ready to go by the early morning.

See what happens if you shorten the nap, even by half an hour. Hopefully, he can get more of his sleep at night rather than sleeping a long stretch during the day.

However, don’t do this if he’s taking short naps to begin with. If all you can get from him is a 45-minute nap, don’t shorten it further to 30 minutes. This only applies to those taking long naps.

Learn how to handle your 2 year old waking up at night for hours.

2 Year Old Waking Up at Night for Hours

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 and isn’t sleepy enough to doze off again.

Instead, experiment with pushing bedtime later in 15-minute increments. You can hopefully transition to this new schedule so she’s asleep later in the morning (but again, don’t go past 8:30pm).

Put your toddler to sleep awake

Do you still feel compelled to rock your toddler to sleep or hold him in your arms until he drifts off? Does he still need you in the room to fall asleep, or to sleep in your bed before you carry him to his?

The biggest downside of you putting him to sleep is that he has no opportunity to do so on his own. But if you put him down awake, he gets to do that for himself right from the start. Then, when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he’ll know how to put himself back to sleep.

So, tuck him under his blanket, give him a kiss goodnight, and allow him to fall asleep. Trust that he can learn this new habit of putting himself to sleep. By learning that he can do this himself, he won’t need you (and cry for you) to do that for him in the middle of the night.

Check out these examples of a 2.5 year old sleep schedule.

2.5 Year Old Sleep Schedule

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 cries and stay there until she settles 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 bend over backward for every tear or complaint.

Instead, be firm and reassure her that it’s still time to sleep. You’re not checking in to provide comfort or stop her from crying so much as helping her learn that you’re still here but that it’s 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 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.

Get a toddler alarm clock

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Many parents have had great success with using a toddler alarm clock. 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 child that you’ll get her up at 7 o’clock, use the alarm to mark that time. Some light up a certain color, while others 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 allow her to get up when you said she could. 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:

Add white noise

I don’t know about you, but I hate having to tiptoe around the house for fear that my kids might wake up. And personally, any jarring sound I hear when I sleep can easily jolt me awake if I’m in a silent room.

That’s why one of the best tricks is to add white noise to your child’s room. This can be a fan or heater, an actual white noise machine, or an app or audio. The white noise muffles any sounds that can startle her awake.

Practice milestones

Falling asleep can sometimes be difficult when you’re excited about something. Maybe it’s the anticipation of a new job or the fun conversation you had with a friend over the phone. Any time our minds are preoccupied, falling asleep becomes harder.

The same is true for your 1 year old, especially as he practices developmental milestones he’s now learning.

From crawling to pulling up, he uses sleep time to “practice” these skills, eating up the time he should be asleep. Then, when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he’s already overtired, making it harder to fall asleep once again. Or maybe he’s practicing how to pull himself up on the crib but feels frightened when he realizes he doesn’t know how to get back down.

While you can’t stop him from practicing, you can ensure that he has plenty of time to flex his skills during the day. Maybe this means letting him roam the room instead of keeping him in the infant seat or encouraging him to clap his hands or speak new words.

Not only can he have more time to practice these skills during the day, he just might be tired enough to sleep through the night.

Reassure your child’s anxieties

One of the biggest culprits you might be facing is separation anxiety at night, making your child wake up because you’re not there.

As distraught as he might be, feeling just as anxious yourself can make him feel worse. Rushing into the room as if he’s in danger sends the message that he’s not safe being alone.

Instead, go in when he cries and offer a calm yet quick reassurance that you’re still here. Don’t enable habits you don’t want, like picking him up to rock him to sleep. Let him know that it’s time to sleep and that you’re in the next room.

Set your timer for a few minutes and check in again should he still be crying. Keep these brief, reminding him that you’re still here and that it’s time to sleep. The more consistent you can be, the more he can get the message that everything is okay.

Another tip is to offer a special stuffed animal or lovey to sleep with. Having an attachment item is a healthy way to soothe himself without you in the room.

Don’t give in

The middle of the night isn’t exactly the best time to make coherent, smart decisions. So, if you’ve ever allowed your toddler to climb into bed with you just so everyone can finally fall asleep, you’re not alone.

Still, it’s in enabling these very habits that extend the lack of sleep even further. Maybe she still wakes up at night for milk or you have to rock her to sleep—anything that isn’t sustainable in the long run will only continue the longer you allow them to.

Instead, don’t give in to these unsustainable requests. Of course, make exceptions should she be sick, and you should always be compassionate as you reassure her of her anxieties.

But so long as she has no real need (especially when you know she can fall asleep on her own), keep your middle-of-the-night contact minimal. Be consistent and this can likely resolve in a few days (rather than extend for months on end).


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).

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 for you—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.

With time and consistency, you won’t be wondering if she can sleep through the night anymore!

Get more tips:

Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab 5 Tips to Raising a Strong-Willed Child:

5 Tips to Raising a Strong Willed Child

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. 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.

    1. 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!

  2. Our daughter is 21 months old and these past 2 weeks she has been waking up at the same time every night (between 12:30-1:30am). She wakes up crying and won’t go back to sleep for 2 or 3 hours.

    We are worn out. She goes to bed around 8:30pm and we still have to hold her to sleep as we can’t get out of that pattern. We have tried putting her to bed without holding her but she just stands up and cries. I have a bad back so it’s her dad who has to hold her in the middle of the night as she’s now too heavy for me to do so. It seems strange that she wakes at the same time every night and the fact that she is being held. It takes forever to get her to settle. We change her diaper, give her a drink, hold her till she goes to sleep but then when we put her down she cries and wants to be picked back up again and it takes hours before she settles.

    We have wondered if it’s environmental, like something she can see or hear that scares her. She has a nightlight but maybe she is scared of the shadows it makes. Is it nightmares? But whatever it is its the same time every night! I don’t understand what could bother her at the same time. Now we’re worried she could be forming a habit in order to get attention from us. I have no idea but we are desperate to sort it out. Do you have any ideas what could be going on? Thank you for reading.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I can definitely see why you’re exhausted with the repeated wake ups, at the same time, too. There could be a chance that she’s afraid of the shadows that the night light is casting, at which point you can do a quick test and see what happens if you take it out of the room. If she still cries, then you know it’s not that.

      Also, I know she feels really young, but see if you can talk to her about what’s bothering her. Not when she wakes up, but during the day when she’s calm. You might be able to get a better sense of what could be driving her to wake up.

      But I do think that it’s become a habit, one where she needs to be held to sleep. She got “trained” to sleep this way, since you must’ve done it at one point, she liked it, and the cycle continued, to the point where she doesn’t really know how to put herself to sleep on her own. The reason I think it’s this is because the time she wakes up is so predictable, which makes me think she’s waking up after a sleep cycle and can’t put herself back to sleep.

      If you think about it, you and I and other adults wake up throughout the night, but we’ve since learned to put ourselves back to sleep. We hug a pillow, find a new position, etc. But her go-to move is to be held by you or your husband, so when she wakes up and can’t put herself to sleep, she cries for you to help her do so.

      Maybe consider helping her self soothe so that she can do this on her own. Now when she wakes up, she’ll know to go right back to sleep 🙂