The toddler years are often challenging, but even more-so when your peaceful, happy-sleeping little one turns into a wakeful toddler in the night. These nightmare nights can suddenly come out of the blue and leave both parents and toddlers exhausted.
Why is my toddler waking in the night?
There are many reasons why your super-sleeper has suddenly turned into a night-owl, so try not to worry. These things are easily resolved and are totally normal.
As daft as it sounds, over-tiredness can cause huge disruption to night sleep. Toddlers who suddenly refuse afternoon naps or go to bed too late, can really struggle with getting a good night’s sleep simply because they are exhausted!
What to do: Although your toddler is growing older - don’t feel this is a time to cut naps or let them stay up later. Routine is the magic key when it comes to great sleep so ensure your little one has regular naps, regular daily activities and a regular bedtime (ideally no later than 7pm). If your toddler refuses to nap and spends the time screaming, ensure they have some ‘chill time’ instead where they watch a movie snuggled up to recharge.
New baby? House move? Potty training? Starting nursery? There are so many new and exciting things going on during the toddler years that parents often don’t realise they can have an effect on sleep.
What to do: Preparation is key! Talk to your toddler in advance of any new changes. Use books and games to talk through changes and help them understand why things may be different. In time with lots of love and reassurance, things will settle once they are used to the change.
It’s one of those things that comes and goes with little ones and is easily sorted with a little time, patience and lots of reassurance. This can often come along when there has been a life change or if they have begun to have nightmares or night fears.
What to do: If your toddler cries as you leave the room at nap times or bedtimes, offer lots of reassurance by going back to them every now and again to help them feel settled. Try and keep them in their cot or bed, while you sit next to them holding their hand or stroking their head for a while until they are calm. Each night begin to move further and further away from their bed, until eventually you are at the door, then out in the hallway. It’s a gentle way of letting them know you are around, while helping them to feel safe and happy again in their bed.
Things that go bump in the night
Toddlers who have recently moved to a bed from a cot can often struggle with their new sleeping space and you may find them visiting you in the night. Some toddlers can even fall out of bed because they don’t have the safety of the cot bars keeping them in bed when they move around in their sleep.
What to do: Gently guide your toddler back to bed with very little interaction. Say something like’ it’s sleepy time, back to bed’ and snuggle them back into bed, reassuring them and stroking their head until they are settled, but don’t store them to sleep - this may create a new probable meaning they’ll find it difficult to fall asleep unaided. Repeat each time they make an appearance at the side of your bed, and they’ll soon get the idea.
For toddlers who fall out of bed, invest in a bed guard until they are a little older and less likely to fall.
Night fears and nightmares
As your toddler approaches 2 years old, their little imagination is a creation-station of ideas. This makes for wonderful day play, but can cause problems at night! Monster worries, fears of the dark, and spooky shadows all come from clever little imaginations.
What to do: Night fears and nightmares take calm and consistent handling. Invest in a little low-glow night light for your toddlers room. They may have always slept in the pitch black well before, but these new worries need to be comforted, so a low light will allow them to sleep, but also offer comfort if they wake in the night.
Try some homemade ‘monster spray’ by adding a few lavender drops to water and spraying around the bedroom to destroy monsters!
Ensure your toddler feels that their room is calm and safe, check under beds with them and don’t snub any monster thoughts by calling them ‘silly.’ To a toddler - monsters and spooky shadows are very real. Try some homemade ‘monster spray’ by adding a few lavender drops to water and spraying around the bedroom to destroy monsters!
For little ones experiencing nightmares, try and keep them in their bed and give lots of cuddles and reassurance that it was just a dream. Don’t leave until they are calm and feel safe. Nightmares are totally normal and nothing to worry about, even though they are often quite an upsetting experience all round.
A hungry toddler is a wide-awake toddler and a common cause of sleep regression when hunger pains strike in the night
What to do: Just like babies, when toddlers grow they need to take on more substance! Ensure your toddler is eating a varied and well balanced diet with regular healthy snacks incorporated into the day too.
A cup of milk with their bedtime story is comforting and helps toddlers to feel settled. If you’ve recently ditched the bedtime feed or bottle, introduce a cup of milk rather than a bottle so you’re moving forward.
Whatever reason your toddler is waking,be reassured that they won’t last for too long. With lots of patience and by being consistent in your methods, this little blip in the sleep routine will soon be far behind you.