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8 reasons why your 1 to 5 year old wakes crying at night

Are you wondering why your toddler (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 year old) wakes crying, again? Oh yes–it finally happened. Your little one started sleeping through the night. Pretty consistently. You were catching up on that sleep you deserved. The Zzz’s were glorious! 

A few weeks go by and your little one started waking again. But you weren’t worried–you’d gained some awesome baby sleep knowledge during the infant stage and knew that sleep can be unpredictable with transitions and changes but they will settle down soon.

Sleep stability happens again and those nights with your head on your fluffy soft pillow are just divine. Everything is going well and you think that disrupted sleep and all-nighters are behind you, forever. Then suddenly–your toddler wakes and wake you too. Your toddler has decided sleep is no longer a part of their plan and YOU, my friend, are unprepared and out of your sleep knowledge league!

Your thoughts start racing, with questions that have no answers (yet!)

  • What is happening?!
  • Where did this come from?!
  • Why are you doing this to us–you are a toddler now!
  • This is supposed to be behind us!
  • Why is my toddle waking, again?!

And it feels like the story is going to end something like this.. Toddler continues to visit your bed forever(or maybe they never left it in the first place)

➡️ You give up on ever getting that glorious sleep from before ever again
➡️ You all live miserably ever after.

Guess what! You aren’t alone–each week I am met with DMs all telling me a much too familiar story…”Hey Valerie. My toddler started waking again. All. Night. Long. Is this a sleep regression?! WTF?!” So let’s get you some answers, here are 8 reasons why your toddler wakes and wakes you too.

1. Hungry

This one really depends on daytime nutrition and food intake as well as the length of your toddler’s night. However, breastfeeding overnight is STILL biologically normal all the way to 18 months (and sometimes beyond!). If your little one is nursing at night, and this works for both of you – it is not a sleep problem.

Many toddlers do drop their feeds by 12 to 18 months. Others do not and that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your little. Overnight feeding is impacted by the daytime. If your little one spent extra time away from you during the day, they may want to nurse more overnight. Similarly – during growth spurts they may be nursing more as well. To learn normal toddler sleep patterns from 1 – 5 years click this link and get our free normal toddler sleep guide. If you are ready to drop those night time feeds and would like it to be an easy and smooth experience, watch the night weaning webinar.

2. Thirsty 

Here is the awesome news about toddlers. It is realistic to show them how to get their own water if they wake thirsty in the night. After 12 months, you can add a small water bottle into their sleep space. Designate a specific spot that is easy for the to reach and use a bottle that wouldn’t spill when unused. For example, 360 cups or straw bottles. Make sure to practice getting the water during the day. It can help to remind them how to do it at night, they will get the hang of it in no time.

3. Schedule Imbalance: too tired or not tired enough (aka overtired or undertired)

You hear about overtired babies but do toddlers also get overtired too? the short answer is yes. Here is the good news – toddlers actually can tolerate much more time awake than babies do. Toddlers typically are not as sensitive to going over their optimal time awake time. This means it is unlikely that you are dealing with several wakes once they fall asleep at the start of the night. Toddler overtiredness may look different and result in long bedtimes and night terrors. Toddler under-tiredness which means going to sleep too early or getting too much daytime sleep has other signs. Under tiredness can result in bedtime delays, early morning wakes or middle of the night parties. That is being wide awake for a few hours in the middle or the night. Need help resolving these as soon as possible? join the toddler sleep essentials now.

4. Light or noise in the room

Sleep can be lighter towards the early morning because we slept all night and decreased sleep pressure  (something that keeps us sleeping deeply) so outside noises or light can wake toddlers up more easily at the early morning. Is their sleep space bright in the early morning? Is there someone in the home getting ready for work and making noise? Maybe you are cosleeping or bedsharing and someone in the room is more restless towards the early morning.

5. Learning to use the bathroom (also known as waking to go to the toilet)

Learning to potty independently is no easy feat and learning to use the bathroom on their own overnight – that’s a whole other level of independence. It is likely that you will go through a period of wakefulness as your toddler navigates and learns to use the potty at night (even if they are learning it during the day but wearing a diaper at night- this is a big milestone and change for them that can result in more disrupted sleep).

6. Discomfort or illness

Well this is a quick one –  teething, feeling hot or cold, going through illness or an injury can all disrupt sleep as they would for us as adults too. So the best starting point to getting more sleep is relieving the discomfort.

7. The ultimate toddler wake up-per Toddler nighttime fears

….There are monsters under the bed and they must wake you to help with that. Another reason why your toddler wakes could be nightmares or night terrors.

From nightmares to night terrors to having separation anxiety the toddler brain has a big imagination and the fears may seem trivial to you as the adult but they are very real for your toddler.

Night Terrors: What are they?

Your child expressing intense fears through physical or verbal actions while they seem completely asleep. So they might be talking or walking. They might seem very upset, but they also seem at the same time, like they’re still asleep. It can last for a few minutes to around 20 minutes, sometimes more. And it can be very scary for parents to watch their child do this, but it’s not actually distressing to your child. And it’s not commonly remembered when they wake up.

One in six children have nightmares and they can affect both boys and girls and they’re not dangerous but can be a sign that your toddler is overtired.

Nightmares: What are they?

Nightmares might be more familiar to you they result from waking from a bad dream usually remain as a vivid memory and they sometimes are increased with daytime stress or ongoing repressed emotions.

8. Going through a big change or transition (daycare, new sibling, moving)

I often get direct messages that sound something like this, “Valerie! Help! My 3 year old is suddenly waking. Is there a 3 year old sleep regression?!” I’ll ask a few more questions and discover that there is a new baby in the house. It might not be obvious when you are in the middle of it but another reason why your toddler wakes is big changes in their life. Imagine this – you had a lovely time with your favorite people. Suddenly, one day this alien comes to your home and gets all the attention from your favorite people. You too, May have a harder time sleeping soundly. Tips for adding a sibling in this YouTube video.

The reason why your toddler wakes when big changes happen is similar to what happens to adults. For example, you may have a hard time sleeping before a big project at work. As adults we can help ourselves get back to sleep when we wake in the night – for our toddlers – they are still learning and need our help and guidance to be able to return to sleep on their own. Sometimes all that’s needed is a snuggle and reassurance.

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it gave you ideas and confidence in understanding your toddler better. If you are ready to transform your toddler’s sleep to dreamy then join the Toddler Sleep Essentials Course now.

Want to learn more about why your toddler wakes and HOW to reduce the wakes? Watch toddler sleep workshop now

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