Toddler Night Waking

Toddler Night WakingMany parents with babies who are troubled sleepers figure the baby will outgrow the issue. Some do, but many simply don’t. If your 4 month old is waking up a lot at night, you might think it’s normal. But, when she is 12 months, 18 months or 2 years old and now a toddler, you’re wondering just when she might outgrow this night waking problem or if she will at all.

There are a number of reasons why toddlers wake up at night. This article will outline a few main reasons:

Night Waking by Sleep Association

The same way your 4, 6, or 8 month old can struggle with sleeping all night, so can toddlers, if they don’t know how to get back to sleep without your “help”. I say “help” because all of our good intentions to help our babies and toddlers to sleep sometimes isn’t help at all and it only continues the night-waking longer than necessary. Of course, I don’t fault anyone (actually I do say it’s your fault here, but you know what I mean). I fell into the same trap. I didn’t know how complicated sleep could be until I had my first son!

The place we fall asleep and how we fall asleep is important. If you fall asleep on your bed and wake up at 2 am and you’re on the couch, you would be disoriented and wonder how you got there. If you fell asleep on a pillow and you wake up at midnight without your pillow, you might have trouble going back to sleep without looking for it. Very often we become our baby or toddler’s “pillow”. Therefore, it’s important to have good routines that set the stage for sleep, but when it comes down to that moment when your toddler falls asleep, it needs to be in the same environment he will wake up in periodically throughout the night. This is highly related to his personality and temperament. Some children can be rocked to sleep at bedtime and wake up 12 hours later while others will need to be rocked and re-rocked every hour or two. The key is to break the sleep associations if they are a problem.


Unfortunately, teething night wakings don’t go away for everyone until both the one-year and the two-year molars come in. My first son just had molars one day without too much upheaval, but my second son, wow! His one-year molars took MONTHS to come in. Fortunately, his rough sleep nights were only here and there with his worst being just over a week ago when he was also sick with Roseola. See my article about teething for more information.

Developmental Night Waking

When your baby was less than a year old, you had teething and learning to crawl and all sorts of fun things to keep them awake at night. Well, your toddler may have some night waking due to developmental milestones, too. The biggest one is learning to talk and the language explosion they will have around 18 months old (my sons did not have this until closer to 22 months). Some toddlers could be sensitive to other developmental milestones, but if they don’t have sleep associations, night waking is usually minimal during these.


I wrote a whole series on nightmares and night terrors here, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but nightmares obviously can wake up toddlers. After their imagination starts to really blossom, they become more aware of the world, develop reasoning skills, and start to put together that we are mortal (i.e. we can die), and things start to scare them. Also, disruptions or stress at home can cause nightmares too. The main thing to do is try to talk to him during the day about what might be scaring him and also make him feel safe and secure in his room and bed. A nightlight like this one really helped my son feel more comfortable. He didn’t have any nightlight until around 2 or 2 1/2 years old after he transitioned to a toddler bed when we were pregnant with #2. I did have to cover it up 85% with a washcloth because it was too bright. LOL!

All situations are unique and there could be other causes of night wakings, but these are the main reasons. Typically, once they are toddlers, they don’t need any feedings in most cases. If you need help on dealing with your toddler night waking, I encourage you to get our free guide, Toddler Sleep Secrets, or consider purchasing our comprehensive e-Book on toddler sleep, The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep. You can also contact me. I’d love to help!

How is your toddler sleeping?

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49 thoughts on “Toddler Night Waking”

  1. hi,
    my 2 year old has never slept well,he has had problems right from the start with reflux which has now gone,but always woke 3/4 times a night.
    he now wakes up 2/3 times a night crying out for daddy who usually puts him to bed.
    he sleeps with a night light and his bear,we think the problem is he sucks on the paw of his bear to get to sleep,which he has done for past year, and he seems to still suck all through the night if it falls out of his mouth he often wakes up looking for it saying bear bear or crys/whimpers till he finds it.
    he is very!!attatched to his bear and uses it ofetn in the day and night my husband really wants to take it away from him and maybe try cold turkey,im really worried about this having a stressfull affect on him.
    we cant agree and really dont know where to go next,please help us.

  2. My two year old was always a wonderful sleeper. Just over a month ago, she developed yet another ear infection and literally overnight, she would not go down and would wake periodically throughout the night. It was to the point where she would need to fall asleep in my arms and I would put her to bed. When she would wake, my husband or I would have to either sleep in her room with her or sit in the rocker – either way, she needed us to be with her to sleep. After she got tubes put in her ears, things began to normalize. Now, after a routine, she will go down without difficulty. Our problem now is that she will continuously wake throughout the night. She doesn’t always cry or carry on. In fact she mostly just gets up and runs into our room and stands there. She doesn’t say anything. All we have to do is walk her back to her room and she goes back down only to repeat the same behavior maybe 20 minutes later. This can happen anywhere between one and eight times a night. She isn’t fully awake when this happens. Help! My husband thinks she’s lonely. I have no clue what to make of it but we haven’t slept a full night in over a month and after having a normal sleeper for two years, it’s tough to go through this now.

    • @ Matt- It has been quite a while. I hope your son’s teeth came in and you are all sleeping better now!

      @ Karyn- It sounds like your daughter has developed quite a habit…With toddlers, it’s all about setting limits and being consistent. That they may protest the change for a few days or a week, but eventually they start to get the message. Here are two links to articles about setting limits with toddlers as well as how to implement a sticker/reward chart, which may be helpful in “convincing” your daughter to stay in her bed:

      I would also like to mention a product called the “Good Nite Lite” ( which many families find helpful in teaching kids to understand that it’s not time to wake up or get up.
      Good luck!

  3. I have a 16 month old who, for the past couple months, has been teething in the front and molars. At first he was a good sleeper, and then, even with Tylenol for the pain of teething, he started to wake up at random times of the night – usually between 11:50pm and 4:00am. I understand that I helped create this habit by giving him a bottle the first few times, but just tonight (it’s 12:45am as I write this) I let him scream, holler, fuss, and while for almost 40 minutes before I gave in and gave him a bottle. Of course, now he’s sound asleep – which is fine, the little guy needs it – and I’m all wound up. His normal bed time is between 6:15-7pm, he usually gets up between 6 and 7 am (besides the once a night), and he takes one nap a day, usually starting around 9:15 and ending between 11 am and 12:30 pm depending on how the night before went. Any help trying to get him to break this habit would be great as I am finally after 2 months off going back to work in a week and a half and can no longer afford to not sleep as it is a dangerous job.

  4. I have a 19month old and ever since she was 7 months she has been waking up at night and staying awak for 2-5 hours! It has gotten better since we moved her to a larger bed, but about half of the time she still wakes up and stays awake. She just wants to play! Even if I rock her or lay down with her, she just stays up and wants to play forever. It is never at the same time and like I said it is about half of the time now (which is better than every night like it was for months). She takes one nap that is 1-1.5 hrs long and it is around 1:30 or 2. I have to rock her to sleep (which is around 8/8:15). I have tried to just put her in her bed when she gets sleepy and she goes crazy!!!! What should I do? I don’t know anyone that has a baby that wakes up and stays awake for hours. Do I need to get special help? Thanks for any info.

    • Hi Dionna- It sounds like she has not learned how to go to sleep on her own if she’s being rocked to sleep and this most likely also affects her ability to go back to sleep on her own at night when she wakes. I would recommend that you work on creating a plan for teaching her to fall asleep on her own and then for how you will work to set limits with her for when she wakes at night. She’s probably going to protest for several days at these new changes but as long as you are consistent then you will start to see changes in her behavior. I would suggest you check out our Toddler Sleep ebook which covers the different methods that can be used to help her sleep. You can find out more about that book here: Good luck!

  5. I have a 26 month old who has never been a good sleeper, he’s maybe slept through the night 5 times since he was born. I’m up anywhere from 3-15 times a night with him and he usually has 1 nap a day. I know our biggest problem is that he’s attached to his bottle and has to have it through the night. We have managed to get him off milk and he takes water through the night which results in several diaper changes. Without his bottle there is no way he is going to sleep, we have tried that. It used to take only 1 bottle for him to sleep but now we are up to 3 bottles. I don’t know what to do. I know people say to let him cry it out but he has this special talent and can throw up at will, could be after 5 minutes of crying or only 1 minute. I am so tired and frustrated over all of this. I’m also tired of people telling me that he has to get off the bottle and I should just take it away from him regardless of what he does or how he feels. He’s still in his crib because I know if he was in a bed he would be up walking around his room or playing all night. I found it interesting that when he was in daycare for about 6 months he never had his bottle there and he took a nap with all the other kids. I have not found him to be any different from before he started daycare, during daycare of after it. I’m wondering if he is just a light sleeper and will always be like this. Any help or ideas would be appreciated.

  6. Hi, my problem with my 13 month old is very similar to a lot of peoples that have wrote. A few months ago I actually had her sleeping through the night (10 nights straight) by making her go to sleep in her cot by herself but staying with her until she fell asleep. This worked great until she started teething with her top teeth, then we moved interstate a week after and then she had a cold, which meant she eventually started coming back to bed with us and quickly got into a habit of it. There have been a lot of changes for her with moving and now my husband is working away 4 weeks on 1 week off, but she seems to have settled now and is a very happy baby.
    The problem I am having now is that when she wakes at night she stays awake for hours!!! She doesn’t really cry, only for us to get her out of her cot and then she is happy, but she won’t actually sleep in our bed now either. She just wriggles around a lot and won’t go to sleep. She is inbetween 1-2 naps during the day (around 1- 1.5hrs each). I think she does need 2 naps still because she gets very overtired at night time otherwise, but I think when she has 1 nap a day around 11am-12.30pm and goes to bed a 7pm she probably sleeps better.
    I have tried everything! I know she can sleep through because she used to to it from 2-4months and then 10months and a few times inbetween. Crying it out does not work for her. If I leave her crying for even a couple of minutes and then check on her she is all hot and sweaty and has vomited and is very upset so I can’t do that. She is going to sleep in her cot by herself most of the time so I know she can self-soothe. It’s not teething at the moment, she is not too hot or cold. I just can’t work out why she is waking and then staying awake for 3-4 hours at night! Please help if you have any ideas!

  7. HELP!!! My 20 month old daughter has always been a great sleeper (5 hours a night at 5 days old). The last FIVE months have been tourcher on my husband and I. We get up 3-5 times a night to console her. She wakes up screaming, wants to be held and won’t go back in her bed. I know it’s not good… but we’re to the point where we just bring her in out bed so we can get some kind of “rest”. But even then she’s tossing and turning and chatting and just wants to play. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. It’s taking a toll on us!

    I have set up an appointment with my daughter dr. hoping they could give us some advice… so we’ll see

    She was in the hospital over a year ago with Kawasakis, but it hasn’t been confirmed still if that is what she had.

    We recently dropped her to one nap to see if that would help her sleep at night… Nada

    I know she is sleep deprived and I just want her to get the rest her body needs so she can stay healthy, grow and eat better!


    • Hi Monica,
      I’d recommend taking a look at this article about setting limits with toddlers: It may be a matter of coming up with a plan that you can consistently stick to for a few weeks to help her learn to go back to putting herself to sleep when she wakes at night. I understand just wanted to get some sleep at night because you’re so tired, but bringing her to bed with you doesn’t seem to be working and only reinforces with her that she will get to come be with mom and dad when she wakes. You might also consider an email consultation with Nicole to help you come up with a plan. You can find out more about her consultation services here: Good Luck!

  8. My daughter have not been a great sleeper either. For 19 months, she has gotten up 4-5 times a night 🙁 Well, anyways she has been sleeping 9-10 hours everyday for about 4 months . However the last couple of weeks she has been getting up 2-3 times a night. i think this is beacause she is starting to talk and her last 4 molars are coming in at the same time. When me and my husband were trying to get her to sleep through the night, we failed at almost everything. crying it out did not work or different diets. what worked for us was a 100 % natural product called CALMS FORTE FOR KIDS. This is suppose to help them go back to there natural sleep cycle. She was on it for about a week and was sleeping through the night.

  9. My two year old was an awesome sleeper until the last 1.5 months. He would fall asleep on his own before and slept over 10 hours. Recently he was been waking up crying wanting to be carried. I would rock him and put him back down but he just wakes up 15 minutes later.
    We are so exhausted that we started taking him to our bed. We know this is not the thing to do, but my wife is pregnant with our 2nd baby and needs her rest. Now he has been waking up earlier and earlier wanting to go to our bed.

    What are we to do? He gets a 1-1.5 hour nap daily. Bedtime is 8pm.He has two of his favorite sleep association stuffed animals in his crib with him.

  10. Thank you Kimberly for the reply!! Our girl is in bed at 5:30pm and is fully asleep around 6:00 (we have a video monitor). She is an early riser of 5:00 to 5:30 no matter what time she goes to bed so we put her to bed early for more sleep. Even on the days she is up for 2 hours she will usually fall back asleep and sleep in a bit to get on average 11 hours a night. For naps (once a day now) she sleeps for a minimum of an hour and a half. In total around 12-1/2 for 24 hours. Would you consider this the right amount of sleep and still conclude that this waking issue is a habit? If this is a habit what should I do? Thank you for any advice!

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