Hero Image
profile picture of Elizabeth Pantley
Elizabeth Pantley
Parenting Expert

Toddler Waking Up at Night?

My toddler recently started waking again in the middle of the night. What’s going on? What should I do?

Frustrating, isn’t it? Getting up five times a night when your baby is a newborn is one thing, but waking up nightly — after you’ve gotten used to a solid night’s sleep (and have lots to do the next day) — can feel like torture.

You’re not alone. Many, many toddlers (and their exhausted parents) are up at least once a night. “Technically speaking, it’s impossible for a child to sleep ‘through the night’ at any age,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution. “All human beings wake up five or more times each night, particularly when shifting form one stage of sleep to another.”

In other words, it’s perfectly normal for your toddler to wake up at night. You can’t stop it from happening, but with some effort, you can keep him from waking you up too. Ideally, you want him to be able to fall back to sleep — without your help — each time he does wake up, says Pantley. “Make sure that your child’s bed is comfortable and cozy,” she says. “See if you can introduce or add other elements that might reduce your child’s need for you. Perhaps a small, stuffed animal would make good company. Or some soothing white noise might help.”

Take a look at your  presleep rituals too; you might be unwittingly setting yourself up for a night awakening. “If you’re breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or rocking your toddler to sleep each night, he’ll be looking for that same sleep aid in the middle of the night,” Pantley says. “So try to reduce your helpfulness at bedtime — feed or rock him until he’s very sleepy (not sleeping), and then put him to bed. A back rub or soft words of reassurance once he’s there can help him drive off to sleep.”

Be patient with your toddler as you switch to a new routine. It takes time to learn new sleep habits.

Plus, more from The Bump: