You know those nights when you wake up the next morning and it’s just a blurr. How many times did I get up to resettle him? I lost track after 5! Yip, I’ve been there. This Mama didn’t become a sleep coach out of thin air. The struggle was real and I made it my mission to learn all the information around baby and toddler sleep to help other Moms in a similar sleep deprived, frustrated and desperate situation. There are so many reasons why your baby or toddler wakes up all night, let me share the 9 most common reasons with you.
Reason number one: Too much day sleep
If your baby or toddler is getting loads of sleep during the day, that’s great! The problem is, if they are getting too much, this will rob from the night and your little one won’t have sufficient sleep pressure to sleep well and for long stretches. Try trimming their day sleep if you think your little one is getting too much. Read this blog post to give you a ballpark of average sleep needs per age and how to figure out your baby’s unique sleep needs. If your little one is way above this, you might need to increase wake windows and/or cap those naps for better night sleep!
Reason number two: Naps aren’t in their biological nap windows
This is probably one of the most common factors I come across in my practice. You might be like, wait what? What is a biological sleep window? This is when your toddler has natural dips in energy and his body will produce the necessary hormones for sleep. If your little one is having a nice long sleep first thing in the morning and then doing a short sleep second (top heavy nap routine) this will impact the nights as they will be overtired by bedtime. Or if your little one is having a nice long nap too close to bedtime, this will also disrupt nights. We want to ensure your little one is getting the bulk of their sleep at the right time. If you are needing help with this, you can grab my FREE 3-12 Month Schedules or 1-3 Year Old Schedules as a starting point or book a once-off consult to ensure your little one’s naps are distributed optimally for her age.
Reason number three: Overtired/under-tired at bedtime
Kind of like the previous reason, if your little one isn’t napping well in the day or having a very long wake window before bedtime, chances are they will be overtired at bedtime which can result in frequent night wakes. This typically shows up in the first part of the night with false starts after bedtime or waking every couple hours crying but are typically easy to resettle. If your little one is sleeping too long in the day or napping too close to bedtime then they will likely be under-tired also resulting in poor night sleep. This often shows up as difficulty settling at bedtime, waking for long periods overnight or waking early and ready to start the day. It is a delicate balance, but if you get it right, oh the benefit is huge.
Reason number four: They’re dependent on you to get to sleep
If you are assisting your little one to sleep at bedtime and then they will only resettle overnight if you do what you did to get them to sleep, it could be that this sleep association is causing the frequent night wakes. This too is so common! If you are spending ages trying to get your little one to sleep, it’s taxing on you and you suspect the night wakes are due to a parent-dependent sleep association, have a read over my “Should I Sleep Train my Baby for Better Sleep?” blog post. If you want to dive right in to making shifts to settling, check out my guide below (which also happens to include all the schedules with troubleshooting when things go off track in the day).
Reason number five: They’re uncomfortable
Imagine trying to sleep when it is really hot and stuffy, or when it’s really cold and you don’t have enough layers on. You would really struggle to settle. Here’s another one, when you are sick with a blocked nose, how annoying is it when you are trying to fall asleep? It’s the same for your little one. If your toddler is hot, cold or in pain, they will struggle to sleep soundly. Illness will often cause your little one to wake frequently overnight if they have a blocked nose or earache from an ear infection. Always check ears if you think your little one is a little off, this is commonly missed as many babies don’t develop fevers or show any outward signs of an ear infection. Other common discomforts include digestive upset from food allergies/intolerances or reflux/silent reflux. When I’m working one-on-one with a client we rule all of this out to set your little one up for sleep success.
Reason number six: Low iron levels
This only really applies to older babies from around a year old and is really common if there is a history of low iron in your family and/or if your little one is not consuming sufficient animal protein. Low iron levels results in restless and poor quality sleep. If you suspect this could be the case with your little one, get their iron levels checked out!
Reason number seven: Developmental leaps
Developmental leaps (like teething) can be quite an easy go-to scape goat for sleep issues. Sometimes it is blamed incorrectly (there is something else at play, like one of the other reasons) and sometimes developmental milestones can really impact sleep. Throughout the first few years of life, there are major leaps in physical and mental development and there are also a few peaks in separation anxiety. This can disrupt sleep on and off during these phases. Giving your little on lots of practice during the day and plenty of quality time with cuddles will help them get through these periods.
Reason number eight: Hunger
If your little one is not feeding/eating well in the day, they make up for this overnight. And sometimes this can result in reverse cycling which is when your little one is taking too many calories in overnight resulting in decreased appetite in the day. They then will need to wake in the night for an extra feed to make up for this. A good rule of thumb to avoid this if your baby is still feeding overnight and is older than 3 months, try only offering a feed if it has been more than 4 hours from the previous feed, and resettle for the other wakes.
When it comes to toddlers, they are growing exponentially, using more energy as they become more mobile and their brain is running on overdrive making new connections and neural pathways. So it is to be expected that they need plenty of nourishing foods. Ensure your little one is getting sufficient protein and other nutrient dense foods throughout the day. If your little one is still feeding overnight, this can put them off their appetite during the day resulting in genuine hunger overnight. To fix this, you’ll need to reduce the overnight milk so that their appetite can increase during the day. If you need more help with night-weaning, this is a good one to book a once-off consult for, get my full sleep support package or grab my night weaning masterclass!
Reason number nine: Big bed too soon
This is such a common mistake I see parents making. It is a growing trend to move babies into big beds really young. Toddlers don’t have the impulse control to stay in bed until they are about 3 years old, so they will keep getting out of bed at bedtime and when they wake overnight resulting in disrupted sleep for them and frustration for you. I highly recommend keeping your little one in a crib until as close to 3 years old as possible. If they are climbing out of their crib, ensure they are not using any stuffed animals or cushions as leverage, they’re in a sleep sack and make sure the crib base is at the lowest setting. If after exhausting all of this and your toddler is still climbing out, it is not safe to keep them in their crib. In this case, you will unfortunately need to move them into a big bed (with sides) and then treat the room as a crib by using a baby gate.
I hope this was helpful! Let me know in the comments which of these reasons you think applies to your situation 🙂