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 consultant 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 toddler is waking up all night, let me share the 9 most common reasons with you.
Reason number one: Too much day sleep
If your 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. Check out this Instagram post of mine to give you a ballpark of average sleep needs per age. If your toddler is way above this, you might need to 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 really 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 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, 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 toddler 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. If your little one is sleeping too long in the day or napping too close to bedtime then they will likely be under-tired resulting in poor night sleep. 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.
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 enought 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.
Reason number six: Low iron levels
This 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 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. Between 1-3 years of age, there are major leaps in language 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
Your toddler is 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 a book a once-off consult for!
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 resulting in over-tiredness 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 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 🙂