Help! My toddler is waking in the night

Sudden night wakings can occur in babies and children at almost any age and often there seems no logical answer. Even for those who have been sleeping a full 12 hours through the night since 8 to 12 weeks can experience sleep disturbances at any time. Babies are not robots, however good your routine, and there are many reasons that can cause these sudden night wakings.

Here are some of the main causes and how to remedy them:

Daytime naps – too long or too short

Possibly daytime nap or naps need to be shortened and or condensed as the toddler maybe getting too much sleep during the day which is causing disruptions in his sleep pattern during the night.

The following is an approximate guide to naps, age and duration:-

10 months: 9am – 1 hour & 12:30pm – 2 hours

12 months: 12 noon – 2:5 hours.

14 months: 12:30pm – 2 hours.

18 months: 13:00pm – 1:5 hours.

24 months: 13:30pm – 1 hour.

30 months: no nap.

Of course this is only a guide. There is much variation on the duration and timing of the naps according to individuality. For example a child of two may no longer need a daytime nap, where as a three year old might still enjoy a 2:5 hour nap and both instances are fine as long as they both still sleep peacefully through the night.

In some cases early waking is due to a lack of sleep rather than too much. The parents may have mistakenly thought that the older toddler can handle a later bedtime or they may have dropped the daytime nap too soon. As the childs sleep-bank depletes it can have a negative effect on his long, night-time sleep causing him to wake during sleep lighter sleep cycles, crying out during the night instead of peacefully sleeping through as they were previously.

Emotional stress

Your toddler may be waking due to some emotional stress the toddler is picking up from his surroundings. Life isn’t always easy and challenging circumstances such a job loss, financial worries, a family bereavement or marital /relationship issues can be picked up on by little people, however much we try to shield them. This emotionally charged atmosphere can unsettle a child which in turn may lead to ‘unexplained’ night waking.


Teething pain may be disrupting their normally peaceful sleep pattern. Pain relieving gel, oral pain killers, teething powders or homeopathic remedies are the options available to relieve the symptoms and can be given at bedtime and during the night as necessary. Do try to keep the situation calm and administer the pain relief with the minimum of fuss, whilst giving comforting reassurances and then settle baby back to bed.


Illness can have a negative effect and cause sudden night disturbances. In some cases it’s obvious as the child may be vomiting or have a temperature, other times it might be more difficult to detect, for example – an ear infection or fluid build-up in the ear which may not give any outward symptoms. Giving pain relief and comfort as necessary is vital when they are unwell, but it’s also important to continue to try to resettle them back to sleep as rest will help them to recover.


These can affect a child’s sleep patterns as their little body has to work hard to process and deal with all the vaccine strains which in turn can affect their gut health and cause tummy ache or excess wind. However, this is often not an obvious reason for night disturbances as it can occur as long as three weeks after they were given the vaccines! Usually the disruptions will stop as quickly as they started and often the problems only last for a few days.

Developmental changes

These occur almost constantly as babies grow and can cause unexpected night wakings at various stages. There is no set age these happen and not all children will be disturbed by them, but if your child is 20 months plus and is suddenly waking at night and or refusing to settle at bedtime, it could be that he is protesting about being confined to a cot!

As their walking ability stabilises, they learn to run or even use a scooter it fills they experience a new freedom – the negative side of this is that they can grow to hate being confined in a cot.

Of course, for a parent who is experiencing sleep disturbances the thought of giving their already active toddler freedom at night-time by putting him into a bed can seem to be the most ludicrous suggestion in the world but it is a solution that works for very many. You just need to be sure that when you remove the bars of a cot you replace them with parental boundaries! More on this in my next column…

  • For the full details and guide on my “cot to bed” process plus a list of the tried and tested bedtimes rules, you can download an “instant help” directly from my website at from 20/4/15
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