Toddler Wakes Up At Night

Every 60 minutes—throughout the night—your child enters the light/drowsy part of her sleep cycle. That’s when little commotions can cause your toddler to wake up. These disturbances can sneak into her mind from the outside world or they can originate from deep inside her body.

And like the Princess and the Pea, when your sweetie is in light sleep, it takes little—scratchy sheets, a ticking clock, the smell of new furniture, the hall light, a siren down the street—to nudge her from dozing to drama. 

So, get rid of as many outside distractions as you can and crank up the white noise to cover intruding sounds and other distractions you can’t block. But if the night waking continues, you’ll want to focus on some disturbances that might be prodding her awake from inside her body.

1. Teething Is a Cause of Toddler Night Waking

When those toddler canines and molars come in, it can be miserable. Like a headache, teething is typically easy to ignore in the daytime but can really throb at night, waking up toddlers.

What to Do If Toddler Night Wakings Are Caused By Teething?

If you suspect teething is causing night waking, first use a rougher white noise (as loud as a shower) to distract your little trouper from her swollen gums. (If you haven’t used white noise recently, start it slowly). Also, ask your healthcare provider about using acetaminophen or ibuprofen half an hour before bedtime.

An Old-School Teething Remedy to Help With Night Wakings

An old-time teething remedy is to dip the corner of a thin washcloth in apple juice and freeze it. Then let your child chew on the frozen cloth. 

2. Hard Poop and Digestive Woes Can Cause Night Waking

Constipation can make kids grumpy and miserable. And when your child’s intestines strain to expel a hard stool at night, it can wake him up. 

What to Do If Poop and Digestion Is Causing Night Wakings

If you think your sweetie has a poop problem, make sure he gets plenty of exercise and water and ask your doctor for dietary recommendations, like reducing constipating foods (bread, dairy, rice, pasta, and fried food) and boosting high-fiber foods (vegetables, beans, dried fruit, and juices like prune, carrot, or aloe vera). 

3. Dry Throat and Stuffy Nose Can Cause Toddler Night Waking 

Little kids get lots of colds. So, you can be sure your tot will occasionally have sleep troubles because of a scratchy throat or stuffy nose. (Both problems are especially common in high altitudes and desert climates, or when you’re running the heater on cold winter nights.)

When that happens to your child, place a folded towel under the mattress to raise the head of the bed (unfortunately this doesn’t work well if your tot flips all around during sleep) and run a cool mist humidifier all night. Use only distilled water, and clean the humidifier every day to prevent bacterial growth.

Warning: Avoid using a hot water vaporizer. It can burn your child if he touches the steam. 

Try a little squirt of pure saline spray—available over the counter in any pharmacy—in each nostril. Also, soothe a cough with a syrup made with a few tablespoons of warm water mixed with a little honey and lemon juice (lemon juice has natural decongestants). One study of over 100 children found that honey was more effective than dextromethorphan (the key ingredient in medicines like Robitussin) for night cough.

If a cough persists or is spasmodic or wheezy, ask your doctor about asthma. And if your child snores or sleeps with his neck extended, ask your doctor if sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) might be the culprit. 

Final Thoughts: Toddler Night Wakings

If none of the above are causing your toddler’s night wakings, and you suspect it might be confusional arousal or night terrors, then make sure to read these tips for dealing with confusional arousal and setting bedtime routines.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.