My toddler wakes up multiple times a night. What do I do?
It is normal for both children (and adults!) to wake many times a night, usually during natural pauses between sleep cycles. What can become difficult is when a toddler needs an adult to help him fall back to sleep. This is usually more disruptive to the parent’s or caregiver’s sleep than the child’s sleep – the parent may be waking from a deep sleep, and may have trouble falling back to sleep even after the toddler is sleeping again.
In some cases, frequent night wakings can be a symptom of a medical condition. Snoring three or more nights a week can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Reflux can also lead to night wakings, as can temporary conditions such as respiratory infections or ear infections. If your child is showing any of these symptoms or you have concerns about a possible medical condition, talk to your child’s health care provider.
A frequent cause of night wakings is a child’s sleep associations. Does your child fall asleep at bedtime with certain circumstances (such as feeding, rocking, parent in the room) and then seem to need those same circumstances in the middle of the night? If so, try having him learn to fall asleep at bedtime without that association. There are several posts on this website that can provide some guidance in helping your little one learn to fall asleep at bedtime (and return to sleep during the night) without any of those associations.
About Dr. Sarah Honaker