Children need several hours more sleep than adults do.

How to Break Your Child's Waking Up Habits

by Darlena Cunha

It's no secret that many moms of toddlers are desperate for a good night's sleep. Night terrors, hunger, sickness and fear can all keep children up at night. However, as you drag your tired body to your little one's room for yet another request for water or a hug, you may realize that habit is the most powerful cause that wakes kids up in the wee hours. Breaking this pattern can be arduous, but it's worth it in the long run, for both you and your child. If little ones don't get enough uninterrupted sleep at night, they can be cranky and disoriented during the day and more prone to tantrums. If the problem persists, they can even start to lag behind in their development.

Regulate your little one's sleep during the day. Too often parents start cutting naps during the toddler and preschool years, but being overtired can actually hinder sleep at night. Set a schedule that allows your child to get the sleep she needs during the day. If she needs a nap, have her take it at least five hours before she goes to bed at night. This way she's not being deprived of sleep, but she won't feel as if she's just woken up when it's time for bed. When your child no longer needs naps, she'll signal it by being spry and cheerful during the day -- really!

Create a consistent bedtime routine. When parents change the order or time of nighttime activities, children have trouble getting into the right mind-set to sleep. Start an hour before bedtime. Give your child a bath, something to drink, read quiet stories and brush teeth. Tell her there'll be no running around or loud play during this time, helping her body transition into sleep. Changing your activities too frequently before bed confuses your child and makes her resistant to sleep. Even if you do the same activities but vary the time at night by more than an hour, your child's body may have trouble keeping up. At bedtime, make the environment calm and consistent.

Let your little one self-soothe. Overeager parents often appear at the bedroom door at every squeak or whimper. Your presence only serves to wake up your very-nearly-sleeping child, disrupting her natural rhythm. Many children just need to resettle, turn over and drift back to sleep, so give them a chance to do that. Children can get used to waking up at night just to see Mommy's face. It's important to let them find their own sleep rhythms.


  • Self-soothing techniques shouldn't be confused with "cry it out" techniques. You probably know and understand your child's cries and can tell whether she needs you.


  • Taking your child into your bed may seem like a temporary solution, but try to avoid cosleeping at the toddler or preschool stage. This can turn into a habit that prevents both parent and child from getting a good night's sleep.

About the Author

Darlena Cunha has been a writer and editor since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Connecticut. Cunha is also completing her master's degree in mass communication.

Photo Credits

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