A sleep-deprived toddler is a cranky toddler.

Sudden and Drastic Changes in the Sleeping Habits of a Toddler

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

"Oh no, not again," you may think as you automatically bounce out of bed when your toddler cries out your name at 3 a.m. His vivid imagination makes him swear he saw the Boogie Man peaking out of his closet -- smiling, at that! Waking up in the middle of the night from time to time is quite common in toddlers. Sudden and severe changes in your toddler's sleep habits can be due to a number of difficult situations or conditions.


An intense scary dream can wake a toddler out of a deep sleep -- most often in the latter part of the night, reports HealthyChildren.org, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nightmares may provoke so much anxiety in your terrified tot that she may have a hard time drifting back to sleep. Comforting your little one and encouraging her to tell you about her bad dream may help diminish her stress level so everybody can catch a few more winks before morning.

Death and Divorce

Your toddler may have a difficult time sleeping when a partner leaves due to a divorce or if a loved one dies. Problems with bed-wetting may also occur. Nurture and reassure your toddler that he is deeply loved and that everything will be okay. Maintaining daily routines as much as possible under the circumstances can give your toddler a sense of normalcy, notes the National Network for Child Care. Your toddler may insist on being close to you at all times, perhaps in an effort to hang on to the one beloved person he can count on to be there for him. Talk to a mental health professional if your toddler's fear of being alone drags on for too long.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a common type of apnea that can develop in otherwise healthy little children. An obstruction of the airways typically occurs during sleep when throat tissue is loosened up. Snoring, followed by gasping, labored breathing, poor quality of sleep and feeling worn out during the day are common symptoms of OSA. OSA sounds scary, especially when it comes to your toddler. The good news is many cases disappear on their own and the ones that hang on can be treated with medication, monitoring machines, sleep centers and possibly surgery. Contact your pediatrician if you think your toddler may have OSA.

Teething Pain

A toddler at the tail end of the teething process may have a stubborn tooth that wants to give her a hard time in the middle of the night. A teething toddler can wake you up out of a dream at the precise moment Brad Pitt is about to propose marriage. Talk about bad timing! Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may ease teething pain, according to MayoClinic.com.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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