Waking at Night: 2 and 3 Year Olds
Berkeley Parents Network >
> Waking at Night
I have a 2 year old who has always been a good sleeper and is now
waking once or twice a night and having a hard time getting back to
sleep. I checked the archives and noticed this doesn't seem to be
unconmmon. To parents who have 3 and 4 year olds who went through
this at 2, does it go away on it's own? Is this a phase that will
without work or should I do something to help him through it.
my husband or I go in and sleep on the floor but it's tiering for us
wondering if he'll need us in there forever to be comfortable? Are
supporting him through a difficult developmental phase or are we
creating a dependancy we will have to ''break'' him from later. Let
For what it's worth, I am someone who recently posted a
desperate e-mail about night- (and early-morning-) waking in my
two-year-old, who up until then had been a champion sleeper.
Her brother arrived just before she turned two, so I don't know
whether it was turning two, or the new addition to the family,
but she just became a miserable, miserable sleeper -- unable to
fall asleep without having someone stay by her side for ages,
waking up with terrible nightmares and unable to fall back
asleep without yet more endless help, and then getting up to
start the day sometimes as early as 4 a.m. I'm not really sure
how we got through this, but yes, it DOES get better. My
husband was in favor of indulging whatever requests she came up
with -- extra songs, lots of ''watching over her,'' taking her
into our bed (a big disaster), etc.; I was more inclined to try
to nip things in the bud. In the end, we took a sort of middle
road: he, the one willing to put up with everything, started
putting her to bed, so at bedtime she got indulged -- but ONLY
as long as she was TRYING to fall asleep. If she was just
playing around in her crib, or whining, or whatever, he would
threaten to leave; if she lay there quietly with her eyes shut
(although clearly suffering from some kind of anxious
insomnia), he would stay quietly in the room for as long as it
took, until she fell asleep. I would go to her for the night
wakings, with a similar sort of approach. However, since we
had the new little baby, eventually I would just get too
exhausted to stay up with her, and amazingly, when I explained
that I HAD to leave because I just couldn't stay awake any
longer, . . . she simply accepted that and went to sleep
herself. Now, at 2-1/2, she often falls asleep without much
trouble and when she (rarely) wakes during the night, a quick
visit is enough to get her right back to sleep. I do think she
benefitted from the extra comforting we gave her -- maybe this
helped her eventually to feel a bit more relaxed and confident -
- but it was also interesting to see that she really didn't
NEED all of the comforting she had been demanding.
Or, . . . maybe she just grew out of it!
My two year old who has slept in his own bed since he was born,
and has slept through the night since he was 1. about two weeks
ago he started waking up at 2:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. some times he
has nightmares, sometimes he has a bowel movement and sometimes
he just walks over to our room or climbs into his brothers bed
next to him and goes back to sleep. I do not know why he
suddenly started this but it really is exhausting. Has anyone
else had this what did you do?
I don't have a suggestion but I'm commiserating! Our 2 1/2 yr
old had been sleeping through the night most nights for about a
year and then recently started waking up and insisting that I
(my husband can substitute for me) sleep in the room with her.
This coincided with potty training- which really was a breeze-
but at 1st I assumed her waking was something like 2 steps
forward towards seperation and 1 step back and tried to be
understanding and just slept in her room in the extra bed. (Plus
I'm too exhausted at 2am to do otherwise.) But now it's been 5
weeks- she's using the potty without any problems and still
waking me. She isn't having bad dreams- she just seems anxious
about being alone. She falls right to sleep if I get in bed but
I have noticed her check again between 4 and 5 to see if I'm
still there. She goes to bed at night as easily as ever. So,
since we're in the same boat- maybe there is something just
about being two and all of the development thats disrupting your
son as well as my daughter.
our son just started waking up in the middle of the night
also...in fact, he used to go to sleep between 8pm - 8:30pm, but
now it's been really hard to get him to bed ... sometimes he's up
until 11pm. I just attributed it to a combination of his age and
the fact that it's staying lighter out later.
Our 21/2 year old did the same thing. He had been sleeping
through the night beautifully, then suddenly began waking up in
the middle of the night and insisting that either me or my
husband go lie down with him. He would also wake up
periodically the rest of the night to check that we were still
with him. We ended up taking a suggestion from a friend that
has worked great. We got him a calendar and some very desirable
little train stickers, and told him that every night he slept in
his own bed by himself, he would get to put a sticker on the
calendar. The first night I heard him wake up and come to our
door. He stood there for a few minutes, then remembering the
stickers, went back to his own bed, where he remained the rest
of the night. This has worked for a few weeks now. The added
benefit is that we get to talk about all the pictures and
numbers on the calendar every day.
I know there are always a ton of questions about sleep, but I
haven't been able to find any answers to this one in the
archives. Any help would be much appreciated. Here's the story,
along with some background:
Our daughter is 2 1/2, and we co-slept with her until the
beginning of this year. When we were co-sleeping, she fell
asleep at night with me (dad) lying in bed next to her till she
fell asleep, with some lullaby music playing. We very slowly and
methodically got her into her own bed in her own room, falling
asleep without me in bed with her. Now, after our bed-time
routine (stories, etc.), I turn on the lullaby CD, sit with her
for a couple of songs, turn off the CD, sing her a song, and then
turn on the CD and leave. She's always awake then, and falls
asleep with no trouble. We've been doing it this way for several
weeks now. So far, so good.
The problem comes several hours later. She rarely goes through
the whole night without waking, and when she wakes, she has
difficulty settling herself. Sometimes she can, but often one of
us has to go into her room, fix the blankets, kiss her, sing to
her, etc. If it happens once a night, that's OK, but lately it's
been happening 3-4 times a night. When we first here her stir,
we don't go in right away, waiting to see if she can settle
herself. When it seems like she can't, we go in. If we wait too
long, she gets too upset, and then it takes a long time for her
to settle. Sometimes she wants to come into our bed (which we
discourage) and sometimes I crawl into her bed and sleep there
(which was one of the intermediate stages between full
co-sleeping and where we are now).
So the question is, does anyone have any suggestions on how to
help her settle herself? We've never been into the idea of
letting her cry it out, but would that be a better approach in
the middle of the night? We're expecting baby number 2 in
mid-April, and we'd love to get at least a week of good sleep
before the next one comes. Thanks in advance!
We made the same changes with our almost 2 1/2 year old about a
month prior to the birth of our two month old child. He's
still waking up a couple of times a night but is slowly
improving (last night he didn't wake up all night!). My
husband goes to him when he wakes in the night. He's usually
calling to have his covers straightened although he knows how
to pull them up himself. My husband goes in and encourages him
to pull them up on his own. My son resists and cries but
eventually does it when he realizes that my husband won't do it
for him. Sometimes my husband doesn't go to him when he cries
for him and he falls asleep on his own pretty quickly. By the
way, we never did the cry it out method. Best of luck to you
and congrats on your second child!
We too recently moved our daughter to her own room (now almost 3
yrs old). She would get up in the middle of the night and come
into our room. My husband and I took turns escorting her back to
her own room & bed. Finally, we put a nightlight in her room -
one that comes on automatically with darkness because we didn't
want her to playing with an electrical switch. It did the trick
for the most part. She still comes in maybe once a week but
that's a vast improvement over one or more times every night.
Try letting her come to your room and sleep on the floor next to
you. We told our almost 3 year old that she could no longer
sleep in bed with Mommy and Daddy because she is too big and
there is not enough room for her and the new baby. We keep a
folded up quilt on the floor and if she wakes at night she is
allowed to come sleep on it. This seemed to satisfy her (I was
suprised that she did not complain about the new rule or the baby
in the bed...she simply accepted this new solution). I have a
friend who told her 3 year old that she could do this only if she
didn't wake mommy and daddy and came quietly into their room at
night when she woke. I don't do this...my daughter calls me to
come get her and that is okay for me. As she gets older, she
does this less and less frequently.
Sometimes, when she is sleeping on the floor, she wakes crying
but I simply tell her that she is in Mommy's room and she goes
back to sleep.
Help! We are at our wits end, our 2.5 year old daughter has
been a horrible sleeper since birth. She has rarely slept
through the night to date. She also won't go to sleep on her
own for night time sleep, although she does for her nap. We've
tried everything (short of Ferberizing). Recently we had some
success w/letting her fall asleep alone in our bed (w/her
newborn sister in the basinett in the same room), but now we
are trying to transition everyone to one room. My husband is
starting a new job and both of us would just like some sleep.
It's pretty sad, our 3.5 month old sleeps better than the older
one. Part of the problems w/her wake ups recently has been
nightmares, she comes screaming out of her room and heads for
our room, at which point my husband usually stays w/her until
she falls back asleep. We try and keep ''scary'' things to a
minimum, but at that age it's pretty hard as anything could
potentially be scary. We have a pretty strict bedtime ritual
as well. Is there anyone else out there going through this, if
so, does it get any easier? Do you have any advice on getting
a toddler to sleep throught the night and on her own? Family
bed is not really something that works for us, we've tried
Hi, our daughter has had some very similar issues, (she's 4 1/2, and still not a great
sleeper), but, here are some of the things that have worked for us --- Starting bed
time very early, at around 5:30 or 6:00, we give her warm milk - stick to the regular
bedtime routine, we have a special cd of only waves (not extra instrumentation), to
block out any extra noise, and to offer the ''white'' noise effect, that we play on a
loop all night.
We also started to go ''into'' more scary things with her, ie; Monsters inc; books like,
the monster at the end of this book, by grover, so she would have a better
understanding, and be less fearful of the unknown.
We have even gone as far as giving her a small dose of benadryl to make her a little
sleepy, (it works great on trips), but it seems to really re-set her clock if given for 2
- 3 nights in a row, and then we all get much better sleep, she wakes up happy and
refreshed, and so do we. I've mostly just had to be okay with giving her a little
something - it ends up being better for the whole family, if we can all sleep, and it
eliminates any ''ferberizing'', so it seems a really gentle solution. (as long as you
don't do it too often)!!
Good luck catching some zzzzzzz's
You said that a family bed doesn't work for you, but would you be
willing to try a family room? Especially with the baby in your
room, I imagine the older one might be feeling left out. You
could try a sleeping bag (maybe a special one) on the floor (with
a mat, if that's more comfortable). It could be either her
full-time sleeping place for a while, or just where she comes if
she feels the need in the middle of the night. When we felt the
need to end our family bed with our son, that worked well for us.
He was a bit older, so it might be different for you.
Our daughter Mollie (now 4) had terrible nightmares around 1
1/2 - 2 years old. She would be screaming and not really awake
and would try to run away from us until we could wake her up
and let her know she was safe. Our midwife recomended Bach
Rescue Remedy and Walnut essence. The Walnut essence is good
for nightmares. We dilute about 10-15 drops of each in a
bottle and fill it with water. We would give her about 3-4
droppers of the mixture before bed. Hope this helps.
You say you haven't gone so far as to resort to ''Ferberizing'', but as a parent initially
committed exclusively to attachment parenting, I advise you to at least read his
book if you haven't already. I read it in desperation when our child's sleeping issues
were literally making me sick, and was surprised to find that Ferber doesn't
advocate leaving your child alone to sob himself to sleep (which was my previous
We found his approach much more gentle and logical than we'd been led to expect:
no more cruel than implementing a ''pretty strict bed time ritual'', and very effective.
We were all sleeping better and feeling happier (both during the day and at bedtime)
within a week.
I have a 26 month old son who is also a terrible sleeper.
By the time he was 9 months old, he'd slept through the night
once (meaning a 5 hour stretch of sleep). A friend of mine,
who is a pediatrician and whose older son is a poor sleeper
(her younger one is like your newborn, a much better sleeper),
suggested that we have him checked out by a sleep specialist.
We took him to the Stanford Sleep Clinic and found out that he
has a mild sleep-related breathing disorder. Something I would
never have guessed and something his regular pediatrician was
surprised to hear because he doesn't snore.
The pediatric sleep specialist told us that we can expect
things to get worse until he's old enough to have his large
tonsils and adnoids removed (about age 5 or 6), but he gave us
a lot of suggestions to help with the behavioral aspects of
poor sleep that we created by doing almost anything to get him
back to sleep. None of the suggestions included letting him
cry it out because we all knew that wasn't going to work. One
thing that has worked very well for us is to stay with our son
while he's in his bed and speak quietly to him telling him that
it's time to go to sleep and that all his toys and books and
everything in his world has gone to sleep. Speaking quietly was
key because if he wanted to hear what we were saying he had to
stop crying and he usually did within a matter of minutes. We
would just repeat saying these things over and over.
Eventually he would calm down and lay down. Somenights this
would take 10 minutes, other nights it would take 2 hours. But
we stayed consistent and we didn't take him out of the bed but
we let him hold our hand or touch us if he needed to., which
was most of the time. Consistency is very hard when you are
exhausted and I don't know how many times I wanted to just pick
him up and put him in bed with us, but I knew from experience
that that didn't work either.
We started out sitting or lying next to his bed, and we've
now moved to a chair across the room. Eventually our goal is
to be able to take the chair into the hallway and talk from
there until he no longer needs us to go to sleep or back to
sleep. It's been a long process and progress is very slow. We
still have bad nights, but we have a lot more good ones now.
We are all feeling more rested and most days my son wakes up in
a good mood instead of cranky because he was tired.
Please email me if you have questions or if you want to know
which doctor we saw. Good luck and I wish you many nights of
My son has been a pretty bad sleeper since birth as well. Although he
actually fell asleep on his own at the beginning of the night from the time
he was two months old, he didn't sleep through the night until he was 2
YEARS old or so, and none of the ''tried-and-true'' methods for teaching
kids to sleep ever worked with him; nor were any of the common
theories about sleeping true (e.g. ''Just teach him to fall asleep on his
own and he'll be able to put himself back to sleep when he wakes up'').
He's now 3, and does sort of sleep through the night -- but he often
wakes up at 4:00 to come to Mommy's bed, and if he's the slightest bit
stressed about anything he gets terrible insomnia -- awake for hours. I
hate to be a complete pessimist, but I read in the Chess & Thomas book
on child development (which I very much liked), that each child has a
weakness, and for some kids it's sleep. I think that's true for my son. I
sometimes wonder if it's related to the fact that all his biological systems
are pretty irregular and always have been (when he was an infant, I
never had a clue when he would eat, sleep, or poop). I actually found
that the thing that was most helpful in teaching him to sleep in his own
room was, when he woke, I would go down with a pillow and blanket
and lie on the floor by his bed. He would then calm down and be able to
Have you tried a crib with the crib tent? Along with going into
her room rather than her comming into yours; comforting her and
leaving her in her room?
mommy of 2 1/2
Our 2-year old son has never been an easy sleeper, either. We have worked
twice with a sleep coach, and both times have yielded good results. At this
point, he is now usually sleeping through the night (from 8pm) until 4:30 or
so. At which point he'll maybe sleep with us in the bed for another hour,
or...he's just up. He's exhausted during the day due to lack of sleep. He
napped well from age 1.5 until a month ago, when he suddenly will not sleep
in his crib. Now he naps in the park in the stroller! I say all this to let you
know that I'm GRATEFUL for how much he's sleeping at this point. What
worked for us may not work for you, but I'll gladly pass on the name of our
sleep coach - She may be able to help you out. Her name is Sarah Swayles,
she's at 652-0774.
I have the same issue with my 2 yr old boy. He does, however,
co-sleep with us. I recently read Dr. Harvey Karp's, The
Happiest Toddler on the Block and am trying some of his
suggestions. Unlike most sleep books which address infant
issues, he has great suggestions for toddlers......of course, I
am too tired to retain most of it and I just loaned it out....
one thing I tried so far is acting as if you forgot something
when you bring the child to bed. Each time you do this, be gone
for longer, but ALWAYS come back. At one point, you are to come
back and the child will have magically fallen asleep w/o
waiting for you!
good luck. I know the feeling of years of sleep deprivation.
Sometimes I feel drugged, I am so tired!!
my husband and i are in the same boat. our daughter who is almost 2.5 as well has
been a funky sleeper from day one. so i know how frustrating it can be. with our
daughter, she fights sleep to the bitter end. always has and i'm guessing she
probably always will. she won't fall asleep on her own. we've tried pretty much
everything. anyway, i'm not sure what the solution for a child with sleep
issues is. for us it's having her fall asleep with us whether it be on the couch or in
bed with us and then transfering her to her bed. lately getting a new big girl bed has
helped. we made it a big deal by letting her pick out the sheets. it's only been a few
days but so far she's managed to stay in her bed for most of the night. last night
she was in it all night. i'm hoping the bed did the trick. i know it can't last forever
but i do know how difficult and sleep depriving it can be. i hope you and your
husband are able to get some rest soon.
I can respond to the ''anyone else out there'' part. My eldest
started sleeping through the night at age five, and going to
sleep on her own at age seven (this past week). Luckily, I am
pretty good with the family bed, so it has not been a problem
for me. On the other hand, my DH now has his own bedroom
because he couldn't tolerate the shenanigans of getting the
sleep going, nor the wake-ups. I consider the arrangement an
old-fashioned one. I know many families work it out this way,
with the person who needs sleep the most finding a quiet place,
while the other parent is on call in a more disturbable location.
One book that looked really good to me is called the ''No-cry
Sleep Solution.'' It doesn't propose a quick cure, more like a
couple of months, but sets forth a program of behavior shaping
that gradually gets to the goal. I tried some of it, but it all
fell apart when number two came along and my big girl became
entirely unwilling to miss out on snuggles that the baby was
enjoying all night.
I also firmly believe that many people overstate the rate at
which their little ones sleep on their own and through the night.
In all, it definitely does get easier with the sleep, but how
soon, I couldn't predict.
Good luck, and you're not alone.
I would try to let her cry it out a la Ferber (Solve Your Child's Sleep
Problems by Richard Ferber). We did this with our daughter when she
was 5 months old and she cried for three nights (30 minutes the first
night; 15 the next, and 10 the next) and has sleep through the night ever
since. She is now over 2.5 and we had to do some of this recently when
she transitioned to a big bed from the crib, but she only cried for about
10 minutes a few times and now she happily jumps in bed by herself for
bed time and naps. I know it is hard to do, but it really works and you
and your daughter will be happier for it. I think she needs to have you
set limits instead of giving in.
All you say sounds very familiar. There are, of course, children
who sleep the way you would like your daughter to do. However,
many children don't. Our daughter is a similar age as yours,
and, as you observed with your newborn, slept better when she
was newborn than later. She'd wake up several times each night
until recently, when she switched to waking up once or twice,
and in some lucky nights sleeps through. I also read in various
sources, that it is developmentally normal for many toddlers to
wake up during the night and seek parents' comfort. On the other
hand, there's your exhaustion...
From talking to many parents friends I got the impression that
happens with children in family beds as well as with children in
separate rooms. The reasons to wake up are manifold, and not all
of them can be eliminated (nightmares, need to pee, thursty,
feeling too warm or cold etc., and nightmares caused by these
physical discomforts). You just want to find a way for all of you
to quickly go back to sleep when it happens.
Whatever you do, not switching on the light, and keeping
everything in a slow and quiet pace is certainly helpful, and so
are familiar surroundings such as personal blankets, favorit
dolls etc. A sippy cup or a bottle with water should be there to
self-service. However, many toddlers - and even some older
children - very much long for the savety of their parents, their
room, their bed.
I'll describe what a mother of three did.
When I grew up, there was not so much public talk about this,
and my mother did the following: First child slept alone in her
room, but would come to the parents bedroom when she had
nightmares. That was me, and I still remember hesitating to
leave my bed for the fear of monsters, ghosts etc. who may wait
in the hallway, then running as fast as I could. By the time I
reached my parents' bedroom I was fully awake and wanted to talk
and play with my parents rather than sleep Second child slept in
the same room as my parents, not in a family bed, but in her own
bed, first in reach then further away from my parents bed.
Apparently that worked better, since they decided to do the same
with the third one. Then we moved into a new house where they
first slept on matresses in the bedroom where my sister and
brother slept. When my parents bedroom was ready (after a year
or so), they moved out, and my siblings continued sharing one
bedroom for a number of years. When I moved out, one of them
first just used my room during the day, then finally slept there,
When my 3-year-old son wakes in the middle of the night, he wants to
come and sleep in our bed. I actually like his company -- but during
certain parts of the night he is a VERY restless sleeper. So my husband
and I want to tell him that if it is after 4:00 am, he can come to our bed,
but earlier, he must stay in his own. When he was 2, I could just say ''It's
too early'' and he'd go back to sleep just fine, but now that he's older, he
gets upset and wants to have an argument with me. I'd like to be able to
teach him the ''4 am rule'' (he's very good with rules) -- but without it
depending on a seemingly arbitrary decision by Mommy. If I can't figure
out a way to work this out, we'll have to tell him that he can't come until
it's light outside, or some other empirical indicator -- but for a lot of the
year, that will be late enough in the morning that we will get up before
then, and so he won't ever be able to come. As a last resort, we'll just
have to tell him that he can't come at all any more -- but that would make
both him and me sad.
Ideally, I'd like to have an alarm clock that, rather than making noise,
turned on a very small light (one that won't light the room and wake him
up) at a set time -- but since most alarm clocks are designed to actually
wake a person up, I doubt that such a thing exists!
I don't thinnk you can have a ''rule'' that says ''sometimes you can
come to bed with us and sometimes you cannot.'' It is a rare child
at this age that understands time, and though I think they can
understand ''when it is light outside'' you would still end up
confusing him. I suggest you weight the pros and cons of having
come to sleep with you at all. Yes you may be sad if he doesn't,
but you will be tired if he does. Since the effects of being
tired can last longer and have more negative consequences, (most
likely causing some sadness then, too?) than being sad at not
sleeping together, maybe you should consider some ''cuddle time''
during the day? I used to do this with my sister...we called it
''sisters together time.'' Maybe you could have ''family together
time'' or something of the like...I think if you allow him to come
to your bed at all, you are asking for trouble and a lot less
sleep. Read Penelope Leach's ''Your Baby and Child'' section on
Night Wandering.....Good luck.
fan of kid's in their own bed
Have you tried telling him that he can come to mommy's room and
sleep on the floor next to the bed? Just before our new baby, I
told my 2, almost 3 year old that she was too big to sleep in
mommy's bed now. But if she wants to, she can come to sleep in
mommy's room on the floor when she wakes at night. We put a big
quilt (folded 2 times) on the floor next to the bed for her to
sleep on. She brings her pillow with her and we keep some small
blankets in our room for her to use. She seemed very reasonable
about the change and comes to our room maybe 2 or 3 times a week.
Sometimes she dreams and cries out but since I am in the room, I
just tell her ''mommy's here'' and she goes back to sleep.
For an alarm clock that lights a light, get a plug-in timer
switch and plug a night light into it.
We tell our daughter that she cannot come into our bed ''until it
is bright and sunny out.'' Of course, this changes with the
seasons, but it has always provided a good gauge for her that is
not dependent on her needing to tell time (which she can't do yet).
Good luck, and happy sleeping!
You could put a small lamp/light on a timer. You can buy
timers at Home Depot (and I'm sure other places). You just
plug the lamp into the timer, and the timer plugs into the
outlet. Set the timer for 4 a.m., and the lamp will come on at
4 a.m. Good luck.
We have the same problem with our then 2 year old except he
wanted to get up and play! So, we put a digital clock in his
room and taught him how to tell if it is six o'clock in the
morning, earlier or later, and instructed him not to come out
beforehand, excepting certain situations. It took a period of
some learning and testing on his part, but in all, it has worked
really well (although he still has to use the potty, gets
nightmares,etc!) so that now when he goes to bed one of the last
things he says to us is 'see you at six zero zero in the
you could try using one of those timers that automatically turns the
and off (we found ours at longs i think), with a special nightlight.
your son can
learn that he can go into your bed when the special ''star'' turns on,
this page was last updated: Dec 28, 2004
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network