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What to do if your toddler keeps waking in the night

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If you are one of the lucky parents whose child has been sleeping through the night without any problems, there can still be times when they wake unexpectedly. There are lots of reasons why this might happen. Maybe they aren’t getting enough exercise during the day and they aren’t tired enough, or they could be hungry, having bad dreams or teething again.

Tips to try if they keep waking up

Tip #1: Dinner, bath and story

photo of toddler reading with mum

photo of toddler reading with mum

A bedtime routine can help your wee one relax and sleep better. Maybe it’s tea, bath, story, then cuddles and don’t forget some milk, then brush their teeth. Just try and do it the same way, at the same time, every evening.

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Tip #2: Night lights

Night-lights aren’t just a good idea for your baby –  your older toddler might still like one in their room.

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Tip #3: Keep calm

If your toddler gets up through the night (and we all know they love doing that), just calmly get up and take them back to their own bed straightaway.

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Tip #4: Explain night time rules

It can help to tell your toddler during the day that everyone sleeps in their own bed. So when they get up to pay you a visit in the middle of the night, just calmly put them back. Chances are that you’ll have to do this a number of times before the message strikes home.

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Tip #5: Take your time

If your toddler cries during the night, don’t go and see them immediately. Wait just a minute or two and they may settle themselves.

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Tip #6: Track nap times

Long naps in the afternoon can have a big impact on sleep. Remember your child is growing all the time, so their needs and habits are constantly changing. Reduce the length of their nap gradually and they’ll hopefully be back sleeping through the night again.

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Tip #7: Nightmare help

photo of toddler awake in the dark

photo of toddler awake in the dark

Bad dreams and nightmares are something a lot of young children experience at some stage. Be careful what they’re watching or reading before they go to bed. You’d be surprised how easily these things can bother your little one when they’re trying to sleep.

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Tip #8: Changes

Changes in routine can affect your child’s sleep patterns. Simple things like starting nursery or going to a child minder for the first time can impact their sleep. You might not be able to avoid these changes, but it can help if you know why it’s happening.

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Tip #9: Play helps sleep

photo of toddler putting toy in box

photo of toddler putting toy in box

A walk (even just to the shops and back), or a run outside in the fresh air, or playing hide and seek inside, can all help your child to sleep better at night.

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What the professionals say

“Some toddlers like getting out of their bed and coming into yours - and that can be hard to stop. A good way to deal with this is at some point, well before bedtime, explain to your child that everyone sleeps in their own bed at night. If they do decide to get up or come into your bed, take them back and settle them down gently but firmly. Be prepared to repeat this, and don’t give in.”

A Tayside Health Advisor

More information

Ready Steady Toddler has lots of information on helping your baby sleep and establishing routines. If you think your baby is not settling at night because of a health issue, contact your GP or health visitor for additional support.

Sleep Support Line

Sleep Scotland's free Sleep Support Line offers advice and support to parents and carers, or to young people themselves, for any child aged 18 months to 18 years with a sleep problem. Call 0800 138 6565 or email to get in touch. BSL users can contact the service using contactSCOTLAND-BSL.

Their Sleep Advisors and Sleep Counsellors will complete an initial sleep history, asking questions on current routines, diet, exercise, and the sleep problem. They will then create a sleep plan based on the responses. For those parents who require it, follow up calls are also available. Visit the Sleep Scotland website for more information and advice.

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Sleeping Sleeping tips Toddler (1-3 years)

Last updated: 5 Feb, 2021