Are there more than three reasons your toddler is waking up in the middle of the night? Of course! Your tot could be bumping through a sleep regression. They could be transitioning into a big kid bed. Heck, your toddler may simply be struggling to sleep because they’ve got toddler FOMO! But here’s the thing: While there are numerous ways a toddler’s sleep may be disrupted, there are three heavy-hitting sleep-stealers that parents should look at first…and here they are.

Why All Toddlers Wake Up At Night

Whether we realize it or not, babies, toddlers, big kids, and adults all rouse a tiny bit about three to four times each night. It’s true! We simply become experts at settling ourselves back to dreamland without becoming eyes-wide-open awake. Tots are still learning! Here’s what can happen: Throughout the night—every 60 minutes or so—your toddler enters the light, easily disturbed part of their sleep cycle. Here, your tot may jerk, twitch, and move their little body around their crib or toddler bed. And they may easily wake up with even a  little bit of commotion. These disturbances can sneak into your tyke’s mind from the outside world or they can originate from deep inside their body. So, when your sweetie is in light sleep, it takes very little—scratchy sheets, a vague hunger pang, a ticking clock, a smell from the kitchen, the hall light, a truck thundering  down the street—to nudge your child from dozing to drama.

Troubleshoot Your Toddler’s Wake-Ups

First and foremost: It’s imperative to set your child up for sleepytime success with a high-quality bedtime routine. It’s also important to get rid of as many outside distractions as you can—put up blackout shades, make sure your child’s room is at the ideal sleeping temperature (between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit)…and crank up the white noise. Proper white noise creates a blanket of sound that masks sudden shifts in sound consistency that can often wake toddlers up. Picking the right white noise, which is low-pitch, droning, and hypnotic (not inconsistent, like music or nature sounds). For just-right white noise (plus a few extra calming sounds!), consider SNOObie—my all-in-one white noise machine, nightlight, and OK-to-wake sleep trainer

At the same time, white noise helps to distract tots from some common internal sleep-sappers, such as teething pain or a slightly stuffy nose. To put it simply, white noise gives your toddler something else to pay attention to, which can then help lull them to dreamland. But if your toddler’s night waking continues after trying these tips, you’ll want to focus on some other disturbances that might be prodding your tyke awake.

Toddler Night Waking Cause #1: Teething

When those toddler canines and molars come in, it can be miserable. Like a headache, teething is typically easy to ignore in the daytime, but can really throb at night, waking up toddlers. (Learn when you can expect teething to strike.)

What to Do If Teething Is Causing Toddler Night Wakings

If you suspect teething is causing your toddler to wake at night, turn the volume up on your white noise machine. White noise helps to distract tots from teething pain because it gives your toddler something else to pay attention to, which can then help lull them to dreamland. The ideal white noise for sleeping through teething pain should be rough, rumbly, and as loud as a shower. I recommend trying my SNOObear white noise lovey, which plays for 30 or 60 minutes and then continues to “listen” to your toddler for up to three hours. If SNOObear hears that your lovebug is upset, the soothing white noise starts back up again.

Don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider about possibly using acetaminophen or ibuprofen half an hour before bedtime to help calm your toddler’s painful gums. You can also dip the corner of a thin washcloth in apple juice and freeze it. Let your toddler chew on the frozen cloth before bedtime. (Learn more about how to treat teething pain.)

Toddler Night Waking Cause #2: Hard Poop and Digestive Woes

Constipation can make kids grumpy and miserable during the day...and when your child’s intestines strain to expel a hard stool at night, it can wake them up.

What to Do If Constipation Is Causing Night Wakings

If you’re unsure if your sweetie is constipated, check out the signs and symptoms. And to help your toddler’s “poop problem,” offer a warm bath before bed, a soothing belly massage, and help them do the “bicycle legs” exercise, which can help stimulate your kiddo’s digestive system. (Have your toddler lay down on their back and you can help move their legs in a half-bent position, just like they’re riding their trike!)

At the same time, make sure your toddler gets plenty of exercise and water throughout the day—and ask your child’s doctor for dietary recommendations. For instance, there’s a good bet the pediatrician will recommend reducing constipating foods, like white bread, rice, and pasta and fried food and boosting high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, beans, and fruit.

Toddler Night Waking Cause #3: Dry Throat and Stuffy Nose

Little kids get lots of colds. So, you can be sure your tot will occasionally have sleep troubles because of a scratchy throat or a stuffy nose. Both problems are especially common in high altitudes and desert climates, or when you’re running the heater on cold winter nights. (Learn how to avoid causing your tot to overheat.)

When your child is feeling stuffed up, try the following:

  • Place a folded towel under the mattress to raise the head of the bed slightly. Unfortunately this trick doesn’t work well for tots flip and flop all around during sleep!

  • Run a cool mist humidifier all night long to help loosen up a clogged nose—and soothe a scratchy throat. (Fill the humidifier with distilled water, and clean it out every day to prevent bacterial growth.) Please know that a cool mist humidifier is not the same as a vaporizer! You should avoid using a hot water vaporizer as it can easily burn your child if they accidentally touch the steam.

  • Squirt just a bit of pure saline spray—available over the counter in any pharmacy—in each of your toddler’s nostrils. This’ll help thin and loosen the thick mucus inside your bub’s stuffy nose.

  • Create a safe “cough syrup” with a few tablespoons of warm water mixed with a little honey (if your child is at least 1-year-old) and lemon juice, which are natural decongestants. One study found that honey was more effective than dextromethorphan (the key ingredient in medicines like Robitussin) for easing a night cough in kids. (Learn about more of my favorite natural cold-symptom-soothers!)

If your child’s cough persists or is spasmodic or wheezy, ask your doctor about asthma. And if your child snores or sleeps with their neck extended, speak to your pediatrician about the possibility that sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is the culprit.

Final Thoughts: Toddler Night Wakings

If you don’t think any of the above are causing your toddler’s night wakings, read on for more info:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.