It’s 2 a.m. and you hear a small voice calling “Mommy!” for the third time tonight. You may have thought that your toddler was well past the stage of waking up frequently at night. Remember how you cheered the first time she slept through the night as an infant? Toddlers are not immune to resisting sleep, waking at night or waking up at the crack of dawn. The key is to figure out whether this is just a normal part of her development or if there’s something else going on.
Toddlers often fight bedtime, especially when they’re in that stage where every request you make is answered with a resounding “no.” If big brother and sister are still awake, your little angel can take on some devilish characteristics when bedtime rolls around. It can be even more of a battle if the big kids have been playing rowdy games with her, so a quiet story time with Mom or Dad just before bed is often a good way to help her settle down.
Even though she’s in bed, she may still try a variety of strategies to avoid the Land of Nod. Repeated requests for “Just one more drink, Mommy” or a carefully hidden teddy bear that’s “lost” are other ways to put off the moment when the lights go out. Counter these tactics with a consistent bedtime. Offer all the comfort options — a drink of water, a night-light, an open door — and resist the temptation to go back to her when she whines or fusses. Let her know you’re there, and she’ll probably drift right off in a minute or two.
Nightmares and night terrors are fairly common in the toddler years. Night terrors usually occur in the early part of the night: your child isn’t really awake but is in the grip of something frightening and may scream or cry. Most toddlers who have night terrors settle right back down and go to sleep again after they’ve gotten it out of their systems. A nightmare is more likely later in the night. Nightmares often wake a child from sleep, and the monsters can seem very real to a toddler, who may resist going back to sleep, especially if the nightmare recurs.
Stress can affect your toddler’s sleep habits, according to the North Carolina State University. Whether it’s marital infighting, the birth of a new sibling or a change in routines, such as a new babysitter or preschool, your toddler may respond by regressing to behaviors such as sucking her thumb, or she may start to fight bedtime or begin having nightmares. She’ll probably bounce back with some extra attention and tender loving care, but if the sleep problems go on for more than a week or two, consult your family doctor or pediatrician.