Toddler waking at night

My toddler is almost 3 and has been sleeping through the night for nearly a year when suddenly she started waking up and crying hysterically… screaming and rolling around. When I ask her what is wrong she say’s “nothing”. What can we do?

With small children the one thing you can be sure of is that nothing stays the same. Sleep routines are easily disrupted and it can be tricky figuring out what exactly is going on!

Night waking after months of sleeping through could have any number of causes. The eruption of molars, nightmares, or night terrors, fear of the dark, or of falling asleep. Anxiety brought on by stress in the family, a change in schedule due to travel or other causes; breathing lapses, known as obstructive sleep apnea, usually caused by enlarged adenoids or tonsils, illness, particularly ear infections, and rarely threadworms, which cause itching of the skin around the anus particularly at night. There are a few things to try which may solve the problem, but it will be a case of trial and error.

1. An important skill for your toddler to learn is to fall asleep on her own. So providing a restful and reassuring bedtime routine is vital. But once she is drowsy, she should be put into her bed to fall asleep. This aids the process of falling asleep again when waking in the night.

2. During the night, keep contact gentle and brief. Give positive words and a little rub, but no hugging or getting out of bed. Whisper and keep interaction quiet and sleepy. Ssh everyone’s sleeping. Punishment at this time is not helpful.

3. Waking should not be rewarded by any kind of cuddling. It is ok to let her cry herself back to sleep. You can return periodically to give a pat and a word of reassurance, but increase intervals between each visit, starting with every 5 or 10 minutes and adding 10 minutes on every time. Do not linger, just reassure the child and then leave.

4. If your toddler does not have a ‘cuddle’ (a soft object that she is attached to) it may be worth introducing one. Having something to cuddle really helps a toddler go back to sleep. You can employ a variety of strategies to ensure that baby forms a bond with the cuddle object.

5. Unless its unavoidable, changing of nappies should be avoided because it will wake the child.

6. This may be a signal to reduce the length of afternoon nap.

Dealing with nightmares is a little different from the normal sleep training..

Several factors contribute to nightmares: Stress, (family discord), change (a new nanny), a move, a new day-care situation, a new bed or room; bedtime excesses e.g. excitement, activity or food; But the most common causes of nightmares in young children is an improved memory and a growing imagination unchecked by reason. And as your toddler’s imagination becomes more complex, so does her nightmares. Help reduce the risk of nightmares:

1. Keep time before bedtime tranquil

2. Ask her to tell you about her dream.. (don’t say what is the matter?) … she may feel better if she’s shared it with you. Help her express herself in her toddler’s vocabulary.

3. Tell her she’s safe. Tell her her dream was make-believe like a story book. Explain that everyone has bad dreams sometimes, even grown-ups. Stay calm yourself and don’t overreact.

4. Show her she’s safe. Turn on the light and show her that her room looks just as it normally does. Plug in a night light if necessary. If she’s afraid as to what may be lurking behind cupboard doors, do a “monster check”. If she has trouble going back to sleep, give her a sip of water, and tell her you will sit with her for a little while.

5. In the morning, reinforce the feelings that she’s safe. It is possible that she wont remember the nightmare, but will awaken with a vague sense of anxiety… Be especially sensitive to undercurrents of anxiety during the day. Praise her too for having the courage to fall back to sleep. +27 (0)81 885 4683

*Important : The information provided is for information purposes only. No medical diagnosis or prescription can be inferred or is implied. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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