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Night Wakes in Older Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers


As parents, one of the most anticipated milestones is when our child starts sleeping through the night consistently. It is reasonable to expect that night wakes in older toddlers and pre-schoolers are a thing of the past, and they should be able to sleep through without persistent awakenings. However, it is still normal for children at this age to have the occasional night wake due to nightmares or other minor disturbances, although these should not be frequent enough to disrupt their overall sleep patterns.


If your child is over the age of 2.5-3 years and is waking at least once a night more than three nights a week, it's crucial to consider why the night wakes are still presenting.  The two leading causes of night wakes at this age are under tiredness and underlying issues.


toddler waking at night

Identifying Potential Causes of Frequent Night Wakes


Under Tiredness

One common reason for night wakes is under tiredness. This occurs when a child has had too much sleep during the day, reducing their sleep pressure at night. If your child is waking at night, then this is usually quickly managed with your child resettling back to sleep within 5-30 minutes after waking up.


If you feel that under tiredness is the cause of your child's newly presenting night wakes, then you can easily manage this issue by rebalancing your child’s daytime and nighttime sleep schedules to increase sleep drive at night.


To resolve under tiredness:


  • Ensure daytime naps are appropriately timed and not too lengthy

  • Determine if your child needs to drop their nap

  • Ensure bedtime is well balanced with the time your child wakes to start their day. You should be aiming for roughly 12-13 hours awake time during the day.


toddler still waking through the night is not normal

Underlying Issues

When night wakes persist despite adjustments to sleep schedules, it may indicate an underlying issue. This could range from physiological, medical or nutritional factors. In nearly all cases, an underlying issue isn’t a superficial factor, such as the sleep environment or teething, and unlike under tiredness, these issues typically disrupt sleep more consistently and may require closer attention. You can find out more about underlying issues on my blog: Underlying Issues Affecting Children's Sleep: https://www.shereennielsen.com/post/underlying-issues-affecting-sleep


Identifying and addressing underlying issues:


  • Monitor your child’s daytime behavioural and mood for signs of poor sleep quality which may be affecting their ability to emotionally regulate 

  • Assess my underlying issues check list to screen for any possibilities of an underlying issue - it's free to download!




Behavioural vs. Underlying Issues

It's important to differentiate between behavioural issues and underlying causes when addressing disrupted sleep in older toddlers and preschoolers. Behavioural issues usually manifest as resistance to bedtime or difficulty settling down initially, and are a short term disruption that may just randomly present. Whereas underlying issues result in frequent night wakes, long periods of time awake, and are a persistent, long-term issue which may have presented from a younger age. 


Recognising when to seek help:


  • Persistent and unexplained night wakes that affect your child's sleep hygiene, well-being and/or daily functioning.

  • Changes in sleep patterns that are not improving with adjustments to routine or environment.

  • Trust your instincts as a parent; if you feel something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to seek advice


You can also find out more about biologically normal sleep on my blog: Biologically Normal vs Not Normal Sleep



Conclusion

Understanding your child’s sleep patterns and addressing any concerns early can lead to better sleep hygiene and overall well-being for both your child, and you. By recognising the difference between normal developmental stages and potential underlying issues, you can provide the necessary support to ensure your child gets the rest they need for healthy growth and development. Remember, every child is unique, and finding the right balance in sleep routines may require patience and persistence, but it is well worth the effort for the sake of your child’s health and happiness.


You can find out more about toddler and pre-schooler sleep in my program:



If you'd like to connect with me to discuss your child's sleep presentation further and gain an insight into what may be the leading cause, please book in for a free discovery call:




Shereen x



I'm Shereen Nielsen, a certified Sleep Consultant specialising in infants and children from birth to 15 years old. With over seven years of experience, I've assisted over 4000 families in achieving better sleep. Additionally, I serve as a lecturer and mentor, guiding aspiring sleep consultants on their path to certification through my internationally recognised online Sleep Consultant Course.


Phone: +61419820474

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