bed preschooler

Help! My child is not sleeping through the night

The past weeks we have gotten a lot of feedback and questions regarding toddlers, preschoolers and sleep. We are happy that many parents realize the importance of bedtime rituals for small children. We wrote about this in our blog a little while ago, referring to this article on family rituals. And there are so many more sources emphasizing the importance of bedtime rituals!

Family Rituals give children a sense of belongingness and a feeling of being worthwhile.

With putting a child to bed using bedtime rituals, kids will start the night calmly and many sleep through the night.  However, there are children who don’t sleep through the night; they wake up many times or wake up very early.

Some parents accept kids to sneak into mom and dads bed; it is warm and feels safe. Some children have a better night between mom and dad and research shows that there is nothing wrong with that for toddlers and preschoolers – for babies there are certainly some dangers; it is basically a personal choice what you find acceptable and comfortable as a parent.

Even the best sleepers have some sleeping difficulties from time to time. But when parents and children don’t get enough sleep over a period of time due to the broken nights, it is time to start thinking about solutions.

First there are a few causes to check:

  1. The bedroom. Is the temperature in the room right? Many children wake up around 5 am. This is the time a child’s body temperature is at it’s lowest and the cold can wake a child. Or is it too hot? Is there any noise coming from the street? Is the child comfortable and is the bedroom without distractions, like a TV or a lot of toys?
  2. Medical disorders. It is possible that for instance coughing, due to asthma or a common cold, or acid reflux causes a child to wake up. When you are unsure if there may be an underlying medical condition, it is wise to consult your pediatrician about any of these concerns.
  3. Craving for food. If you used to feed a child during the night, and changed the schedule, your child may still be accustomed to drinking a bottle at night. They are conditioned to expect a bottle, so they wake up looking for it. If this is a problem, reduce the volume of the bottle slowly, or increase the interval between bottles slowly. Also make sure your child eats and drinks enough during the day.
  4. Calm start of the night. Has the night started calmly? Bedtime rituals can help to start the night peacefully. Repeating the bed time rituals in the same order for days and weeks, will help the child to realize the night has started and it is time to keep sleeping. vacations and illnesses may change the rituals and will often impact sleep patterns.
  5. Not sleeping alone or bedtime habits. Many parents told us their child only goes to sleep with the parent being present in the room. Once the parent leaves, the situation has changed, and during the lighter sleep it may get noticed. This will only change once your child learns to fall asleep alone, but it may take a few days or weeks to get used to this.
  6. Too much sleep. Is your child sleeping during the day? It can be time to shorten the sleep during the day or skip the nap all together.

The list above is just and indication of the many reasons a child won’t sleep through the night. The items mentioned above are important to check off, since there may be a clear reason for not sleeping well, and rewarding or disciplining won’t solve the underlying cause. It may take a few days or weeks to figure out what is the problem.

Once you check off the possible causes that wake your child at the night, you may want to use a rewarding system, possibly in combination with a sleep trainer clock. The clock tells when it is okay to climb out of bed, and the stickers reward a successfully accomplished night sleep (like staying in own bed, not calling out and falling asleep naturally).

(The links to the reward system and the clock are examples. Just look for the items that fit your own needs best!).

If all the tips mentioned above don’t help, it may be time to consult a (certified) baby and kids sleep consultant.