How to stop my toddler waking me up in the middle of the night?

_english baby sleep gro-clock middle of the night wake ups sleep coaching sleep training toddler Mar 08, 2021

Today I give three tips for Dania to fix her problem: her toddler wakes her up every night, even though she falls asleep independently.
"My 3y old wakes in the middle of the night.  She falls asleep herself.  She wakes us up and we keep telling her if she wakes up to stay in bed and close her eyes. "  Well, this did not work. What does then?


Hello, everyone. It's Anna. Thank you so much for tuning in today. You are listening to The Baby Sleep Project Show, the place to learn about baby sleep and sleep coaching.

Hello, everyone. How are you? How is everyone doing in this pandemic? Well, to tell you the truth, I'm a bit bombed because they announced yesterday that the whole country goes to lockdown on Monday. I live in Hungary and we haven't had a total lockdown since about a year ago when the pandemic started.

We had one lockdown from March to mid-June in 2020, but since then, life was kind of close to normal. Well, the summer was kind of normal. Then school started as usual in September, but in November, all restaurants and cafes closed. There were no movies, theaters, or concerts so that entertainment was kind of limited and still is.

But now they closed all schools and kindergartens, too. So there will be no school and no kindergarten for a month starting next week. And also all stores, malls, and services have to close for two full weeks. So, that's a bummer.

I was even thinking about skipping a week of podcasting and to just let myself be depressed for the day, but then I realized that I might not be able to record anything next week when my kids will be home. And I don't want my dear listeners to wait for so long to get their questions answered. So, here I am.

By the way, I don't have that many questions in the queue right now. So if you ever thought about sending me a question, this is the right time. If you send me your questions right now, there's a good chance that you will get an answer within two or three weeks.

To submit your questions, go to Okay. So today I will answer a question for Dania. I have no idea how to pronounce her name. She sent me questions about both of her kids, but today I'm just going to answer one of them.

So this is about her older child and it goes like this, "My three-year-old wakes in the middle of the night. She falls asleep herself. She wakes us up and we keep telling her if she wakes up, to stay in bed and close her eyes. She turns three in December."

Okay. So the problem is a three-year-old girl who wakes up in the middle of the night, although she falls asleep independently. Okay. So what could cause this problem? I think two weeks ago, I had an episode about bedtime and nighttime sleep training.

Sometimes kids, even though they fall asleep alone in the evening or they fall asleep independently in the evening, they still have problems falling back asleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. So it might be the case that these kids who don't transfer the knowledge of being able to fall asleep independently in the evening so they don't transfer this knowledge to nighttime, they need nighttime sleep training.

But in a three-year-old, that's likely not the problem. So what could be the problem? I see two main reasons why this could happen. The first one is that your child spends too much time in bed. And the second one is that it is a bad habit. So let's look at these two main problem sources.

Too much time in bed: when a kid is supposed to spend too much time in bed that can lead to middle of the night wake ups and not being able to go back to sleep. I'm not sure what happens when your daughter wakes up in the middle of night, but if she has difficulty going back to sleep and she stays up for quite a long time, say, more than half an hour, it is probably, at least partly, a scheduling problem.

I don't know anything about their schedule, but it can be the case that she spends too much time in bed because you expect her to sleep more than what she needs. Three-year-old children, on average, need about 12 and a half hours of sleep. But plus/minus an hour is absolutely normal. So it can be the case that your child only needs 11 and a half hours total in a 24-hour period or even less.

And this amount of time includes the one nap which she still probably has. So nighttime should not be longer than about 11 hours and this can be 10 hours in her case. To fix this problem, first of all, don't let her nap more than about one and a half hours during the day, and then try to restrict the time spent in bed.

What do I mean by that? So how much time does she sleep right now from bedtime to morning wake up, excluding the time that she spends awake in the middle of the night? For example, if she goes to bed at 7:30 PM, let's say she wakes up at 6:30 AM, but spends an hour awake in the middle of the night. That means that she sleeps 10 hours per night, right?

So she spends 11 hours in bed, but she only sleeps 10 hours. To fix this, try to cut back on time spent in bed by pushing bedtime later, or waking her up in the morning or both. First, try to aim for less time in bed than her current sleep need.

Let's say she sleeps 10 hours at night, then you should aim for nine and a half hours in bed. So you push her bedtime later or wake her up in the morning, and this way, you achieve nine and a half hours in bed. And then, of course, you can gradually extend this time as her sleep improves.

Do this for a few days. Probably she will be sleepier or more tired than usual, of course, because she will sleep less, but don't let her sleep more in the afternoon than, say, one and a half hour. And keep this restricted time spent in bed for a few days and see if this middle-of-the-night wake up situation improves. And if it does, then slowly and gradually you can put her to bed a bit earlier until you reach her sleep needs.

So that was my first step; to cut back on time, spent in bed. The second reason for a middle-of-the-night wake up can be that it is just a habit. Habits at this age can be formed in just a few days, in fact, in just a day or two. So maybe she woke up once because of some small discomfort like she was too cold or too hot, and maybe she needed your help to fix these problems for her.

Then the next day, when she woke up between sleep cycles as normal, she remembered what happened the night before and just repeated the same behavior kind of unconsciously. You do this a few times and then it just becomes a habit. Actually, my son does exactly the same. He wakes up at night and climbs into our bed.

It started because he had nighttime fears. So he didn't want to fall asleep alone even though he shares a room with his sister and he fell asleep independently since he was nine months old. But a few months after his third birthday, he started to have these nighttime fears and he didn't want to fall asleep alone.

So we stayed in their room until they fell asleep. And then, of course, in the middle of the night when we were no longer there, he was afraid again when he woke up between sleep cycles. Of course, he started to come wake us up and he didn't want to go back to sleep in his own bed alone again because he was too afraid. So we let him sleep with us.

We don't mind co-sleeping because he's a very peaceful sleeper and we have a big bed so we can sleep comfortably together, but we didn't want him to wake us up. So we told him that he can come and sleep in our bed if he doesn't wake us up. And we reminded him about this every single evening and we discussed how it went every single morning.

And after a week or two, he learned to open the doors quietly and to come to our room without waking us up. So now this is how we sleep and that's fine for us. But the problem is that he started to turn up in our room earlier and earlier. And more and more often, we were still up when he appeared in our room.

Well, this, we didn't like because we couldn't read or watch a film, but we had to immediately finish everything and quickly go to bed ourselves and switch off the lights so that he could go back to sleep. To avoid this, we started to use our Gro-clock creatively.

For those of you who don't know the Gro-clock, it's spelled G-R-O. You can look it up. I think it sells on Amazon. So the Gro-clock is a kind of a clock for children and it is usually used for teaching kids to stay in bed later in the morning. It looks like a little nightlight or something. We have an old model, which we bought for my daughter when she had early morning wake ups when she was around two years old, I think.

So ours looks like around nightlight, where half of the picture is about a little lamb that is going for a walk in the mountains or trekking in the mountains or something. And the other pictures shows the little lamb sleeping in a sleeping bag. So, what this clock does is that either of the pictures lights up and it tells the children whether it's nighttime or daytime.

Whenever you switch on the clock, it will be nighttime and you can set wake up time. Basically, it works as an alarm clock. In fact, it has an alarm function. So you can set it as a regular alarm clock. When you switch it on, the sleeping lamb picture will light up. And at the time when the alarm is set, the picture switches to the other one where the lamb is trekking in the mountains. Also. You can choose if you want an alarm sound at the same time.

Obviously we don't use the alarm sound because we would like to sleep as long as we can. So we use this clock with my son too, to help us sleep a bit longer in the mornings. But when he started to come to our room, obviously, it was no use anymore because the clock was always left in his room.

So we didn't use the clock for a while and then we figured out that we could use it for nighttime. So now we set it for 1:00 AM and we tell him that he can only walk into our room when the little lamb is walking. When the little lamb is sleeping, then he should stay in bed. So if he wakes up before 1:00 AM, he should still stay in bed, but if he wakes up after 1:00 AM, he can come to our bed. So that's how we use to Gro-clock kind of creatively in the middle of the night.

So I have two tips for you to get rid of your daughter's habit; waking you up in the middle of the night. First, you said that you discuss it with her, but don't just discuss it in the middle of the night when she wakes you up because at that time she might not be that conscious. She might not even remember that you talked.

So, talk about it in the evening, every single day. Remind her not to wake you up and also discuss it in the morning. So, discuss how it went. Obviously, if it went well and she didn't wake you up, then you can tell her that you are very proud of her and she did good. And if it didn't go well, then tell her what the consequences are.

Tell her that mommy is a little bit sleepy today because you walk me up in the middle of the night. You can tell her how it affects you. At this ,age, kids are capable of quite a bit of empathy. So don't underestimate the effect of that. So don't just tell her not to wake you up in the middle of the night, but remind her in the evening and then discuss it in the mornings. And be consistent because it can take weeks until it sinks in.

That was my number one tip. My tip number two is that you can invest in a Gro-clock, just like we did. I think it's about maybe $30, and set it to wake up time if you don't want your daughter to wake you up and if you don't want her to go to your bed. I'm not sure that's an issue with you.

But just set it to wake up time and remind her every evening to look at the clock before she wakes you up. So when she wakes up in the middle of the night, look at the clock and if it's daytime, then you can wake us up. And if it's nighttime, then, please just go back to bed.

So to sum up the most probable reasons for your daughter to wake up in the middle of the night is either too much time in bed or it's just a bad habit. And to fix this problem, I have three tips for you. First, cut back on time spent in bed. Second, be consistent and discuss this with your daughter every evening and morning. And third, use a Gro-clock because that really could help at this age.