3 AM parties with drinks of water and the full gang of teddy bears have become your nightly routine? Well, split nights are not only reserved for cute little babies. Here is what to do if your toddler wakes to play in the middle of the night.

Who doesn't love a toddler waking in the middle of the night to play? Who?

I don't. I really, really don't.

There are so many things I love about toddlers. The adorable way they talk and butcher your language's grammar. How they have no filter and tell you that you look soooo tired. The random kisses that end in biting or a completely wetted face. Despite the drama, I love the toddler phase.

But I'm not too fond of a toddler who believes they are old enough to party with me at night. Mainly because my definition of partying is scrolling through my phone on the couch at night.

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Toddler sleep problems are another level of difficult. Toddlers are resilient. Toddlers are loud. And let's be honest, toddlers are sometimes not really reasonable. So if you got a toddler waking in the middle of the night with a plan to party...oh, they gonna party.

But don't worry because I have the solution to your party problem. First, let's find out the causes of a toddler split night and how you can solve it. Mostly peacefully.

This article covers:

What Are Split Nights

When babies or toddlers wake in the middle of the night to hang out with their parents, it's called "split nights". During those split nights, children are usually happy and don't show tired signs (unlike us). Children can stay awake for one to multiple hours.

Split nights are more common for babies 5-15 months. At 15 months, most children start to have consolidated sleep at night. Most will also drop to one nap, and then day and night sleep are usually pretty well regulated.

Still, split nights can sometimes still happen with toddlers.

If your toddler is waking crying or seems to be in discomfort or pain, you should see a pediatrician to rule out any medical issues like sleep apnea, asthma, or acid reflux.

Why Do Split Nights Continue To Happen

Sometimes split nights are a one-time thing, or it happens every few months. In this case, you are still dealing with a split night, but there is usually nothing to worry about. Every child will be off their usual sleep schedule at one time or another. Sometimes split nights can be caused by daylight saving time until the children adjust to ONE HOUR CHANGE.

Ahem, ahem...

But sometimes split nights become a regular thing. For example, your toddler wakes multiple times a week in the middle of the night and continues this behavior for more than one week. In that case, you should start to take action, as this behavior can intensify.

What Causes A Toddler Split Night

The reason why split nights happen is that your child has not built up enough sleep pressure (their need for sleep). Low sleep pressure can result from three things:

Too Much Daytime Sleep

As your child grows, their daytime sleep will slowly decrease. At the same time, nighttime sleep gets more consolidated, and many toddlers start to sleep for long stretches or throughout the night. Most toddlers are on one or two naps depending on their age. But your child also does not need the same amount of sleep they needed as a baby.

So, when your toddler gets too much sleep during the day, they will automatically sleep less at night. Nighttime sleep gets compensated by daytime sleep. As a result, they wake in the middle of the night, ready to play.

Related Article: Your Toddler Wakes At 11PM Every Night? Here Is What To

Too Early Bedtime

Figuring out the optimal bedtime can be science itself. During your little one's last awake time, sleep pressure will slowly build up. Sleep pressure is the body's drive to sleep and will help your toddler fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Once your toddler is asleep, sleep pressure will slowly wear off.

If you put your child to bed too early in the evening, their body has not built up enough sleep pressure to stay asleep. Instead, their sleep pressure will dissolve entirely at some point in the middle of the night, and they will wake ready to rock and roll. Low sleep pressure will also make them more prone to any small sleep disruption.

Once they are up, it can take a while until enough sleep pressure builds up again, so they fall back asleep and continue sleeping until the morning.

Related Article: A Toddler Bedtime Routine That Will Make Your Toddler Stop Fighting Sleep

The last wake window is too short

Besides a too-early bedtime, there is also the possibility that the last wake window is too short. Your child needs to be awake for a certain amount of time to sleep well at night. If they are not up long enough, they can experience false starts (toddlers waking after their first sleep cycle), or they might experience split nights.

Nap Transitions

A nap transition can also mess with your toddler's night sleep. I also like to call it an "in-between naps" phase. It's like your toddler definitely doesn't want to nap, but they need the nap. Also, they don't need a nap every day. So basically, you are left completely confused about whether or not they need the nap. So, as a result, on some days, your little one naps, on others, they don't. This can also mess with your child's night-day sleep.

Related Article: How to Make Nap Transitions Easy for Your Baby

How To Stop Split Nights

Fixing the issue of split nights will mostly take a few days to two weeks, depending on how much your child's circadian rhythm has adjusted to their night wakings. So what you now need to do is shift that daytime sleep to nighttime sleep. Getting your toddler's regular sleep pattern back on track will take more than one day. So the key here is to be consistent with your measures. You might also deal with a grumpy little toddler. They are now used to a lot of daytime sleep, and giving it up can be difficult for them. So brace yourself!

Here are my 3 steps to stop toddler split nights once and for all:

Step 1: Set A Fixed Wake Time

You probably think I am totally crazy for bringing this up as the very first measure. Your child already missed out on sleep at night, and now I am suggesting waking them in the morning?! No, my intention is not to ruin your day.

Well, waking your child is a very effective step. Children's waking hours are naturally early. Everything between 6-8 AM is normal. Now when your child was up for a few hours at night, they might naturally sleep in the morning. But if they continue to sleep after 8 AM, the habit of split nights can intensify. It will further mess with your child's nighttime sleep and can even cause day-night confusion. The crazy newborn days are over, so we really don't need that again!

Therefore, stick to one wake-up time, something like 7 AM (8 AM is still kind of late), and wake your baby every day, at least until this sleep problem is resolved. Chances are they are naturally going back to early waking hours (sorry...). You might deal with a grumpy baby, so you can bring their first nap of the day forward.

Related Article: Early Morning Wakes - Why Is My Baby Waking At 5 AM In The Morning?

Step 2: Cut Those Naps

Ok, it just keeps getting crazier. It's now time to analyze your toddler's napping behavior. How much total sleep do they need at their age, and how much sleep are they getting? When are they napping? When is the last nap of the day? These are all things to consider when you create your new nap routine. I know we all love a napping child, especially if you had a catnapper in the early months and now they sleep for hours. But sorting out those naps is inevitable if you want to stop those crib parties at night.

Generally, you should ensure that the last wake window is the longest. Children starting from 18 months can already handle wake windows of 6 hours. Ideally, your toddler should nap at noon, around 12 PM, and should not sleep for more than 2 hours. If your child is closer to 2 years, 2 hours may already be too much. It obviously also depends on the child's individual sleep needs.

If you think your child sleeps too much during the day, you need to shorten those naps as well. Now, because your child was awake at night and had to get up in the morning, they will probably be really tired when their first nap is approaching. If your child is only on one nap, then don't let them sleep for more than 2 1/2 hours. If they still have two naps, let them sleep for 1 1/2 hours for their first nap and a maximum of 1 hour for their second nap. But make sure they don't sleep past 2:30 PM if you want a bedtime of 8:00/8:30. You will do this for the first couple of days.

Until their circadian rhythm has adjusted to their usual sleeping hours, they will be more tired during the day.

Step 3: Delay Bedtime

If short naps are not your or your child's thing, you should consider delaying bedtime. While wake windows are still very helpful during toddlerhood, they become "less" important than sleep cues. Toddlers are usually more undertired than overtired, so you don't need to worry about that too much.

You also don't need a fixed bedtime, e.g., 8 PM. Your child's bedtime will not be the same every day. It highly depends on what they have been doing all day and how much their sensory cup is filled. So, therefore, watching your child's sleepy cues will be more helpful when it comes to determining the right time to sleep.


I know that this phase can be very overwhelming. If you are struggling with split nights, please remember that this can be resolved and that you are not alone. Also, remember that your child does not keep you awake on purpose. If you apply all the measures mentioned above, you should go back to uninterrupted nighttime sleep very soon!

If you are looking for more help with your baby's sleep, check out my baby sleep program! It is full of helpful information about baby sleep, how to get your baby to fall asleep independently, and age-by-age sleep schedules. Everything you need without the tears!