Is your toddler constantly waking 2-3 hours after going to bed? There are a variety of reasons for toddlers waking at night. Let's take a closer look at the possible causes and 6 solutions to help your little one sleep better.

Welcome to the toddler night club!

Who doesn't love waking up with a toddler standing next to their bed in the middle of the night? Kind of scary sometimes if you ask me.

You probably thought that all the sleep challenges would be over by now. Sleep deprivation would be a story from the past. Your child would go to sleep JUST.LIKE.THAT.

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Common, who are we kidding? Would a kid really be a kid if they didn't come up with something new to leave you sleepless?

The internet is flooded with advice about baby sleep, but toddler sleep? Not that much. Yet, there are many reasons why sleep can become more challenging during toddlerhood and preschool age.

In this article, we want to focus on a specific sleep problem: a toddler that wakes every night around the same time. Usually, this happens 2-3 hours after they go to sleep. We will look at the possible causes of your child's night waking and what you can do about it.

This article covers:

Night Terrors

Night terrors usually happen 2-3 hours after a child falls asleep. It happens during the transition from deep sleep to light sleep. Children suddenly wake or sit up and cry loudly. Night terrors are not really bad dreams, and children don't remember them. They are more like a sudden reaction of fear that is very intense but lasts very shortly. Sometimes children fall back to sleep quite easily after a night terror. Other times they are confused and scared and need more time to find back to sleep.

Night terrors are often inherited from a parent that also had night terrors or experienced sleepwalking. The part of the brain that regulates the sleep and waking brain activity is still maturing, which can lead to these abrupt wakings. Night terrors can last from a few weeks to a couple of months.


Try to keep your child's stress levels during the day low and aim for relaxing and calming activities before bedtime. Less stress can help prevent night terrors. A completely dark environment at night is also helpful as it increases melatonin production. If your child is afraid of the dark, use a red nightlight. Red light does not interfere with the melatonin production.

New Fears

At the age of 2, children can start to develop fears. Until now, your child may not have been afraid of the dark, and then suddenly, they want a night light or don't like falling asleep with the lights out. I remember very well when my 2-year-old son suddenly said to me right before bedtime: "dinosaurs come to crib."

Oh my god, when he said that, I wanted to hug him all night long. He never showed any signs of fear until that very evening. He repeated telling me that every night for a few weeks. I always assured him that no dinosaurs would come and that I would always watch and protect him all night. He then said: "no dinosaur is coming".


It can be heartbreaking to see your child scared. At the same time, it is sometimes different for parents to grasp what these fears mean for children. Research shows that children until 7 often cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction. For them, dinosaurs, witches, and wolves in the bedroom are very much real. Therefore, it is important to show compassion and reassure them when they have fears or a bad dream. Often children have phases with increased fears.

You should also try to tune it down in the evening. Have a long, thorough bedtime routine. Keeping screen time at a minimum during the day can also help. Children are exposed to a lot of stimuli when watching tv, and then they can have a hard time processing it at night.


Children older than 15 months can create something sometimes called learned hunger. Those children still feed at night and now start to develop a habit of feeding. The sucking motion and the milk are very comforting for them. However, at this age, most children do not need night feedings anymore.


When and if to wean from night feedings is a very personal matter. There is nothing wrong with a 16-month-old having a night feeding. But 16 months of night feedings can also be a long time for parents. While night weaning does not guarantee that your child will sleep through the night, for older babies or toddlers, it can work well. But still, this is a personal decision to make.

Light Sleepers

Some children are naturally light sleepers. While some brains more easily block environmental stimulation when asleep, others are still very receptive when sleeping. You could turn on the blow dryer in my daughter's room, and she would still not wake up. My son, on the other hand, would notice every little movement in the entire house.

Light sleepers also wake more easily when switching to a new sleep cycle. When we switch sleep cycles, we are already more receptive to outside disruptions. Combined with a light sleeper, this can easily lead to night wakings.


It can be challenging to deal with light sleep. It feels like you cannot move anything at all, yourself included. But there are still some things you can do to create an environment that doesn't disturb your child's sleep. A white noise machine and black-out curtains work wonders. Reconsider your sleeping arrangements. Maybe separate rooms might work better.

If you want to learn more about light sleepers, check out my blog article:

Related Article: Is Your Baby A Light Sleeper? 9 Solutions To Get Them To Sleep & Stay Asleep

Medical Disorders

Medical disorders are often not in the picture when we encounter sleep problems. Yet, there are some red flags when you should check with a medical professional.


If your child is snoring or sleeping with an open mouth, it can be a sign of obstructions in the airway, like obstructive sleep apnea. If your child is frequently coughing, it can be asthma. If they are vomiting at night or have regular tummy pain, it can be associated with acid reflux. A lip or tongue tie can also disturb your toddler's nighttime sleep.

Environmental Factors

Even though children naturally become deeper sleepers with age, environmental factors can still lead to sleep disturbance.


Check for loud noises that might wake your kid. Check if lights from passing cars might disturb them and use black-out curtains. Is your child sharing a room with you or their sibling? Then a white noise machine can help block out noises from other people in the same room. Also, make sure that they are neither cold nor hot. Toddlers tend to sweat much faster than we do.

Habit Of Waking

Many sleep trainers will tell you that your toddler wakes at night due to a bad sleep association. They need your help to fall asleep at the beginning of the night, so they will also need your help to fall back to sleep after every waking. Some also call this "inappropriate" sleep onset associations. According to them, the leading solution is sleep training.

The thing is that even for older babies and toddlers, it is normal to wake. Research shows that night wakings until the age of 2 still happen. If your child is younger than 2 years, then honestly, they are still a baby in my eyes.

We also see that there can be a lot of different reasons why toddlers wake, from medical reasons to nightmares. So no, not every sleep problem is the result of a bad sleep association.

With that said, there is still the possibility of habitual waking. This has more to do with your child's internal clock than the inability to self-settle to sleep. Your child has started to wake for whatever reason, and because they did that multiple days in a row, their internal clock keeps doing it. Their circadian rhythm is slightly off, and you need to get it back on track.


Give your child the benefit of the doubt that their waking behavior has nothing to do with bad sleep habits. If you have checked all possible reasons off the list, look at your child's overall sleeping behavior. Are they only waking at the beginning of the night and then continue to sleep until the morning? Then you are not dealing with the problem of independent sleep. If they are waking hourly, then your child is probably experiencing some kind of discomfort that makes them wake between every sleep cycle.

It makes no sense to decide on sleep training without taking an overall look at your child's sleeping behavior during the whole night and day. If you still believe your child has grown a habit of waking and only wants you to put them back to sleep, you can slowly get them used to falling asleep by themselves. You can support them back to sleep and gradually reduce your help.

If you want to learn more about how to help your child settle to sleep independently or with less help, check out my baby sleep program, which contains an extensive settling guide!

Low Sleep Pressure

As your child grows, their sleep needs will slowly decrease. Most 2-3 year-olds start showing the first signs of dropping the last nap. Even those who do nap usually don't need naps longer than 45 minutes. The timing of the nap also plays an important role. At this age, you want your last wake window to be the longest, so your child can build up enough sleep pressure for the night.

If your toddler has too much daytime sleep or naps are happening too late, their sleep pressure (the need for sleep) will be too low to sleep through a good amount of time. They might wake during the night and even stay awake for hours. This is called a split night.

Related Article: Split Nights: Why Your Baby Is Wide Awake For Hours At Night


The best way to determine if your child is tired enough is to watch their sleepy cues. If they don't show tired signs or take a long time to fall asleep, then either bedtime is too early, or they are sleeping too much during the day. Try to shorten the naps and increase the wake window until bedtime. There is really no point in putting a toddler to bed that is not tired enough.

Related Article: Baby Sleep Cues - The Secret To Recognizing Baby's Sleepy Cues

Developmental Leaps

Your toddler will still hit major developmental milestones. They may have hit the big milestones like walking or saying their first words, but there is still a lot to come. There is the 18-month and 2-year sleep regression, which can lead to deteriorated night sleep. Children start to talk in real sentences. They begin to realize that they are their own little person and want to do everything alone. At the same time, most young children hit their biggest phase of separation anxiety during this age.


Like with every leap, they come and go when the next one knocks at the door. Your child is going through a phase that will hopefully end soon, and you can all go back to normal nights. In the meantime, you can help your child practice their new skills during the day. Get active and practice, practice, practice. Give them the feeling of success and praise them. This will help fill their emotional cup. Learning new things can also be scary so make sure to have a lot of one-on-one time with your child and provide much comfort.


I know this is not a pleasant topic, but it should also be addressed here as it can be a cause for your child's night wakings: threadworms.

I know...Ighhhhhh

Threadworms, also called pinworms, are small worms that infect the large intestine of humans. They are most common in children under the age of 10. They are quickly spread. They are not harmful, and your child may not even show symptoms. They are also not necessarily visible in the stool.

But threadworms become active at night time. The females lay their eggs at night. Along with the eggs, the worm also secrets mucus that causes itching, which then can wake your child. This usually happens early at night. Newly bedwetting can be another symptom of threadworms.


It is often still difficult for such young children to clearly state what is uncomfortable. But you can ask them if they feel any discomfort around the bum area. If you are unsure, check the area around the anus and vagina. Check the underwear and the diaper as well. If you notice any redness or skin infection around the anus, it might be an indicator of threadworms.

I know this sounds really icky, but threadworms are harmless and can be easily treated at home.