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Several years ago, when our child was still waking up at night (two years old at the time), I went into our Doctor’s office with this complaint…  “My 2-year-old is still waking up at night .”  Her advice changed our nights!

I was recently talking to a friend having the same issues, so I decided that if she needed some encouragement, others might, too.

2, 3, 4 year old waking up at night

I wanted to share this with you because our son was the BEST sleeper.
He came home from the hospital and slept through the night.   
Let me hold you longer - daddy & ethan
At one year of age, he continued to sleep all night long.  He did this until he was about two years of age and then it started.  He started waking up at night, and it was happening every night.  He was waking up not feeling rested… even, might I say… “Crabby”?

not happy

Once we started watching his patterns more often, we realized that it was around the same time every night.  He was going to bed around 7:00 every night (6:00 if he didn’t nap at all) and waking up in the morning around 7:00 or 8:00.  If he goes to bed at 6:00, he wakes up between 6:50 & 7:30 – he always gets at least 12 hours, sometimes 13, which is about what he needs.

He started waking up at midnight, too.  He would wake up and cry.  We would go in, cover him up and he would go back to sleep.  Sometimes he wanted a drink or different pajamas (not sure about this one, he just liked to change his pajamas – haha!)

It was impacting his mornings.

He wasn’t acting like himself because he was waking up and not getting his much-needed rest. After a few weeks of this, I was exhausted (We have three other kids, and one was a baby at the time.)  He was exhausted, too.  

This photo was taken around that time…  

Four children posing for a professional photograph.

I wish I could say it was a short phase, but it continued.  A few months later, I was even more exhausted.  When his 3-year well-check came around, this was brought up, and we received great advice!


2, 3 or 4 year old waking at night

What you need to do:

She told us that when WE go to bed, go into his room first, hug him, kiss him, lay with them, cover him up…. all things to rouse him just a bit.  Wake him just enough to break him out of his sleep a little.  What this does is that it breaks up his sleep cycle.   He was waking when he was switching from his REM sleep.   Do not wake them up! Just make them stir a bit.

Don’t lie down with them or talk to them.  Just rub their back, tuck them in, kiss them on the cheek… just enough to make them switch sleep cycles.  This brings them out of their sleep slightly, which is just enough to make them fall back into a deep sleep and hopefully sleep through the night.   I studied child development in college, so this makes complete sense to me once she said it.

I wish I would have thought of it sooner!  
It worked PERFECTLY!  He no longer woke up at night and he sleeps the full night.  I was so excited the first night, and I have been happy ever since!  So the key is just to ‘stir him a bit’ before you go to bed.  That was it for us!  I hope that it works for you, too!

For more sleep tips, you are welcome to sign up here for my free email series called “Helping My Child Become a BETTER Sleeper.”

I will also send you a sample sleep schedule.

Ps- just for a little “inspiration,”… our kids are now much older, and everyone sleeps through the night… most nights. 🙂  It gets better- I promise.
These are the faces of well-rested kids. 🙂

A group of people sitting in the grass.
More posts you might like:

sleep disorder disguised as ADHD

why I still carry my kids

Kids waking too early

in bed by 7:00


Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. This is very interesting. My son only slept that long from about 8 weeks to 4 months and then he would wake up several times in the night. Ever since about 5 months, we started to co-sleep. He wakes up several times a night, but only to latch back onto the breast to sleep. I haven’t worried about it really because a lot of breastfeeding moms I communicate with have the same thing. I try to take him off right as he falls asleep or right when he falls asleep so he’s not trying to jump back onto the breast. He sleeps for several hours like that but then wants the breast to get back to sleep again. He’s 16 months now. Some nights he does it very frequently and it can be frustrating but all in all, it doesn’t bother me too much. I know one day he will be sleeping fine and my breastfeeding days with him will be over. I wonder what will happen by the time he’s 2 or 3. We shall see! Thanks for the tip. I will keep it in mind as his sleep cycle changes.

    1. Our first son did this a lot- would wake a night (in his crib) & nurse back to sleep- I really didn’t mind it too much b/c I just loved that time w/ him- but now with four, sleep is a good thing! LOL! . 🙂

    2. Hi there Brittnei — I’m curious…how does your son sleep now? My son will be 4 next week and has only slept through the night a handful of times…ever. He still wakes and wants to nurse, even though he says he will stop nursing when he turns 4…which is a week from today. Just curious if you’re still nursing your child to sleep…I am over here.

      1. thats amazing that you still nurse your son at the age of 4. My daughter is 1 and a half and i was debating stopping or not as my family thinks she is too old. I was wondering how that works with school, is it just nursing at night or in the morning too? has he asked for it at school? Not being negative at all, was just curious how it works if i were to continue nursing my daughter

        1. Your little girl is still in the baby/toddler stage. If you want to continue nursing, I say go for it. Don’t let other people(even family) tell you it is time to stop. Personally, I would go til about 2, then start to wean. I had 3 children and was only able to breastfeed one. He weaned himself at 16m as my milk turned bad into my 3rd pregnancy. Family tried to tell me he was too old then. That was coming from my grandmother who nursed hers til age 4! They are only a baby a little while.

        2. I was surprised myself to Be nursing my son who will be 2 in March. He does not want to wean at all. It was always nursing on demand. It seems like it worked better the fourth time around and the only boy. The girls weaned off before the year. I’m holding on to this time as much as possible, but there are many days when I ask when will he be done nursing. Especially with little sleep. Good luck. Continue breastfeeding, it really is beneficial!

      2. I am so grateful for your post. My son just turned 2 -‘and he wants to nurse a few times a night (incl before he flies to sleep). I am losing my mind due to the lack of sleep. I am feeling conflicted as I work full time and have to get up for work, but I am not willing to let him cry-it-out either. We also have a 5-year-old and he loved nursing too, but I finally eased him off using the ‘no cry sleep solution’ method. He was much easier to wean. Not sure what to do. Would love to continue to pick your brain on this topic!

        1. @Angie Pannkuk, How many children do you have and how have you handled their sleep issues? I never could get mine to sleep thru at 4 months although that was definitely would’ve wonderful!

      3. Hi , my son is 2 years old and reading your stories makes me realize there is something very wrong with his sleep, he wakes up at night around 6/7 times , he takes 4/5 bottles of milk . I have tried everything and to be honest I have 2 other boys so when he does that I’m dead exhausted to keep him crying and just surrender and give him the milk! I don’t know where to start all this and he sleeps beside me ! Any guidance without judging would be appreciated, I’m a mum of 3 boys with no help around.

        1. No judging from me… we’re all moms 🙂
          I would talk to your doctor, but I think he could probably cut out all of the milk at night. You could replace it with water or make it cold so he doesn’t want it as much (that’s what we did). Plus, they will eat more in the day if they aren’t getting the calories at night. (ask your dr. first). But.. .once the milk isn’t there at night, the wake-ups should stop.

        2. Hi Zool. I have been goingthrough the exact same problem with my 2 yr old. He turned 2 in Feb. He used to be amazing sleeper then a couple months before his 2nd bday it all changed. I was wondering if your child is now sleeping all night. I have 2 older boys they never did this too me. I just really want better sleep for us

        3. I wish I found this article sooner!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. My son is almost 3.5 and we have had night wakings here for MONTHS. He would wake up and call for us multiple times a night until it became a regular thing for my husband to go and sleep there for the majority of the night. It was becoming exhausting because eventually he started waking up every 2 hours if someone slept with him or not, he would be grumpy and a exhausted in the day time, it was causing him to have very bad tantrums, and it also made things for difficult for me – I’d have to go and wake my husband up quietly for work every morning and then switch spots with him. Once my son would wake up and see it eas be next to him, he would freak out and have a tantrum to start each day. We tried cutting out milk before bedtime, tried an earlier bedtime, tried a more boring routine, etc. We recently transitioned him to a floor bed to see if it would change things – it didn’t. Last night was the first night I tried this before I went to sleep – and it worked! I am hoping it wasn’t just a fluke night .. which I don’t think it is was because it has literally been the first night in MONTHHSSSS that my son has slept through the night. I also used your other article on how to get your toddler to stay in bed (tell them to not leave the room but to call out for me instead) and that also worked rly well – since the floor bed my son was coming to our room multiple times, but this morning was also the first morning that he called out instead of leaving his room. I seriously wish I could hug you right now cause I am so happy haha. Thank you so much for sharing these articles and I wanted to come and write a comment to share that this worked for me!!

    3. I could have written this post – exactly what happens with my son. He turned 21 months on May 7. It is frustrating and tiring at times but I also realize it won’t last forever. And the bond we have is amazing. I love it and so does my husband.

      1. My three year old only sleeps in his bed 5 hours before waking and joining us in our bed. I was awake and just knew he would be up soon to sleep with us. I googled ideas to help him and found this. I was sceptical but i figured he’ll be up soon anyway if it doesn’t work. I went to him and fixed his blanket and caressed his face and he gave a stuttered breath and shifted. I went to bed and amazing he slept alone until 8:40 am! Wow. Something so simple. I hope it continues to work for us.

        1. I’m so glad you’re having success!! Fingers crossed you are all able to get some more sleep!

    4. I read the article with my wife because our son has a sleeping pattern issue as well, and, my wife was excited there’s an answer out there. I had to then inform her that these people that are writing the article are a bunch of unethical losers who take advantage of people’s love for their kids to sell their f*****g products. Thats in the “I just found out that Lully makes this little product” section. And its underlined with UPDATE. As I said, a bunch of unethical people. Shame on you

  2. This is interesting but I’m not sure it’s working for our son :(. Our son is 20 months old and goes to bed around 7pm, we always go in to him before we go to bed to kiss him good night, make sure his blankets are on properly etc. He always only sleeps through to no later than 6am and is always waking at the same time each morning at 4.45am. We just can’t figure it out! It may be that he’s looking for his pacifier or he’s hungry…but it’s always the same time!

    1. Ugh- I wish I could help. OUr son was waking at midnight. When we started doing this (enough to ‘wake’ him a little bit), he started sleeping all night. Good luck!! Post back if you find something that works. I wish that I had something to tell you that would help.

      OH- I just remembered that our oldest son would wake like this for his pacifier, so we started keeping 3 in his bed- all in the corner, so he knew where they were! haha. 🙂

      1. If I were to start trying this is it something you have to constantly do or do they learn to sleep through the night again. I’m worried it’ll backfire and my daughter will wake too much and then want me. She is very good at falling asleep on her own when laid in her crib awake at night. It’s staying asleep. She generally wakes the same time every night around midnight.

        1. No- it just takes about a week and then they stop waking up. They might start again a year or so later, but just do it again.

      2. I do the same with the pacifiers got my almost 4yr old. He sleeps ttthenogtthenoght aasat midnight I go in and kiss him tell hhimi love him and put the blanket back on. My almost 2 yr old completely didiffent though 🙁

      3. Hi, when exactly do you go to stir them a bit? My 22 month old goes to sleep around 10pm (I know it’s so late, but he’s just not sleepy at all before that) and wakes up around 10am. Would I stir him around midnight? And how many nights so you do this for?
        Thank you in advance for the clarification!

        1. Usually around midnight 🙂 I still do it b/c I just check on them every night & give them a little kiss, cover them up, etc… 🙂

  3. My son is 4 and has only slept through the night a few nights in a row, ever. I am definitely pinning this and going to try it with ours tonight!

      1. Any ideas to get a 2 year old sleep in his bed he was an awesome sleeper when he had a crib n he wants it back but he was too big for it as he is as big as a 3 and a half year old n almost hurt his self climbing out of it nothing is working .

        1. Honestly- we used our video monitor for this (I use it for so much!)! haha!! So we would watch our daughter when we started her in her toddler bed. The second that she would get out of bed, I would go in and say “Allie! No Ma’am! Get back into bed. If you want to come out, you call for Mommy.” I just had to do that a few times and that was it. She has been in it for over 6 months (I think) and still calls for me when she is ready to wake up.

        2. We use a “bunny clock” that shows a rabbit awake and playing on one half and him sleeping in his bed on the other half. It’s programmed to have the bunny “wake up” at the time we want our kids to wake up. We use it for nap and bed times and it works like a charm once they learn how to use it. We trained them by having it wake up before they usually do for a few days and then gradually adding time until they were getting up on time. It helped with late night and very early morning waking as well as waking too early to get up. We got ours on Amazon and I think there are a few other options, too (a friend has one that glows blue like the moon or yellow like the sun).

        3. My daughter had a really hard time transitioning to her bed from the crib. We found that it helped to take the crib mattress and put it on her bed and have her sleep on it. We did this for about a week then took the crib mattress away and she did great in the bed. Also, my mother gave me a rail which we attached to the bed and I think that it helped her to feel more secure, more like she was in a bigger crib. The rail was intended to keep her from rolling off of the bed and when this was no longer an issue we removed the rail as well. She is 3 now and is about to be a big sister 😉 Hope this helps!


    1. i just stumbled across this post. Our son is 3 1/2 and we have that same experience. He just doesn’t sleep thru. He wakes up yelling most nights. He just doesn’t want to be alone. Did your child grow out of this? It’s so exhausting.

      1. Ours always outgrew it with consistency (“I’ll come in and give you a hug, but not sleep in here.”)
        Good luck!

      2. Mine was 4 and waking up with nightmares every night at 1am, almost on the dot. I wasn’t a live-in step mommy yet, but I convinced her dad to switch from dessert every night (fruity sweet yogurt, ice cream, you know, DESSERT) to an after-lunch affair (and a lot less often) and instituted a bedtime snack of cheesestick or apple & peanut butter, something with a lot of fat & protein, and only a little sugar. From the very first night, she didn’t wake up anymore. Worked like a charm.

        10-12 hours is a LONG time to go without food, especially for tiny tummies. Give them something right before bed that will keep their blood sugar stable through the night, and I think a lot of these sleep issues would be solved. Not all, but a lot, and I think especially if they’re waking up at the same time every night. If you’ve excluded environmental factors (like the neighbor revving their loud diesel at 4:45am, or even just kicking the covers off during a lighter sleep stage) switching up food is worth trying to see if it helps. Heck, I made the same changes for myself (no sweets after dinner, always a snack if dinner was early or I stayed up late) and it’s made my sleep a lot more predictable and restful. And a lot fewer crabby headaches in the morning for everyone.

        1. So true- sugary snacks aren’t going to fill little tummies for very long!

  4. My daughter did that as well, I didnt think it would ever end, but it did and now my bed is for my hubby and i, no child allowed 🙂

  5. How interesting! Thanks for sharing. I have a 2 year old that goes through cycles of doing this too. I will be sure to try this when it comes around again 🙂

  6. Im new here and totally thrilled. Thank you sooooo much for posting this! Im going through this right now and will be putting your suggestions into effect ASAP!!

    1. 🙂 Good luck, Kathy! It seriously works (for us anyways). ON nights when I forget, he wakes up (like clock-work!) but when I remember, it works. SOmetimes I really move him around (move his legs, fix his blankets, rub his hair & kiss his head. All enough to really ‘stir’ him, but not wake him up completely 🙂

      1. My daughter goes to bed between 8-8:30 pm and we(my husband and I) go to bed shortly after this we are in bed by 9pm. So I don’t think this will help us much. She is also an early riser and 5-530am. And also waking during the night at least once but sometimes up to three times. She has always been this way. Talking to our docter he said because I breast fed and for just short of a year she was used to getting woke up to eat. She is also getting to the age were they remember their dreams and can wake up from that. She has been waking up and wanting to rock and as soon as I sit in the rocking chair she falls asleep with in two minutes. I am trying to let her cry it out and I will wait 10-15 minutes and sometimes she will go back to sleep. I have a full time job and I am exhausted and getting very crabby with my family because I need the rest. Any suggestions for me?

        1. How old is she? Two?
          I would probably just go in and not pick her up or anything, just cover her up and leave. We need our sleep as much as they do. I would do what you are doing, although it is hard.

      2. Do you have to continue this for the rest of his life then? Lol or when can you stoping erupting his sleep when u go to bed?

        1. haha- no. I just had to do it for a few weeks. 🙂 Then about a year later he did it again and I did the routine for a week or so and he stopped again. )

  7. I want to try this, but I think my 2.5 year old daughter is a very light sleeper. I’m afraid that stirring her up just a bit would be difficult as she wakes up the second I touch her door or walk in her room. I’m pretty desperate though and can try it a few times to see what would happen.

    1. Our son is a very light sleeper, too. I’d give it a try. If I wake him up, I just give him some water and kiss him and tell him to go back to sleep.

    2. My son is almost 9 and when he sees something that scares him, he then has nightmares and wakes up nightly. It was 4:30 am, now it’s 2 am and he wants us to lie with him. I do the above. Every night I kiss him and sometimes he even opens his eyes, but mostly rolls over, is this enough or do I have to make him move etc? He still wakes up at 2 am saying nightmare. It becomes a habit I think. This happened when he was 3.5 and watched something scary and it took 3 years for him to stop waking up and coming in our room. I am hoping this does not last and goes away soon. Thanks

  8. Hello my son is 2. 6 years old. He is waking up every night, we are desperate. We just cant fine out what to do. We have tried everything. Tonight I will try this out. I am not sure how should I do this. At about 8 I put him in his bed. We pray and kiss good night. Then he will hug me and falls asleep. Since he is a very light sleeper i will quietly get out of his bedroom. My question is…. When should I try to wake him up just enough to help him change to rem sleep…? Like an hour later or as soon as he falls sleep. . .?

    1. I would try it. I would wake him right before you go to bed (we go around midnight, so that’s when we do this). 🙂 I give him a kiss & says “I love you, E. Night night” and its just enough to wake him a little bit. He doesn’t open his eyes, just rolls over & we cover him back up.
      Good luck!!

    2. When our daughter started to wake up in the middle of the night, around 2.5 years old at which point she was fully day and night trained, (just short on sleepy verbal skills), we thought she was having nightmares. Ultimately she would pee,(we assumed out of fear) and then she would get extremely angry and upset. Then one night on a hunch we realized she might actually have to pee, we were l little slow on the uptake, we regularly asked her and she always said no. We started taking her 2/3 asleep to the bathroom, as soon as her little bum touched the toilet seat, and with her head resting on my shoulder, she did in fact have to pee, after wiping up, it was back to bed and back to sleep like she never missed a beat. She was actually upset at being woken up, and then not being listened to.

      She never actually peed the bed, just Dad trying to comfort her, and it was not her fault, she was trying to tell us, we just weren’t listening. Think outside the box, what have you got to loose for trying something that may or may not make complete sense at the time. Parenting is like a bad game of charades with competitors that don’t know the rules and refuse to tell you the answer.

      Best of luck figuring out your problems and finding solutions. You will make it through this, you must believe that.

      1. so funny!! Our 2 year old does this, too – she wakes if she has to use the potty (but on the plus side, she hasn’t wet her diaper at night since 23 months old) 🙂

    3. My 6 year old wakes up every night wanting us too so If this doesn’t work for you I have a suggestion that worked for us. We put a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor and told her if she wakes up and is scared she can come sleep in our room. This works really well as it never wakes us up zzzzz. Now I just have to figure out how to get my EBF 5 month old to stop waking up for feeds 5x a night.

  9. This is interesting, and I can’t wait to try it tonight 🙂 my 2.5 year used to be a great sleeper.. But is now waking between 3.30/4 am and that’s to start the day.. My almost 5 year old still jumps into bed with us at some point in the night, he has mastered not waking us up climbing in because we send him back to his bed…

  10. Do you think this will work on a 4 year old. She is able to fall asleep by herself at 7.30pm – 8pm but wakes at 1am or 3.30am – 4am and comes into our room. Before I go to bed I tuck her in and remove the books she was reading and I might wake her up by accident but she just rolls over and falls back to sleep but still wakes up in the middle of the night coming into our room:( However I did notice the last two nights she said something to me….guessing she was dreaming about something.

    1. I would try it. I also found that when our kids started waking up when they needed to go to the bathroom- it lasted a while & we went through this until they were able to go by themselves. Try out my post on night-training & see if that makes a difference if the waking before bed doesn’t help.

  11. This REALLY WORKS!!! I read a ton of blogs, and I never comment, but I am so thankful and thrilled that I stumbled upon yours that I felt the need to comment! I have a 27 month old son, and he has been waking up throughout the night on and off since he was about 15 months. He had been previously sleeping through the night since about 1 month old, 12 hours straight with a 2-3 hour nap during the day. We could not figure out why this started and were unable to change it (and we are not fans of sleep training). It began to get REALLY exhausting about 3 months ago when we had our daughter. Waking up to put him back down 2-3 times a night plus then waking up around 6am to nurse her has been taking a toll on us. Three nights ago, my husband and I saw this and said, “What’s the worst that could happen? He’s already waking up at night.” So we tried this… And IT WORKED!! And this has been the third consecutive night that it worked!! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this tip! I wasn’t sure whether we had to continue doing it every night or if once we did it a few times he would stop waking up, but I just saw your comment above saying that if you don’t do it, yours will wake up like clockwork! So we will be continuing to rouse him before we lay down! It is so worth the extra 30 seconds to get him to sleep through the entire night! I really cannot thank you enough!!

    1. Oh- I am so glad that it helped!!! 🙂 That’s awesome news. Thanks for leaving that comment- I love to know that these tips help!! yay!

      1. Nicole- Did the one time going in to disrupt his sleep cycle before you and your husband went to bed solve all of the 2-3 night wakings or did you do it multiple times throughout it the night? We are in the same boat and I’m going to give it a shot but I’m wondering if I also need to set my own alarm to try and disrupt his sleep midway through the night? Thanks!!!

  12. Thank you for this! I can’t wait to try it out tonight. My 2 year old sounds a lot like yours. He was the perfect baby and perfect sleeper until the past month or so and is now getting up for drinks or wanting to read books in the middle of the night. We’re going crazy. 🙂 I’ll definitely give this tip a try!

  13. Such simple but such great advice, I’m so glad it worked for you. I’ll be sharing this with my readers too, hopefully others will have the same success as you.

  14. Hi my 5 month old is waking every 40minutes throughout the night,ive tried your tip but he just completly wakes up and ive to go through the whole process again of getting him to sleep again which can take up to an hour. He used to be a great sleepet up until 3 months,even his naps are disturbed now,he might sleep 10mins n is crying then.what am i doing wrong??

    1. I think for a 5 month old, you should read the book The Baby Whisperer- it was fantastic!!!!!

      1. No- he is just four, so he is really getting too old for a nap, but still sort of ‘needs one’. That hard transition point.