2.7 year old wakes once or twice per night

by Lin

Question: Hi Heidi, It has been a long time that I wrote to you. I was just wondering if you could give us some advice. Our 2.7 year old wakes once or twice per night since about 3 months.He wakes up, sitting in his bed, just shouting mummy mummy, sometime mummy hug, hug. We just have to pad him for a few seconds and he falls back asleep. He seems not fully awake. Are these night terrors , is there anything else we can do?
Thank you Heidi!
Bst wishes from Dublin.

Heidi's Answer: Dear Lin, Glad to hear from you. I hope that apart from this current hiccup, things are going well.

The way you describe your son's awakenings, it does not sound very typically like night terrors.

A night terror will usually involve screaming, apparent disorientation and fear, not really "being" present, ... that sort of thing. But not all people show the same signs.

A night terror will also happen soon after first going to sleep - you don't mention in which part of the night it happens but the awake time can be a clue for you going forward.

The plain shouting out for you can point towards separation anxiety, he may be going one of those phases. It can be out of the blue or linked to a recent change (day care, a different family/work situation, some stress or excitement at home, ...). You would probably also notice it during the day: it may have become a tad more difficult to leave him at day care or in a friend's or family member's presence.

It may also simply be a "habit" that he got into. Not out of ill will but just after having awoken a couple of times by accident, called out for you and then went back to sleep reassured, a kind of rhythm (sleep pattern) can have formed.

Two tips I want to give you, for either of the suggested causes:

1. Slightly alter his night time bedtime. 10-15 minutes can be enough. Shift in the direction that best suits: if he is quite tired usually by bedtime, then shift to earlier. If he is still happily awake, shift to later. The slight shift can help resolve a stuck pattern (both aiding with the sleep terrors and the formed habit).

2. At the same time, indulge by reassuring as necessary (to minimze his awake time) but be on the alert to minimize that. Do not stay long (which you already are not doing I understand) and gradually reduce the time you spend reassuring and comforting him. No need to rush, just every so slowly help him practice his indepence again.

Hope this helps,
Best of luck,

Comments for 2.7 year old wakes once or twice per night

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by: Reine

Hi Lin

We've had the same experience with our 3rd baby. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding, she began waking up, and had never done that before: what a shock!. She woke up up to 3 times a night, often just to be reassured (sometimes with the help of a bottle, sometimes not).

As she reached your baby's age, we found that reassuring her BEFORE she went to bed helped, too.
We would tell her that it was OK (as in: "it happens to everyone once in a while") to wake up. We stressed how cosy her warm bed was, and should she wake up and see that all was still dark and quiet, she could think something along the lines of "yeay, I get to stay in that warm little nest until morning!".

I'm sure she didn't get all of it, but it became part of our nighttime routine for her.

Maybe this can work for you, too.
Good luck!
Reine (Belgium)

Thank you
by: Lin

Dear Heidi
Thank you for your reply. You are absolutely right, it must be separation anxiety as he is more clingy during the day as well but only with me and not my husband.
He usually wakes around 2am and goes to bed at 8pm. I tried to shift the bedtime to a bit later as going to bed, me leaving the room has become an issue as well now. But that does not help. I will try to alter it to a bit earlier and see what happens. When I bring him to bed and leave the room he starts to cry, but real crying , like a panicy cry. Whenever he doesnt have his nap he goes to bed without any problem but he still needs a 40min-1h nap as he is very cranky around 1pm. I also tried a nighlight, putting a photo of me and his dad on the wall next to him, my husband consoling him but it doesnt help. Yesterday he woke up 3 times and I brought him to our bed at 4am to get some sleep and to survive the work day. In our bed he sleeps through the whole night until 8.30am. We all sleep well and thats why I sometimes do it even though I know I shouldnt....
Thank you very much for your help!

thank you Reine
by: lin

Thank you Reine for your comment, it helps a lot knowing your not the only one . !!

by: lin

Sorry pressed enter too soon, I will start the reassuring and emphasising before bed time and see if it's works, thanks for the tip

by: Lin

Hi Heidi

I did shift bedtime to a bit earlier and the going to bedtime has become a bit easier, I spend more time with him in his room,,we talk about the day, read a story, I sing him a song and I stay about 5 min and he is usually asleep by then. But he still has problems falling asleep by himself, even though he used to be able to do it.

In general he is still very clingy during day and wakes at night, the times he wakes is quite different. He only needs us for a minute and he is asleep again.

I guess it is separation anxiety since starting the Creche, which he loves though. I hope the phase end soon.
Also we noticed that if we skip his nap (even though I still think he needs it though)He goes to bed no problem but would not sleep through either.
One day we let him nap longer and bedtime was a bit later but he slept through that night..

It is difficult to figure out what is right but I hope it is a phase and that we will have undisturbed nights soon again.

Doing well, keep it up
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Lin,

What you describe indeed sounds like a separation anxiety phase, one that you are handling very well: what you are doing at bedtime, and the fact that going to bed has already become a bit easier shows that nicely.

Do not worry about his not settling for sleep all by himself again yet. If you can keep up the reassurance alongside enouragement towards independence, that will come back: when he is ready. And when that happens, he will be so much stronger with confidence that it is definitely worth it.

Don't hesitate to experiment with the nap from time to time. As long as you feel he needs it, it's indeed best not to skip it completely but you can play a bit with timing and/or leaving it out from time to time, just to see what happens.

Good luck!

Thank you..
by: Lin

for your reassurance Heidi.
I will keep it up :)
Best wishes

by: Lin

Hi Heidi
We skipped the nap completely and going to bed
is not a problem anymore, I stay with him for about 5min. I am sitting at the door not in front of the bed , hoping that he will eventually let me leave the room before he has fallen asleep.
He wakes every night between 1 and 3am and needs one of us to help him to settle again. He usually only stays asleep, and does not wake again if he sleeps in our bed.

I have a feeling that the night waking turned into a habit now and those habits are hard to break again.
I am hoping that once he managed to fall asleep on his own at bedtime again that he will be also able to soothe himself when waking during night.

All the best and thank you again for all your help!

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