How We Fixed My Toddler Waking Up At Night – 5 Year Battle

little girl holding a stuffed animal sleeping in a bed in an article on toddler waking up at night

Dear Exhausted Mom,

Your toddler waking up at night feels like a terrible cycle you can’t escape.

Doctors, sleep coaches, friends, and family tell you tips to improve your bedtime routine and alter your child’s nap schedule. You do these things and read several resources. Nothing works.

You wonder why this keeps happening and feel frustrated and sad you’re not able to give your child a restful night of sleep. You begin to wonder if you’re the problem and don’t understand what you’re missing.

Your head is pounding. Your eyes are heavy. You wake up grouchy and defeated before the day has even started. Everything feels amplified because you are exhausted. Nothing is worse than inadequate sleep.

Evenings come with anxiety and dread because you are nervous about what the night will entail. No one understands the depth of your situation.

For some of us, this is a phase that does work itself out. For others, like me, it has been a 5 year struggle.

People look at you with sympathy, but they don’t really get it. They don’t know what it’s like to wake up 3+ times a night for days, let alone months or even years. It’s a lonely existence that truly wears you down.

Don’t give up, Exhausted Mom. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope.

We have been struggling with this in our home since our firstborn was a baby. She is now 5, and we are finally getting answers.

Here’s our story.

Different Stages of Toddler Waking Up at Night

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Speak to your pediatrician if your toddler is waking up at night. They are the best resource. Looking back for us, however, I realize I didn’t speak up soon enough. I share our story in case it resonates with you and can help you get some sleep.

Baby Stage

As a baby, our little one slept noisily. We woke multiple times a night from hearing her yell, coo, grunt. It felt like our baby was sleep talking all night long.

On top of that, she wriggled a lot. It was like she was restless. But at the time, with her being our firstborn, we just figured that’s how babies sleep.

1 Year Old and 2 Year Old Waking Up at Night

By the time our baby was 1 year old, she would start her day by waking up screaming, crying. We later learned that’s a sign they are not well rested. Knowing that now, it’s heartbreaking to know she was waking up unrested for so long.

During this timeframe, the sleep talking became louder. The tossing and turning stayed. We just thought she was a “loud sleeper”.

I was nursing our second born at the time, so I already was up round the clock and would hear her.

3 Year Old Waking Up at Night

At the age of 2.5, our daughter was climbing out of her crib so we transitioned to a big girl bed. That led to our daughter coming into our bedroom like clockwork at roughly midnight and 2 am each night.

During those times, she would wake me up to say sweet things like, “Love you, Mom.” Or, “I need to go potty.” Or, “I’m up and can’t go back to sleep.” Under the guidance of our sleep coach, we would not get out of bed.

Even if the event turned into a middle of the night tantrum, my husband and I would not get up. She eventually stopped coming into our room and stayed in hers.

Those nights were brutal.

4 Year Old Waking Up at Night

At age 4, our daughter’s sleep talking (more like sleep shouting) continued. The tossing and turning stayed.

The midnight and 2 am waking returned. But rather than coming into our room, she started yelling for us….

She needed the bathroom, Kleenex, had a bad dream, couldn’t fall back asleep, couldn’t get comfy…the reasons were endless. We again reached out to our sleep coach who gave us tips that we followed.

They kind of worked a little, and only for a minute…

Then, right before our daughter turned 5, night terrors came. If you have never experienced a night terror, they are truly terrorizing. They are so sad and hard to witness.

5 Year Old Waking Up at Night

At our daughter’s annual doctor visit, our pediatrician said it was time to visit a sleep specialist (not a coach but an actual pediatric sleep doctor). She said the sleep talking/shouting, restlessness, and night terrors were all going on for too long.

I am so frustrated with myself for not thinking to go to a pediatric sleep doctor sooner. Hindsight is 20/20.

How We Stopped Our Toddler Waking Up At Night

baby, girl, sleep

After hiring a sleep coach, reading lots of books, and reaching out to our pediatrician and friends for tips on how to get our daughter to sleep all night long, I came to the realization that our toddler waking up at night was not a phase. It was something deeper.

We just recently visited a pediatric sleep doctor and had blood drawn for a complete blood count and ferritin/iron studies. We learned our daughter’s ferritin level is a little low for hemoglobin production. This is apparently quite common in children but few know about it and the sleep issues it can cause.

Ferritin refers to the capacity within your blood to store iron. That is different than the amount of iron in the blood.

Low ferritin and/or low iron levels can be linked to restless sleep disorders. We have a plan of action to get the ferritin levels up through a prescribed supplement and diet plan. It should be noted that the type of labs drawn from a sleep specialist are usually different than the labs drawn from your pediatrician.

What ferritin levels are deemed as normal for a pediatrician might be too low in the eyes of a sleep specialist. It’s good to have multiple opinions. This article explains it really well, and I found so much comfort with the facts it shares.

If altering our daughter’s diet allows her to peacefully sleep all night long, I am going to be so thrilled! I will update this article 3 months from now to let you know. We are 2 weeks in and are already seeing improvements.

Knowing that we have had 5 years of poor sleep because of something potentially in her blood (or lack thereof) is wild to me.

I have spent so much time tiredly crying over how to help her. With every stage we’ve been in, I’ve had a justification…She’s not sleeping because we just need to limit TV time before bed….We just need to change her nap schedule…She’s just waking a lot because she’s sick…”

That’s what all the books and resources out there said. I clung to them and tried everything. I am so grateful to be seeing an actual sleep doctor now and can’t wait for my daughter to start feeling better. Sleep is so important.

Sensory Processing Disorder

young girl sleeping holding a stuffed animal in an article on toddler waking up at night

Did you know that poor sleep can be an indicator of Sensory Processing Disorder? You can read more about it in detail here.

It is something a friend recently shared with me. And I wanted to share it with you, too, because our daughter displays some of the below traits, yet no one has mentioned it to us before. If the increase in iron doesn’t improve her sleep, I’d like to have the specialist dive deeper into this for us.

If your child displays any of these systems, they may be indicators of SPD:

  • doesn’t like the feeling of pajamas or sheets
  • gets upset during bath time
  • wants to sleep next to someone or wants sutffed animals/pillows piled on top
  • moves a lot while sleeping
  • must have total silence to fall asleep
  • doesn’t care for the taste of toothpaste
  • wants to eat right before bedtime
  • looks around the room when falling asleep
  • says the room is too bright even with the lights off

There is Sensory Integration Therapy to help with this, along with other strategies your doctor can talk about in depth.

Final Thoughts

The farther along I get into parenting, the more I realize there is no one-size-fits-all. Each child truly is unique.

The causes of waking up at night can be so vast…At the end of the day, you know best. Follow your intuition.

We need to be our own advocates for our health and keep sleep at the forefront of conversation until we find the best solution.

A manageable fix to your sleep troubles does exist. It just might take some time digging deeper to get there.

Read Next:

8 Best Tips on How to Keep a Toddler in Bed – You’ll LOVE #1!

The #1 Thing to Do When Your Baby is Climbing Out of the Crib

12 Best Ways on How to Get a Toddler to Listen

Why THIS Kids Portable Potty is the BEST

The Best App for Baby Pictures Ranks #1 in SAFETY

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