Why Does My Toddler Wake Up Crying At Night?

If you’re wondering, ‘Why does my toddler wake up crying?’  you’re not alone. It can be quite distressing for both you and your little one when they wake up crying in the middle of the night. But fear not, for there may be a few reasons why this is happening.

In this article, we will explore some common causes of why your toddler may be waking up crying at night, providing you with insights and possible solutions to help both you and your child get a better night’s sleep. So, let’s dive in and uncover the reasons behind these nighttime tears!

Causes of Toddlers Waking up Crying

Sleep Regression

Sleep regression refers to a period in a toddler’s sleep pattern where they experience a disruption in their previously established sleep routine. This can cause them to wake up crying more frequently during the night. Sleep regression can occur around certain developmental milestones, such as learning to walk or talk, and can last for a few weeks to a few months.


Nightmares are vivid and terrifying dreams that can cause a toddler to wake up crying or feeling scared. They often involve monsters, animals, or unfamiliar situations that can be quite distressing for a young child. Nightmares are more commonly experienced by toddlers aged two to six years old.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a normal developmental phase that occurs when a toddler becomes more aware of their surroundings and forms attachments to primary caregivers. During this phase, toddlers can become anxious and upset when separated from their caregivers, which can cause them to wake up crying during the night.

Physical Discomfort

Physical discomfort, such as an uncomfortable bed or clothing, can also contribute to a toddler waking up crying. It is important to ensure that their sleeping environment is comfortable and that they are dressed appropriately for the temperature. Common physical discomforts that may cause nighttime crying include wet diapers, itchy skin, or a stuffy nose.


Teething can be a painful and uncomfortable experience for toddlers, as their new teeth break through their gums. The discomfort and pain associated with teething can disrupt their sleep and cause them to wake up crying during the night. Look out for signs such as excessive drooling, chewing on objects, and swollen gums to determine if teething is the cause.

Hunger or Thirst

Toddlers have small stomachs and may need to eat or drink during the night, especially if they have not consumed enough food or fluids during the day. Hunger or thirst can wake them up and lead to crying. Providing a balanced diet and ensuring they are adequately hydrated throughout the day can help minimize nighttime waking due to hunger or thirst.


Overstimulation can occur when a toddler is exposed to excessive sensory input, such as loud noises, bright lights, or engaging in stimulating activities right before bedtime. This can make it difficult for them to calm down and fall asleep, causing nighttime waking and crying. Creating a calm and soothing evening routine can help prevent overstimulation.

Inconsistent Sleep Routine

An inconsistent sleep routine can disrupt a toddler’s natural sleep patterns and cause them to wake up crying during the night. Toddlers thrive on routine and predictability, so having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, as well as a consistent bedtime routine, can help them feel more secure and minimize nighttime disturbances.

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Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as excessive noise, uncomfortable room temperature, or an unfamiliar sleeping environment, can contribute to a toddler waking up crying at night. Ensuring a quiet and calm sleeping environment, adjusting room temperature to a comfortable level, and making sure they are familiar with their sleep space can help promote better sleep.


Illness can cause discomfort, pain, or other physical symptoms that can disrupt a toddler’s sleep and cause them to wake up crying. Common illnesses that may lead to nighttime waking include ear infections, colds or respiratory infections, and digestive issues. If your toddler’s nighttime crying is accompanied by other signs of illness, it may be necessary to seek medical attention.

Understanding Sleep Regression

Definition of Sleep Regression

Sleep regression refers to a temporary change in a toddler’s sleep pattern, where they may experience more frequent nighttime waking, difficulty falling asleep, or shorter sleep duration. It is a normal and temporary phase that typically occurs around certain developmental milestones.

Common Age for Sleep Regression

Sleep regression can occur at various stages of a toddler’s development, but some common ages for sleep regression include around 4 months, 8-10 months, 12-18 months, and 2 years old. These are times when major cognitive, physical, or emotional changes are taking place, which can disrupt sleep patterns.

Symptoms of Sleep Regression

During a sleep regression, toddlers may exhibit symptoms such as increased fussiness, difficulty falling asleep, shorter naps, frequent night waking, or resisting bedtime routines. These symptoms can be frustrating for both parents and toddlers, but it is important to remember that sleep regression is typically temporary and will eventually pass.

My Toddler Wake Up Crying At Night

Nightmares and Night Terrors

Difference between Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nightmares and night terrors are two different sleep disturbances that can cause a toddler to wake up crying or feeling scared during the night. Nightmares occur during REM sleep and are often vivid and memorable dreams that can be vividly recalled upon waking. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during non-REM sleep and are characterized by sudden waking in a state of intense fear or terror, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating or rapid breathing.

Causes of Nightmares

Nightmares in toddlers can be caused by a variety of factors, such as anxiety, fear, stress, or exposure to scary or unsettling images or stories. Additionally, changes in routine, new environments, or even a fever or illness can trigger nightmares. It is important to provide a comforting and reassuring environment for toddlers after a nightmare to help them feel secure and safe.

Helping Toddlers Cope with Nightmares

When a toddler wakes up crying from a nightmare, it is important to respond with patience and reassurance. Comforting them, offering a comforting object such as a favorite stuffed animal, and providing a safe and calm environment can help them feel secure and calm. It can also be helpful to establish a bedtime routine that includes relaxation techniques, such as reading a soothing story or singing a lullaby, to promote a peaceful sleep environment.

Managing Separation Anxiety

Understanding Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a normal developmental phase that typically occurs between the ages of 8 months to 2 years, although it can also emerge earlier or later. During this phase, toddlers become more aware of their primary caregivers and may experience anxiety or distress when separated from them. This can lead to increased nighttime waking and crying.

Tips for Soothing Separation Anxiety at Night

To help toddlers cope with separation anxiety at night, it is important to establish a predictable and reassuring bedtime routine. This can include activities such as reading a book together, singing a soothing lullaby, or engaging in a quiet and calming activity before sleep. Additionally, providing a sense of security through comfort objects, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal, can help ease anxiety and promote a more restful sleep.

Also Check: How To Get Toddlers To Stay In Bed Easily?

Addressing Physical Discomfort

Common Physical Discomforts in Toddlers

Toddlers may experience various physical discomforts that can contribute to nighttime waking and crying. These can include issues such as teething pain, digestive discomfort, a wet or soiled diaper, itchy skin, or a stuffy nose. Identifying the specific discomfort and addressing it accordingly can help alleviate their distress and promote better sleep.

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Techniques to Relieve Physical Discomfort at Night

There are several techniques that can help relieve physical discomfort in toddlers at night. For teething pain, providing teething toys or gently massaging their gums can offer relief. Addressing digestive discomfort can involve adjusting their diet or introducing soothing foods like warm milk. Regular diaper changes, using hypoallergenic or fragrance-free products for sensitive skin, and using a humidifier or saline drops for a stuffy nose can also help alleviate physical discomfort and promote better sleep.

Dealing with Teething Troubles

Signs of Teething

Teething can be a challenging phase for both toddlers and parents. Common signs of teething include excessive drooling, irritability, swollen gums, chewing on objects, disturbed sleep, and loss of appetite. If your toddler is waking up crying frequently during the night and displays these signs, teething may be the culprit.

Home Remedies for Soothing Teething Pain

There are several home remedies that can provide relief to toddlers experiencing teething pain. Chilled teething rings, clean frozen washcloths, and gentle gum massages can help soothe sore gums. Offering cold, but not frozen, foods such as yogurt or pureed fruits can also provide relief. Additionally, over-the-counter teething gels or pain relievers specifically designed for infants can be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Ensuring Adequate Food and Drink

Hunger and Thirst as Possible Causes

Toddlers have small stomachs and may require nighttime feeding or hydration if they have not consumed enough food or fluids during the day. Hunger or thirst can wake them up and lead to crying during the night. It is important to ensure that toddlers have a balanced diet throughout the day and offer them small snacks or sips of water before bedtime to minimize nighttime waking due to hunger or thirst.

Tips for Nighttime Feeding and Hydration

If nighttime feeding is necessary, offering a small and nutritious snack or a bottle can help satisfy their hunger. However, it is advisable to avoid foods high in sugar or caffeine, as these can interfere with their ability to fall asleep. For hydration, providing a sippy cup or water bottle within reach can allow toddlers to independently drink when they feel thirsty at night. However, it is important to monitor their intake to prevent excessive nighttime waking for bathroom trips.

Managing Overstimulation

Recognizing Overstimulation in Toddlers

Toddlers are highly sensitive to their environment, and overstimulation can make it difficult for them to calm down and fall asleep. Signs of overstimulation include hyperactivity, increased fussiness, difficulty settling down, and resistance to bedtime routines. Identifying these signs can help parents create a more calming and soothing bedtime environment.

Ways to Create a Calming Environment before Bed

To prevent overstimulation, it is important to establish a calming bedtime routine for toddlers. This can involve activities such as dimming the lights, playing soothing music or white noise, reading a gentle story, or engaging in quiet play. Avoiding stimulating activities like screen time or rough play before bed can also contribute to a more peaceful sleep environment for toddlers.

Why Does My Toddler Wake Up Crying At Night

Source: TheTechBrain AI

Establishing a Consistent Sleep Routine

Importance of a Routine for Toddler Sleep

A consistent sleep routine is essential for toddlers as it helps signal to their bodies and minds that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. A predictable routine can provide a sense of security and comfort, making it easier for toddlers to transition from wakefulness to sleep. A consistent sleep routine can also help establish healthy sleep patterns and promote better overall sleep quality.

Tips for Establishing a Bedtime Routine

When establishing a bedtime routine, it is important to choose activities that promote relaxation and calmness. This can include activities such as taking a warm bath, brushing teeth, changing into comfortable pajamas, reading a bedtime story, and engaging in quiet play. Consistency is key, so try to stick to the same order of activities and timing every night to create a sense of predictability for your toddler.

Recognizing and Addressing Illness

Common Illnesses that Cause Nighttime Crying

Sometimes, nighttime crying can be a symptom of an underlying illness. Common illnesses that may cause nighttime crying in toddlers include ear infections, colds or respiratory infections, stomachaches, or teething discomfort. If your child’s nighttime crying is accompanied by other signs of illness, such as fever, vomiting, or significant changes in behavior, it is important to seek medical attention.

Seeking Medical Attention

If your toddler’s nighttime crying persists or is accompanied by other worrying symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. A healthcare provider can evaluate your child’s symptoms, perform necessary tests or examinations, and provide appropriate treatment if needed. Seeking medical attention can help identify and address any underlying medical issues contributing to their nighttime waking and crying.


There are several potential causes for toddlers waking up crying at night, including sleep regression, nightmares, separation anxiety, physical discomfort, teething, hunger or thirst, overstimulation, inconsistent sleep routines, environmental factors, and illness. Understanding these causes and implementing appropriate strategies to address them can help parents create a more restful sleep environment for their toddlers and promote healthier sleep habits. By attending to their physical, emotional, and developmental needs, parents can support their toddler’s sleep and overall well-being.