The 5 Reasons Your Child Didn't Sleep Last Night

This blog was written exclusively forTheParentMaze.com

I get many emails from families like this: “My child goes to sleep really easily, it’s just the middle of the night- he keeps waking up a few times. I don’t get it!”

There are 5 main reasons your child may be waking at night: 

  • Too late of a bedtime

  • Nap deprivation

  • They were put to bed already asleep

  • Inconsistency in your response

  • Underlying/Undiagnosed medical conditions


The most common reason for night wakings is simple: too late of a bedtime. It’s tough to get through a busy evening of dinner, bath and bedtime routine, especially when you have more than one child, and the laundry list of “to-do’s” on your mind. All of a sudden it’s getting late, and things are a rush instead of a nice, lulling process getting your little one into bed. Most young children need a bedtime somewhere between 7 and 8 pm. Otherwise, we run the risk of them getting a second wind and being overtired, making bedtime a battle.

Next, it’s important to remember how closely linked daytime and nighttime sleep are for young children. Until age 4 most kids need a consistent and well-timed nap during the day. When naps get too short or inconsistent our children may begin night wakings because they are experiencing overall fragmented sleep.

Third on the list may be the most difficult concept to grasp: your child was put to bed already asleep. Why does this matter? Imagine going to bed held by a loved one while snuggling on the couch. But, you wake up to find yourself alone in your bed in the middle of the night. You think, “how did I get here!?” That’s the same reaction your child would have when they waken- they look for that “thing” that put them asleep in the first place. Without falling asleep independently it’s hard for children to fall asleep again unassisted.

One of the great challenges in changing a sleep plan is being consistent. Therefore, when we respond inconsistently to our child’s night waking it creates confusion. And, confusion can create crying in pre-verbal children. I often hear “I usually just give her a bottle, but then I sometimes go rub her back, and if it’s after 4 am I just take her in my bed…” All of these add up to inconsistent responses.

Lastly, if there are any undiagnosed or underlying medical conditions such as sleep apnea, reflux, asthma or allergies that are untreated they can stand in the way of a good night’s sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is commonly undiagnosed in children and is usually a result of enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. Some symptoms of apnea include snoring, difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep and profuse sweating during sleep. Be sure to discuss frequent night wakings with your child’s pediatrician to rule out medical conditions.

You can read more about all of these reasons your child may be waking at night in Kim West’s book “Good Night, Sleep Tight." Wishing you a good night’s sleep!