My Toddler Stopped Sleeping Through the Night! What Do I Do?

My daughter is 14 months old and has been sleeping through the night since she was 4 months old. Recently, she has started waking up at night and staying up for hours. She refuses to sleep or nap unless someone is patting her back. I know she is teething with molars. Could this cause sudden sleep problems?

Change in Sleep Patterns

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

When poor sleep starts suddenly that way, often something has changed for the child. It might be pain, such as a new ear infection, or it might be a new phase, such as separation anxiety.

The most common symptom for ear infection is suddenly not being able to sleep. If you haven’t checked for that possibility, take her to the pediatrician to rule it out.

Molars could certainly make her uncomfortable and could have triggered this period. It would be okay to try some Motrin or Tylenol before bed to see if decreasing teething discomfort helps her to sleep.

Sometimes a new developmental phase can cause a change in sleep patterns as well. For example, if your child has recently learned to walk or if her language is really taking off, she might be more excited about practicing her new skills than sleeping.

If kids are fine, one of the fastest ways to get them to sleep is to gently bend their hips down with one hand so they can’t get up and move about, and pat them or sing to them, staying with them until they drift off. Do anything except picking them up, feeding them, or lying down with them if you want to teach them to fall back asleep on their own.

Usually about four nights of this will teach kids that they can relax and they will drift back to sleep. Most of the time, this makes kids feel safer so they’re better able to tolerate your not being there later. Kids can get attached to almost anything, though, so there is a small chance they would get used to having you there. However, if she’s afraid you might leave at any moment, she may be too tense to relax and fall back asleep.

Kids at this age sleep on average 12 to 14 hours out of 24, and at this age some do better with one nap and some with two. When they are overtired they can sleep badly, too. However, kids tend to get the sleep that they need as long as they have the opportunity.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Katya

    My daughter is 18 months old. Her sleeping habits were pretty constant, she usually woke up once per night, very seldom she would sleep through the night and also very seldom we would have an occasion when she refused to go to sleep.

    We went to Barcelona with my husband for two nights and left her with his parents. When we came back, grandparents said that she slept great and both night she did not wake up, which sounded quite unusual for her. However, since then (it started the first night we were back), my daughter’s sleeping dramatically changed. She started to wake up every hour and call for mommy, often after a few wake-ups she refused to go back to sleep for hours.

    This has been going on now for about a month. I am wondering, what can cause such a change? She stayed with grandparent before and she interacts with them often. Do you think that something might have happened during those night when we were gone?

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    • Katya,

      Often toddlers change their sleeping habits in response to developmental changes. It’s not at all unusual for these kinds of changes to occur right around a period when they start to walk. If this is the case for your daughter, there is good news. Typically when walking becomes more normal these kids start to sleep through the night again.

      Does that fit your daughter?

      Best,
      @MsGreene
      Co-founder & Executive Producer DrGreene.com, Mom

      Added:
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