4 Year Old Waking in the Middle of the Night

Dr. Laura,

Would love some nighttime help! Our routine has been the same for our 4 YO for the past three years. For the past year she has woken at 11:45-12:15ish every single night. At that time she will cry and whine in bed until we go in there. At that point she demands we do bedtime routine all over. Rub back, get cold water, fix sheets, tell a story, etc. It takes 15-20 min. Then if she doesn't fall back asleep right away we have to go in there repeatedly sometimes up to an hour.


Before reading your book we would yell and get mad, discipline, give consequences etc. After reading your book and changing our game plan; this is the one area where we are seeing NO improvement. Even if we offer hugs, kisses and connection the middle of the night episodes have not improved. Do you have any recommendations? Thank you so much!

Thank you!

I wonder what is making her wake up? It may be that something happens at that time of night that wakes her -- noise or light? Or it may be that it is three hours since she fell asleep, which means she is transitioning into the next sleep cycle, and so she wakes up. So she is in a light stage of the sleep cycle and is waking up looking for the same conditions that helped her fall asleep to begin with.

Just in case it is the former, I would invest in a sound machine and blackout curtains.

If things don't improve, then I would assume it is the latter. then Be consistent about getting her laughing before or after dinner, every single day, for a good fifteen minutes of belly laughing, to reduce her anxiety. I have seen that work wonders in keeping children asleep. (Did anything happen a year ago that would have started this anxiety?)

And if she does wake up, I would NOT reproduce the bedtime routine by telling her a story again etc. I would simply go in to her room as soon as she wakes up, hug her and tuck her in, and say that it's sleepy time. If she insists on cold water, simply say that she can have cold water in the morning, but right now she can have a sip of the water that is always by her bed in the sippy cup. (Although nothing wrong with putting an ice cube in it.) If she wants a story, tell her that stories are only at bedtime.

She is likely to cry and scream, because she doesn't know how to fall asleep without the same conditions as she has at bedtime. So you will need to be patient and empathize with how hard it can be to fall asleep. I know that is not easy at that time of night. But if you stick to your limit and stay patient, she will eventually learn that she doesn't have any choice except to go back to sleep.

One last but very important thing. If you are lying with her to fall asleep, then she is waking up looking for you. So you will need to wean her off of that association, so that she can put herself back to sleep without you. Here's a link on how to do that: http://www.ahaparenting.com/ages-stages/preschoolers/Life-Preschooler/bedtime

Warm wishes,
Dr. Laura

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