Whether it's the pitter-patter of tiny feet heading toward your bedroom at 2 a.m. or the shrill scream of your child calling out from his room, children who wake up in the middle of the night often disrupt more than just their own much-needed rest. Kids, like adults, wake up for brief periods throughout the night, but a variety of factors can prevent falling back asleep. Finding the solution to stop your child's night waking requires understanding the reason he's waking in the first place.
If your little one falls asleep at 8 p.m. with you lying next to him in bed or rubbing his back, it's understandable that he can't fall back asleep when he wakes at 3 a.m. and those soothing conditions are gone, explain the experts at the child development website Zero to Three. When you put your kiddo to bed and leave his room at night, do so when he's sleepy, but still awake. Be prepared for sobbing and begging, especially if your child is older and has always relied on you to help him fall asleep. Eventually, explains Zero to Three, your child will learn to fall asleep without you, and he will be able to apply those same skills when he wakes in the middle of the night.
Dull the Noise
Sporadic noise throughout the night, like a crying sibling or a parent returning late from work, can arouse your child from her deep sleep. Explain to your child any noise she might hear in the night before she falls asleep, so she's not startled or afraid should she wake up. Install a white-noise machine to drown out any disruptive sounds and explain that even if she does wake up you expect her to go back to sleep without screaming, crying or trying to get out of bed.
Plan for Exercise
Just as you probably sleep better after a particularly rigorous workout or otherwise demanding physical activity, so does your child. Increasing his exercise throughout the day -- and waiting for him to stop because he's tired, not because you asked him to stop -- can increase the quality of his sleep, reports Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting. Plan vigorous activity in the morning and afternoon because revving up his heart and breathing rate within an hour of bedtime makes it hard to calm down enough to sleep. In other words, the 30 minutes before bed is not the time for a rough and tumble game of chase with Daddy.
Ignore the Crying Out
For toddlers who wake in the night, don't be afraid to inform your little one before she goes to sleep that you'll come give her one kiss to make sure she's okay and then you're going back to bed yourself, suggests Zero to Three. Do not remove your child from her crib or bed, and only stay long enough so she understands you're still there. Some parents gradually fade out the visits, returning a second or third time but eventually ignoring the child's cries for them.
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