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  • Jessica Berk

Stop the Wake Ups! | 3 mistakes that cause overnight wake ups – and how to fix them

The dreaded overnight wake-up is one of THE most frustrating sleep issues with bigger kids because it’s tough to know what to do. You want to get them back to sleep quickly and you desperately want to avoid a full-on 2 am tantrum because it’ll wake everyone up. 


But you may also be trying to avoid sleeping with your child, even though it sometimes feels like the only option. So, what are you supposed to do??


The good news is that stopping the wake-ups is 100% within your control. Once you understand why they’re happening, you’ll see how to make them stop. 


There are 3 mistakes in sleep training that we parents often accidentally make that encourage wake-ups. That’s right: we’re unknowingly making the wake-ups worse! 


Let me explain what I mean…


 

>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇




 

Sleep training mistake # 1: Your child is too dependent on you at bedtime

Think about all the things in your child’s room when they fall asleep. Do they have a nightlight, fan, open door, white noise, blackout curtain, favorite lovey AND you sitting in the room? Kids will sleep consistently through the night when nothing in their sleep environment changes overnight. You don’t want the white noise or nightlight to turn off, or for a person to go missing (meaning YOU). That’s because as kids move into a lighter stage of sleep, their body can sense that something in the room has changed, which can cause them to wake up. 


Just the simple fact that something is different can be enough to cause a wake-up. You may have seen examples of this when their lovey falls on the floor and they wake up because they can’t find it. Some kids wake up overnight because they fall asleep with the door open and then parents close it after they’re asleep. 


So if your child is used to you sitting or laying in their room with them while they fall asleep and then you go missing - that causes them to wake up to come find you! In fact, that’s the biggest cause. They have come to rely on you being there, just like a lovey or a sound machine.


So, how do you fix this?


You encourage your child to fall asleep independently at bedtime. This is the only way to ensure that their sleep environment will stay the same all night. 


When kids can fall asleep alone, they stay asleep alone – meaning they don’t need to come find you at 2 am!


There are many ways to encourage sleep independence from very gradual solutions to quicker, ‘rip-off-the-band-aid’ options. The right strategy for you depends on your parenting style, how long this dependence has gone on, and what you’ve tried in the past.


You can learn more about this in my free class, ‘Proven Method to Get Your Child to Fall Asleep Alone’. You can save a spot in that class at ToddlerSleepMasterclass.com



Sleep training mistake # 2: Something pretty great is happening during the wake-up


Next, we need to look at what’s happening during the wake-up, meaning, how are you responding to your child? 


Think about what benefit your child may be getting from waking up: 

  • Are they getting a favorable response from you?

  • Are they allowed to come sleep in your bed for the rest of the night?

  • Do you go lay in their room until they fall asleep again?

  • Do you give tons of hugs & snuggles?

  • Do they get a snack?


It could even be something TINY. I’ve seen situations where the reward was as simple as the parent pulling up the covers or simply giving a kiss on the forehead. So, put on your detective hat and think about what benefit your child may be getting by waking up overnight. 


This favorable interaction can actually cause kids to wake up. 


Yep, kids are such creatures of habit that any little reward can contribute to overnight wake-ups. You may have seen this when your child was still in the crib if they played the ‘throw the paci out of the crib’ game - that one keeps parents coming back for a long time. And it’s just a learned behavior! A habit. 


So, how do you fix this?


Once you’ve identified the reward, change it:- If you’ve been pulling up the covers, play a game during the day called ‘how fast can you pull up your covers’, so you and your child know they can do it on their own.

- If you usually let them in your bed, start walking them back to their room.

- If they always want Mom, let Dad respond for a few nights.


Breaking a habit can be as simple as changing one thing or responding in a less favorable way. 


Sleep training mistake # 3: You’re being inconsistent


Like I mentioned, kids are SUCH creatures of habit. And habits can start very quickly. You give dessert one night, and they’ll expect it every night. You let them take their shoes off at the playground one day, and then they want to live their whole life barefoot. 


The same thing goes for sleep behaviors. If you rub their back while they fall asleep sometimes, that can quickly turn into them expecting it every night. If you sometimes let them sleep in bed with you when they wake up, you’ll see them more frequently at 3 am trying to get in your bed. 


I see this happen with parents that are okay with kids coming into their bed if it’s close to morning. But the issue is that the child doesn’t have any sense of time and they don’t know when it’s okay to come to the parents’ bed, so they start waking up earlier and earlier to climb in with you.


I also see a lot of inconsistency between parents with Dad responding in one way and Mom responding in another. This is behind a lot of parental preference issues. When one parent responds in a more favorable way, the child always wants it that way. 


This is especially true of overnight wake-ups where parents are just too desperate to get back to sleep. They don’t even care what they have to do! This can backfire and become a slippery slope. If Dad is always going to sleep with Timmy when he wakes up, Timmy will expect that Mom will do the same thing, which makes it really, really tough for Mom to respond any other way.


When kids are getting a favorable response to the wake-ups, the wake-ups keep happening.


So, how do you fix this?


Parents have to get on the same page about the sleep rules in their house and how wake-ups will be addressed so both parents are responding the same way. If not, it’s just too confusing to the child.


Sometimes is tough for kids, so the more consistent you can be with setting up the sleep environment that you want for your family, the easier it will be for your child to get used to it.





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