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Why Does My Toddler Cry in Her Sleep?

Toddlers cry. It’s what they do. Even while sleeping, toddlers can sometimes cry. They were crying while sleeping may be cause for alarm. However, there are many reasons crying can occur, many of which are perfectly normal.

Here are some facts:

Crying is usually normal.

When babies cry while sleeping, it’s a very normal reaction. Young infants have not yet gotten the hang of a regular sleep cycle, and because of this, it is common to wake up more frequently or make sounds in their sleep. Toddlers have grown used to the sleeping cycle, so it’s very likely to occur much less often, but it still may occur. If there are no illnesses that the toddler is experiencing, a common occurrence of crying while asleep would be night terrors. Night terrors happen when the child becomes more and more agitated during the deeper phases of the sleep cycle. Night terrors are quite rare and usually only occur if a child is sick or in need of more sleep. It can happen, though. Nightmares can happen as well, but only during light sleep or naps.

Usually, the toddler will settle on their own. If you move him/her too much, they may wake up, which can disturb their sleep. Some methods you can try to help with this is talking softly to the child or rubbing their stomach or back. It can help the child to continue sleeping normally because it can move them into a different stage of sleep. As a parent or caregiver, it is wise to simply watch the toddler as they fall asleep, to get a better idea of the child’s sleeping patterns. If the child wakes up after having a nightmare, comforting the toddler by reassuring him/her that their nightmare is not real is very effective. Then, you may help them fall back to sleep by following the normal sleeping rituals you exercise.

However, sometimes crying is not normal.

Crying while asleep is not always normal. There are times when your toddler may be in some kind of pain. Also, not having a proper diet throughout the day, and not getting enough sleep regularly can also cause the child to cry more at night. Some key identifiers of a problem include the following:

  • Sleeping problems that continue night after night
  • The child’s sleeping habits have drastically changed
  • The child crying out loudly in pain

If any of these signs occur once or more often, it is wise to contact a doctor immediately.

How do I know if my toddler is sleeping normally?

A good question, which can be answered in several ways. A healthy toddler needs 12-14 hours of sleep per day. The time can be divided between their nap and nighttime sleep. If your toddler is going through some developmental changes in his/her life, this can cause some crying at night. If something disrupts the child’s daily routine, this can also cause some crying. It’s good to keep an eye out by watching the child’s daily activities and reactions to get a better idea of what may be causing him/her to be bothered at night. The more you observe, the more you will begin to notice something that may be out of place in the child’s daily life. Waking up in the middle of the night, ready to move and play, would be a sign of a disruption of normal sleeping patterns.

Let time take its toll.

Often, the child will be just fine and simply moving into a different stage of sleep. You should resist the urge to rush to the toddler’s bedside whenever you hear some crying. It will most likely be the child moving into a new stage of sleep. Letting your child ‘cry it out’, so to speak, will allow them to continue with their normal sleeping cycle. As the parent or caregiver, you will be able to tell the difference between normal developmental crying at night, and abnormal.

Initiate a bedtime routine.

Having a special routine that you initiate when your toddler is getting tired is very effective in getting them to sleep properly and quickly. These can be in the form of brushing teeth, reading a book, taking a bath, and even lowering the lights and tucking him/her into bed. Talking more quietly than normal can help as well. Also, keeping a soft toy by their bedside so they can cuddle is a good idea. One or all of these techniques can be used to help coax your child into the normal nap time or bedtime mode. These daily routines will help to soothe their minds as well, so they can more quickly fall asleep.

What if my toddler will not settle down?

At times it may be a bit more difficult to get your child to sleep. Some tips to help with this include:

Cuddling your toddler.

Cuddling with your child can help him/her to settle down. At first, cuddling time may be longer but will decrease as the child learns to settle down on their own. Talking to them quietly can help as well, and reassures the toddler of a state of calm. When your child begins to settle down enough, you can lay him/her down gently onto the bed on their back.

Keep something familiar nearby.

Sometimes settling your toddler down can be as simple as keeping something in the bed that helps them to feel more secure and calm. This can be a blanket or a stuffed animal. The smaller this item is, the better. It serves as a reminder of a certain calm that the child is used to and will be very effective in helping them to fall asleep. Another method to try is simply moving the child to a different bed. As kids grow older, they begin to grow, of course, but not only physically. Emotionally, it helps to build self-esteem and comfort as they ‘grow into’ a bigger bed. Replacing their old bed with a new one is a good method to try. Of course, it can be done when you feel the time is right.

A crying toddler can be very upsetting. Not only is it distressing to hear your loved one crying out loud, but it can disturb your peace as well. Following these simple tips should help to alleviate and recognize the problem so that you can deal with it effectively and successfully.

2 thoughts on “Why Does My Toddler Cry in Her Sleep?”

  1. And NO MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL WOULD EVER TELL YOU TO LET YOUR TODDLER CRY. Always sooth your baby, never put them in a room and walk away leaving the baby to cry. This will not build a good sense of security for your child.

  2. If your baby won’t sleep, check out the sleep method from – Thank you SleepBaby for this brilliant method! My daughter now sleeps from 7pm to 6 or 6:30am every night with almost no night wakings. And even if she wakes, it’s usually just for a second and then she falls back asleep all on her own.

    Most nights I get my 8 hours of sleep and it’s just wonderful! I really feel like I understand her little body and mind and can address her sleeping holistically. I can’t thank you enough, Kacey and the team!

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