Why Do Toddlers Cry At Night?

My daughter is currently two years old. She just barely graduated from “babyhood” and became an official toddler. At this point, I thought it was impossible for her to cry at night. Since she was a newborn, she barely ever woke me up in the middle of the night. For those who are jealous, I am sorry. That’s just the way she is.

However, recently she started crying in the middle of the night. It is pretty darn frustrating. She yells, cries, and throws a fuss. I tried talking to her, and even comforting her. Nothing works. It turns out that I am not supposed to do that in the first place. It sounds cruel but waiting it out is the way to go. The reason is because my daughter was suffering from night terror.

What Is Night Terror?

My Story

For those who are wondering if I am making some kind of grammatical error, the answer is no. If nightmare is what you were thinking about, then let me tell you that it is different from night terror. The main difference between them is that they happen at different parts of the sleep cycles.

Due to this difference, one of them is memorable, and the other one is not. A child frightened by a nightmare would wake up scared and being able to tell the tale. A child tortured by a night terror would wake up as if nothing bad has happened. In theory, parents are usually more agitated by a child’s night terror instead of her nightmare.

The reason is because night terrors can last long when they have to. Last time my daughter had it, it lasted up to forty minutes. After she finishes blowing off her heavy steam, she goes right back to sleep as if all of that was a part of my imagination. During those forty minutes, she was crying, yelling, punching, and rolling all around the bed. It was pretty scary.

What Are The Causes Of Night Terrors?

Night terrors are somewhat similar to sleepwalking. Your child might seem awake when she is throwing a fuss, but she is not. Nobody knows the real cause for it. You can not stop it. If you try, it will make it worse. Don’t try to wake her up. Just wait for it to pass on its own. Instead of stopping it during the night, try to handle it during the day.

Personally, I feel that children have night terrors probably because of recent changes in their life that is giving them too much stress. For my daughter, she was sent to daycare recently, and that is obviously stressing her out. I try to talk to her everyday to help her feel better about the daycare environment. In my opinion, if she can figure out how to have fun at the daycare, then the night terrors will naturally vanish.

Of course, other times it can be caused of a breathing issue like sleep apnea.

One thing you can feel reassured about is that night terrors are not signs of mental problems. There were scientific studies done to evaluate children, and almost half of the children had night terrors. In other words, it is more common than you think. Even though that is the case, most children grow out of it by twelve years old.

How To Handle Night Terrors Properly

As mentioned earlier, there are no true remedy for night terrors. However, as parents there are some things you can do to relieve its effects. The key is to make your environment as boring as possible. Try to make the lights dim.

Start a whispering conversation in the room. A whispering converation will constantly remind your toddler that you guys are still there to protect her if she freaks out again. It’s also very boring and monotonous so it also drives her into sleep mode. If you have a fan in the room, turn it on to bring some white noise. White noise is very soothing and cancels out sharps sounds.

Recently, my daughter’s night terrors have died down after I convinced her to give her a reward everday for going to daycare properly. At night I also sing, play and bond with her more so that she has as much fun at home as possible.

I realize that the key to handling night terrors is to build up your child’s emotional strength, by bonding with her more so she develops a more positive and cheerful personality. Night terrors do stem from pressures of life after all.

Nevertheless, night terror was the problem that my daughter was suffering from. However, for your child, it can be something entirely different. Let’s talk about those now.

Is She Hungry?


If you still feed your toddler in the middle of the night, then she is most likely associating food with the night hours. For a newborn, that might be entirely normal, but for a toddler that is a parents’ fault. However, the problem is obvious, but the solution is not. Your immediate answer might be trying to stop feeding your toddler at night entirely.

That is the ultimate goal, but you must approach it slowly. Even though it is inappropriate for a toddler to be fed in the middle of the night, you have to wean her off of this habit slowly. Her body has already adapted to this kind of eating schedule, so she is truly feeling hungry. You can try to take away one ounce of milk at a time to slowly let her body adjust to it.

For example, let’s say you feed her eight ounces of milk every night. Try giving seven ounces tonight when she wakes up. Do this for a few days for her to adjust then lower it to six ounces. Rinse and repeat until your child readjusts to a correct sleeping schedule.

If your toddler has already started solid food, you can try to feed something to her before bedtime. Not only does it partially fill her stomach, you should try to feed her foods that can induce sleep.

Try to combine foods that has carbohydrates and protein. When these foods are eaten together, certain substances similar to tryptophan (makes people sleeping) gets released. Foods like kefir, chicken, turkey, cheese, and yogurt can be pretty helpful.

Does She Have Bad Habits?

Many times, toddlers have trouble falling asleep, because they rely on certain you too much to get them to fall asleep. I believe other people call this inappropriate association. A good example of this would be what my grandmother did back in the old days.

Whenever my father cried (as a baby of course), she would hold him and rock him to sleep. As time passes by, my father (still a baby) would rely on my her mother (my grandmother) to rock him to sleep all the time.

Maybe you are guilty of using any part of you as your toddler’s sleep aid. Maybe you are rubbing her chest and back and soothing her back to sleep. Maybe you are letting her sleep on any part of you for comfort. Maybe you are like my grandmother, rocking your baby to sleep.

All of these actions have one ultimate common goal. They all help your baby go to sleep without having her rely on herself. The solution is to practice getting your toddler to sleep on her own and wean her off these bad habits.

The key is to set her down to sleep when she is still awake. This might sound easier on paper than practice. Not to mention, her bad habits might be strongly rooted already so it won’t be that easy to get her out of it.

The “Technique” To Teach Your Child To Sleep On Her Own

To combat bad habits, you will need to use your baby’s bad habits to your advantage. Let’s say for example, your toddler always fall asleep on your lap, and you have trouble breaking her off this habit. Next time she falls asleep on your lap, set her to sleep on the bed then gently “wake her up”. Simple wiggle her fingers and toes gently or tickle her ribs to wake her up. Once she wakes up a little, she will still be drowsy. Let her fall back asleep on her own at this point.

This technique sort of engraves the feeling of “sleeping on your own” into her. It might only last for a couple of seconds, but it is definitely helpful “body learning” for your toddler.

Is The Environment Disturbing?

Sometimes, it is not your toddler’s fault that she can’t fall asleep at night. There might be a lot of things going on around her. Does she share a bed with you or her siblings? It’s possible that there’s too much movement and noise at night. This is especially true if she co-sleeps with you and you snore.

When I was little, I remember having lots of trouble sleeping because I was sleeping in the same bed as my heavy snoring parents. They were so loud, I thought I was sleeping alongside a truck engine.

Medical Conditions

For medical conditions, you should double check with your pediatrician to make sure that your child’s problems can be corrected. The more common problems that can affect your toddler’s sleep can be GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) or asthma.


If your child coughs a lot during her sleep, you might want to think whether she has developed GERD. Of course, coughing alone might not indicate GERD. However, if your child tends to have trouble eating, and vomits a lot then this might be the issue. GERD is a pretty serious problem because stomach acid is burning the food passageway. That’s why if you suspect this problem, then get her to see a doctor as soon as possible.

What Causes GERD?

Poor eating habits, and belly fat tends to be the major contributors to GERD. The reason is because these factors sort of messes up the anatomy of your child’s system. Typically, when your child swallows her food, it goes through her food pipe known as the esophagus, then goes through a door known as lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and enter the stomach.

The key here is the door, LES. When your child develops belly fat or eats too much junk food, oily foods, soda, or spicy stuff, then this door fails to close properly. Normally, this door is a one way path that allows food to go from the food pipe into the stomach, not the other way around. When it doesn’t close properly, food and stomach acid will consistently go back and burn your child’s food pipe.


As you  aware, asthma is not a preventable problem. If your child has trouble sleeping at night, consistently has difficulty breathing, and pains in the chest then you should suspect asthma. Of course, asthma can be confused for other types of lung infections sometimes. Go see your pediatrician and ask for advice at this point.


If your child simply has night terror, then it is not something unmanageable. Try to bond with her and communicate thoroughly that you are there to support her if she ever gets overly stressed by something.

If the room she sleeps in is too noisy or if snoring is an issue, try to correct it so that everybody can sleep properly. Snoring is actually a sign of a health problem itself, because your tongue is literally blocking your breathing. If possible, go correct it.

For any other medical conditions, don’t try to solve it yourself without getting professional medical advice. I hope this article has helped you. If you have any questions, please leave it in the comments section below.