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4 year old waking in the night

4 year old waking

Our son has always been a greatsleeper - 11 hours at night , same routine every night. In bed by 8 pm.

For the past month and a half he has taken to waking my husband and I multiple times a night for various pointless reasons - mostly that He doesn't want to be alone. And then up for the day at 5 am after the multiple night wakings.

We are consistent in bringing him back each time / no emotion , telling him to go back to sleep. We have never let him stay in our room even once.

We tried sleep clocks, reward charts and even taking away his favorite possessions , nothing seems to work. In result we are all exhausted and frustrated including him. He is exhausted and overtired by 4 pm everyday (he stopped naps at age 3 but has a cozy rest time on couch for an hour after school each day). This lack of sleep has caused him to act out all the time  and be a different child most of our interactions with him seem to be negative :(

(one other potential problem is his sisters room is next to his , she is almost 2 and still in a crib / luckily has a white noise machine ) but we worry if we let him yell or scream to us too much he will wake her , but generally he isn't yelling he's getting out of his bed. He sleeps with his door shut ( per his request always he likes it shut and 2 night lights ).

Wow! This is a hard one as you are doing most everything right. Your son’s nightly wakings have gone on one way too long. Did this begin after illness or have there been stressors in his life? Unfortunately, these wakings have become a habit that is negatively effecting your whole family.

Lets talk about your options:

1.) Keep doing what you're doing. Keep taking him back to his bed and hope that eventually it will work. If you had asked me 6 weeks ago, I would have guessed it would work. Unfortunately, he has not responded and I think it is time to try a different approach.

2.) You could try the old fashion “lock him in” approach. Its cheap and it would immediately end the getting out of his bedroom issue. Most likely it will cause him to scream and cry in the middle of the night. To me this is the last resort as it will surely cause your son and whole family increased stress.

3.) You could try the “two gates system” that we used with one of our boys. It basically gives him two chances then he is locked in. See moving to a toddler bed.

4.) You could try moving him into his sisters room. Yes, I realize that this idea is “out of the box”. The younger sibling can be a calming force for the big sibling. Most parents are reluctant to try this because of the potential for a disaster with both kids up in the middle of the night. I have seen this work in several cases of night wakers. If he is truly lonely or sees himself as her protector this may work.

5.) You could try a “hall pass”. This is old idea where you actually make a physical “nighttime pass”. It could be laminated poster board or a painted piece of wood. The child is put to bed with the nighttime pass and instructed that they can come out once at night for anything (a kiss, a hug, a glass of water , etc.). This typically works best for the child that doesn’t want to go to sleep initially at night. Most children are quick to use the pass the first few night and then learn to save it. Once they learn to save it, they often sleep all night.

Sit down with your husband and develop a plan. You may even narrow down your choices to two and ask your son to help pick the “new” plan. Tell your son that these nighttime waking are not normal and are harming your family. Continue to get your son outdoor play time every day. We want him healthy and physically tired at the end of each day.

Don’t worry about him waking up his sister. If you choose to lock him in or to use the two gates he will likely end up crying/screaming for a few nights. The crying and screaming will worsen for 3 to 5 nights and then end if you are consistent. If his sister does wake up because of his screaming then bring her into your room or to another room with a pack n play.

Good luck!

Follow up 2 months later

He is doing much. We have been putting him to bed earlier , seems no matter what he is ready to start the day at 530 am for now ..So we have him start routine at 730/ sleeping by 745 .. It's been better. He has a clock and cannot get out unless there is a 5. Not ideal but it's working ! For now. Thanks again for your help.


Written October 2014 by
Dr. Gordon, Windermere Pediatrician






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