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Good Sleepers Gone Bad

Your beddy-bye routine hasn’t changed, so why is your child suddenly rousing like a pop-up toy at all hours of the night? A few answers that will help:

The sleep situation: A change in routine. When Andrea Everett, a mom of two, and her family moved from one home in Minneapolis, Minnesota to another, she knew there would be some adjustments. But nothing prepared her for her toddler’s new 5 a.m. wake-up time. "It was almost like he was an infant all over again," she says. She pushed his bedtime back from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in 15-minute intervals, which did the trick. Travel, illness, giving up naps, and daylight savings time can similarly throw off a child’s sleep at night, says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of the Expecting 411 series. The disrupted cycle easily becomes the new normal unless parents take snooze control.

The sleep solution: Reverse! Reverse! "When there has been a change in schedule, go back to the exact same old routine as soon as possible," says Dr. Brown. "A child will fall back to her normal sleeping patterns as long as parents are consistent. Of course, it won’t happen right away. Be patient—it may take a couple of nights."


The sleep situation: Night scares. Bad dreams are usually accompanied by tears and some anxiety. With night terrors, a sleep-cycle abnormality, children typically wake at about the same time each night, screaming, and have no recall of the terror in the morning.

The sleep solution: Comfort. For bad dreams, simply reassuring your child should help. Talk through what specifically scared her. Did a monster come at her? If so, you can say into the air, "Listen up, monster! Don’t you come back here!" Then give her a special stuffed animal for protection. If your child is experiencing frequent night terrors, discuss it with your pediatrician, who may recommend anything from relaxation techniques to medication.

The sleep situation: Your child’s not into the big-boy bed. For most kids, age 3 is the best time to make the move (unless your child has been climbing out of the crib); any sooner and you risk sleep disruptions.

The sleep solution: Dr. Brown advises a fanfare-free transition—if you make too big of a deal about it, she says, "there is potential for pushback." Emphasize independence: Tell your tot, "Now you’re big enough to climb into a bed on your own, won’t that be cool?"


The sleep situation: I’m thirsty, and other games. All the get-out-of-bed ploys your tot is pulling prove she’s one smart cookie (as if there were ever any doubt).

The sleep solution: Set limits. Each night, give her one token (a beanbag works fine) that’s redeemable for an extra hug or glass of water. "Of course, the token usually gets cashed five minutes after you shut the door," Dr. Brown notes. "Then you say ‘Good night’ and stick to it—no exceptions."

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