The 5 Stages of Toddler Night Waking

A few weeks ago my in-laws took my toddler for the night so Good Papa and I could celebrate our anniversary. The following day we drove up to my parents to bid farewell to my two younger brothers off to law school in Oregon and a year in Australia. We rounded out the weekend with a family party at my in-laws that Sunday. It was quite the busy weekend.

Needless to say, W was absolutely exhausted by the time Sunday night rolled around. A night with the grandparents and no naps will do that to you when you’re two.

You may think that such a tired two year old would sleep like a “baby,” but if you are a parent then I’m sure you are well-aware that a lack of sleep begets a lack of sleep. So, instead of peacefully drifting off to dreamland, he fought it with a massive amount of toddler adrenaline pumping through his little veins. By the time he waved the white flag and shut his eyes, we were exhausted ourselves and naively hopeful for a later wake-up time the next morning.

We were wrong… so wrong. 

The 5 Stages of Toddler Night Waking

The 5 Stages of Toddler Night Waking

Stage 1- Denial 

You are dead asleep, completely at peace and blissfully unaware of the toddler drama that is about to unfold. Then, a faint wail reaches your ear suddenly waking you from your slumber. As the crying intensifies, you open your eyes, feeling confused and blinded by the darkness. Is that W? No! What time is it? He can’t possibly be up. You glue your eyes shut, willing the increasingly ear-splitting sounds coming from your toddler’s room to stop. I’m sure it’s just a bad dream. He’ll stop. I’ll just lay here, and he’ll stop. He doesn’t stop. Instead, he only gets louder. He’s now calling your name. Good Papa stirs, “Is that him?” Don’t respond. If you play your cards right, he’ll go get him and you can continue to rest undisturbed. You bury your face deeper into your pillow as your doesn’t-need-as-much-sleep-as-I-do husband begrudgingly gets up.

You can’t help but let a slight smile escape while thinking to yourself, I married the right man. 

Stage 2- Anger 

You snuggle into the warm covers and try to fall back asleep, but, unfortunately, the entire conversation between father and son reaches your hyper-sensitive ears. “What’s wrong, W?” “Mommy!” “Do you want me to sing to you?” “No, Mommy!” “Do you want a glass of water?” “No! Mommy!” You know all too well where this is headed. You can feel your frustration boil up. The entire day all this boy wants is his daddy, but the moment poor, pregnant Mommy just wants to sleep, that’s when he wants her! Ahh! 

Good Papa enters the room, “he wants you.” You let your anger and disappointment show as much as you can in a pitch black room by aggressively flinging the comforter off while letting out an excessively loud sigh, “uhhhh!”

Stage 3- Bargaining 

You flop your pregnant self out of the bed, take a moment to compose yourself before stumbling into your toddlers room. You find him there, standing up in his crib at least he’s contained, we’re keeping him in a crib until high school. He points to the chair next to his crib and demands, “song!” The bargaining begins. “Okay, one song, then you must go back to sleep.” You croak out the A, B, C’s (it’s the shortest) wondering, what about my raspy, chain-smoker, middle-of-the-night voice is so appealing to this boy? After you finish, you get up to leave and say good night before you are interrupted, “water!” “Okay, I’ll get you a little water, but you must go to sleep then.” Before you know it, you find yourself on a never-ending carousel of more drinks, more kisses, more hugs, more songs.

Stage 4- Depression 

I will never sleep again. I am destined to stand here in this room for four more hours until the sun rises pleading with a tiny person to just go to sleep. You slump down into the chair next to your son’s crib, rest your head on the railing, tears start to form in your eyes. You look over at your toddler who has officially gone insane, laughing, jumping up and down. He has no care in the world. He can sleep whenever he wants. You mourn the loss of those nightly hours that you’ll never get back. You blink away the tears as you slowly count them aloud to yourself.

Stage 5- Acceptance

You wipe the tears away and pick your toddler up out of his crib. He immediately rests his somehow-still-adorable little head on your shoulder as you march back into your room. You place him in your bed and lay down next to him. “You can sleep in Mommy and Daddy’s bed for the rest of the night, but you have to sleep nicely.” You grin to yourself. I’m seriously losing it. What does sleep nicely even mean? You snuggle in next to your precious toddler and think, well, for just one night this is really nice. 

It’s not until you are awoken again around 4:30 am from a tiny, yet shockingly powerful foot to the face that you realize what you meant when you said, “sleep nicely.”

The 5 Stages of Toddler Night Waking

Toddler fun The Good Mama


  • Kristen says:

    Oh I remember these days. Those night wakings are awful!!

  • This post made me laugh a little too much today. I’ve been there. I’ve soooo been there. I’ve been up since 3:15 this morning. I Went through your steps, unfortunately my kid refuses to sleep in our bed. So it was either keep my husband and me both up all night, or just one of us. I was the “nice one” this time.

  • Rebekah says:

    Yes! This is oh, so true. This is my life. Every. Night. Though mine is a mama’s boy all the time, not just at night. And I would add one more stage. Waiting. When you waste precious sleep lying in bed just waiting, waiting, waiting . . . knowing that he’s going to wake up any moment and you’d rather be all the way awake to handle it better. But he doesn’t wake up, so your body slowly drifts in the beginning stages of slumber. And then you’re jerked awake by the wailing from the next room……

  • Mary Kay says:

    This made me laugh out loud (and shudder at the memory). I promise that eventually, someday, you will get to sleep all night again.

  • oh my gosh, this is solo true! I experienced all of these every morning this week!! 🙂 Thanks for the laugh

  • It always comes and goes in waves… Just when you think you have them back to normal you get the 4am wake up… Never makes sense, but this post All makes sense lol

  • Melissa says:

    Thank God Jane hasn’t done this. Instead we just got through the 4 month sleep regression… And the other night he had a night terror preview, which is also super fun. Can’t wait for those to ramp up…

  • Rachee says:

    So funny and so true!
    As a toddler my daughter would always wake in the middle of night and I would hope and pray that she would go to her dad’s side of the bed but no, always wanted mom. So many sleepless night but the cuddles were so worth it.

  • Lauren says:

    my son never really did this once he was a toddler, but my daughter is the WORST. She climbs in our bed every single night. ugh

  • So funny and so true! My little guy is the same way! Especially that never-ending carousel of hugs, kisses and glasses of water!

  • Melissa says:

    Ugh! So true! I remember those middle of the night/early morning wake up calls. Luckily my kids just run into my bed in the middle of the night now and usually go back to sleep. But they are older. =)

  • Jennifer says:

    So you just described what happened at my house last night!!! #miserylovescompany

  • Yes! I have been through all 5 more than I would like to admit! We’ll sleep someday mama, like maybe in 18 years 🙂

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