Broken sleep is something most whānau expect for a few months after bringing their newborn home. It’s when months start turning into years that they begin to wonder if they’ll ever get a decent night’s sleep again!

With the help of routines most tamariki will eventually develop a sleeping pattern. But sometimes an established pattern suddenly changes and they’re waking up two and three times a night, which can have parents scratching their heads as to why?

Staying calm can be a real challenge

Once awake it can be really hard to resettle a child without a big fuss. And a big fuss is the last thing a tired parent feels like dealing with in the middle of the night. Having to manage a full day at mahi or running the home and family on limited sleep does make life feel very tough some days. Especially alongside a grizzly toddler who hasn’t had enough sleep either!

Change can disturb a child’s sleep

Change, however minor it might seem to adults, can be the cause of unsettled or wakeful nights in young tamariki. Change comes in many different ways:

It might be physical and to do with:
• teething – sore gums or a fever
• sickness – irritating cough or a blocked nose
• growth spurts – leg pains or cramps.

It might be emotional and to do with:
• adjusting to a new baby or step sibling
• a parent’s breakup, arguing and fighting
• a death or illness within the wider whānau
• the ‘unknown’ when a child is not yet able to understand some of the things going on in their world, like COVID-19.

It might be intellectual due to:
• their greater awareness and understanding of the things going on in their world
• increased memory skills enabling them to easily recall past events or experiences
• an increased understanding of language – what is said directly to them and what they hear being talked about around them.

It might be environmental and to do with:
• a new bed, bedroom, or even rearranged furniture
• a new whare or new people staying in their home
• noisy wind or rain outside, too cold, too hot or too humid
• a new early childhood centre, or a new kaiako or caregiver.

Having a plan can help

Talking about and agreeing on how we’re going to deal with night waking of older tamariki is key to getting through this period. Preferably discussing it in the daylight works better than at 3am when emotions can be heightened.

Think about your tamaiti

What changes might have happened that could be impacting their sleep?

What have you noticed about their daytime behaviour during this period of unsettled nights?

Have you talked with them about what’s going to happen if they wake during the night?

Think about your whānau

How have you been responding to them when they wake?

How do you feel your approach is working?

How happy are you with having them in your bed if they protest about going back to theirs?

Who does the resettling? Do you take turns and use a similar strategy?

It won’t last forever… really!

If the disturbed sleep is getting you down, start on your whānau plan today. Once you’ve agreed on some strategies you’re happy with, stick with them for at least an agreed set period of time.

And remember however tiresome or irritating this period is, knowing that it won’t last forever can help…a bit!


Find more tips to help your children settle and lots more tips for parents.

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