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My husband turned to me with a flash of inspiration as I was complaining how tired I felt after yet another broken night of sleep. “Don’t you remember? We did that wake to sleep method and it worked!” It took me several minutes to even recall what he was referring to. But it soon came flooding back – and he was right, we practised wake to sleep on our eldest and it had been successful.

Is your toddler waking up at night?

Our toddler has always been a decent sleeper. And able to settle himself back during the night. But for the past six weeks that hasn’t been the case. He has consistently been waking around 1-2am every night and screaming the house down for me – I think because of night terrors. He refuses to have my husband come and settle him, it has to be Mummy. After lots of reassurance, cuddles and an hour of faffing around, I finally crawl back to my bed, but lay there wide awake! 

Sound all too familiar? I think because it had been going on for so long, I just resigned myself to this disruption and convinced myself it was a phase. However, it does start taking its toll on the whole family. So I was only too happy to try it again to combat our toddler night waking. 

What is wake to sleep?

There are so many sleep training methods, but I first came across wake to sleep from Tracy Hogg’s The Baby Whisperer – a book I referred to for both my boys. Each time your toddler falls asleep, they enter different sleep cycles from a deep slumber to waking, and around 60 minutes each time at this age. If they have become habitual wakers – whereby they wake up at the same time each night over a long period – then this might help.

How does it actually work?

It simply means, going in and waking your child. “What? Are you mad?” I can just hear the gasps. It isn’t as scary as it sounds, I promise. If like my toddler, you have a child waking up at 1am, then you need to go in an hour before. So in this case, at midnight to gently stir them. You don’t want to wake them so they actually open their eyes, but by stroking them, whispering to them, patting them enough so they will turn over, shift positions or move, it means their sleep cycle has been broken and reset. They may even stir once you’ve entered their bedroom. 

By waking your toddler, you’re interrupting them as they head towards their wake-up time, and they will fall asleep for longer because their wake-up time has been lengthened – therefore breaking the habit. It is recommended by sleep experts that this should be done at least three nights in a row, but it can take up to a week. 

Was it successful this time?

YES! I am overjoyed to report. I will admit, there is something quite nerve-wracking about going to ‘wake up your child’ on purpose. But it always amazes me how deeply my toddler sleeps when he really is in the land of nod. It took three days for us and even though he has woken up a few times, he’s managed to settle himself back to sleep. Getting up in the morning after a full night’s rest has been, well, a dream! 

Here’s a quick recap of the wake to sleep method:

• This sleep training technique is for children who are habitual wakers – they consistently wake up at the same time every night. 

• The purpose of sleep to wake is to reset your child’s sleep cycle and break the habit. 

• An hour before your toddler’s wake up time, go into their bedroom and gently rouse them – only enough so they turn over, stir or move. Then leave. You will need to set an alarm if, for instance, your child is waking up at 4am in order to do this.

• Do this for at least three nights or until it works but experts recommend not to make this your new habit. They also suggest that if your toddler is waking up several times during the night, to just tackle each wake up one by one, rather than doing them all in one go. 

While this may not be right for every parent, I am pleased that such a simple technique really has made the difference for us. I am not a sleep training expert or parenting guru, but I am hoping by sharing my experiences, I will be able to help other parents who are going through the same thing. In my opinion, it’s well worth a try…