What To Do About a Toddler Leaving Their Bed at Night

Toddler asleep in bed
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If you have a toddler who consistently wakes up in the middle of the night, it can be a challenge to keep them from getting out of bed once they wake up. A toddler roaming around in a dark home with no supervision can pose plenty of safety issues, including falls and getting into things they shouldn't.

Learn about different strategies to keep your toddler in bed overnight, as well as what precautions to take in order to make your home safe for a wandering toddler to help you navigate this difficult stage.

Reasons Why Toddlers Get Out of Bed

For parents who have told their toddler a million times to stay in bed and physically put them back there just as many times, it can be extremely frustrating when your toddler still decides to get out of bed at night. Figuring out the reason your toddler is getting up to begin with can help you decide what to do about it.

Getting out of bed at night doesn't necessarily point to any sort of serious sleep issue in toddlers, but a number of factors can impact their ability to sleep through the night. Here are some common reasons toddlers don't stay in bed at night:

  • They don't know how to self-soothe. If your toddler is used to you falling asleep in bed with them or sitting next to their bed, they may be unable to fall asleep on their own when they wake up naturally in the middle of the night because they don't have the proper skills to self-soothe.
  • They need your attention. Sometimes a toddler truly does feel like they need your help in the middle of the night. They might need help using the bathroom if they're potty training, or help getting a drink of water when they're thirsty. This type of wake-up doesn't typically become a problem unless your toddler won't go back to sleep afterward.
  • They feel like they're missing out. When your toddler wakes up and hears that other family members are not yet asleep, they may be tempted to get up and see what they're missing out on instead of going back to sleep.
  • They want to play. If your toddler wakes up and realizes that they have access to fun toys, they may get out of bed to grab a toy and play. While seemingly harmless now, this could make it harder for your child to take bedtime seriously later on.

Cribs vs. Beds

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends transitioning from a crib to a bed when a child is approximately 35 inches tall or when the height or their crib side rail measures less than three-quarters of their height. This will typically happen sometime during toddlerhood, but other factors may come into play when it is time to make this decision.

Although some research suggests that the ideal age to transition from a crib to a bed (whether toddler-sized or otherwise) is age 3, sometimes the timing has less to do with age and more to do with your toddler's developmental readiness. To make the switch easier and increase the chances of success, your toddler should be able to follow directions well enough that they know not to get out of bed at night and wander around before transitioning.

If your toddler is climbing out of their crib, it might be tempting to swap their crib for a toddler bed that is lower to the floor. However, chances are, they will also climb out of their bed. In this case, childproofing their room until they can better understand how to stay put may be the best option.

For parents expecting another baby, sometimes it makes sense to transition your toddler out of their crib so that the new baby can use it. However, if your toddler isn't quite ready to stay in an actual bed, you might consider using a play yard or bassinet temporarily for your newborn to give your toddler a bit more time in their crib if they are still waking up consistently throughout the night.

Using Baby Gates

Parents will often place a baby gate in a doorway to keep their toddler contained in their room if they get out of bed. Baby gates can also help prevent falls down stairs if your home has them. However, there are a fair amount of considerations to take into account if you want to try using a baby gate.

Climbing Over the Gate

If your toddler can scale a gate, the gate will likely do no good at keeping them confined to their room. Even if your toddler can't climb over or pull the gate down now, they might be able to do so in the very near future. Think ahead to how you will handle this problem in the future if it occurs.

Falling Asleep at the Gate

Some parents are totally fine with their toddler staying in their room, even though not in bed, so having a baby gate to keep their child contained can work. For others, this solution can send mixed messages.

If you tell your toddler with your words that they have to go to bed and that their bed is for sleeping, but you tell them with your actions that it's fine to sleep on the floor by their gate as long as they're in their room, your toddler could become confused and less likely to stay in bed despite still being confined to their room.

If your toddler establishes a habit of falling asleep at the gate, they may develop an association with the gate and sleep. Then, you'll have to work to break it eventually or deal with it for as long as it may last. Sleeping on the uncomfortable floor could also have natural consequences that might motivate them to hightail it back to the bed, but it may not.

Potty Training

If you're using a baby gate that your child cannot operate to keep them contained to their room, you'll want to think about what will happen once your child starts learning to use the bathroom. Even if they're wearing a diaper now, you'll want to have a plan in place for what happens when they don't.

For kids who are potty training, should they wake up and need to use the bathroom, having a two-way baby monitor that your child can use to call out to you for help can be a solution. Just be prepared to clean up accidents while your toddler gets the hang of calling out for help.

Bedtime Routine

If your toddler is consistently getting out of bed at night, you may need to reevaluate their bedtime routine. The consistency of your routine can help your child wind down and signal to their brain and body that it's time for sleep.

A bedtime routine that ends with your child alone in their bed also helps them know that this is where and how sleep is supposed to happen. This way, when they wake up in the middle of the night, they're more likely to fall back asleep in the same manner. If that habit isn't firmly in place, your child could need assistance falling back asleep when they wake at night.

Childproofing Your Home

If you have small kids, it's likely that you already have the majority of your home childproofed. However, it's important to take extra steps to ensure that every inch of your home is childproofed if you have a toddler who is prone to getting out of bed in the middle of the night.

Unintentional injury is a leading cause of death in children. Because no adult can monitor their child 24/7—especially while asleep—taking extra steps to ensure that your child can't seriously hurt themselves is worth the effort.

From installing child locks on exterior doors and windows to ensuring that products like medications and cleaners are locked away, childproofing your home is a big undertaking. Make sure that all items that could be harmful to your toddler are put away and that you check every room in your home for potential dangers.

Securing furniture and TVs to the wall is another really important part of childproofing that is too often overlooked. Pay special attention to the furniture in your child's room, as this is the place they are most likely to climb unsupervised if they wake up in the middle of the night and want to play.

A Word From Verywell

Every child is different, and their sleep habits will vary drastically, so what works to keep one child in bed won't always work for another. Trial and error is the name of the game. If you have more than one child, keep in mind that you might have to use a totally different approach with each child when it comes to sleep, safety, and staying in bed.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.