Why Do Toddlers Cry In Their Sleep? 5 Reasons Here

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Toddlers are not known for their ability to sleep, stay asleep, and even stay in their own bed asleep! It is fair to say the relationship between toddler and sleep… well, it’s complicated!

I’ve had it all… from night terrors to my toddler son waking up crying every morning. I also have times when he was crying in his sleep. What do I do? He is asleep… and seems fine, but he is crying!

Why do toddlers cry in their sleep? Let’s have a look at the 5 most common reasons.

What you will learn in this post:

  • 5 common reasons why toddler cry in their sleep
  • Frequently asked questions

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Why Do Toddlers Cry In Their Sleep? – 5 Reasons

Why Do Toddlers Cry In Their Sleep Infographic

1. Night Terror

When my son had a night terror for the first time, it was… well, terrifying (the clue is in the name). I think they call it a night terror because it is terrifying for the toddler and the parents!

It started as a small whimper that caught my attention through the monitor. I went up to his room to check on him. What I found was my toddler son sitting up in his bed, stroking his blanket. His eyes were open, and he was staring into space.

Then, out of nowhere, he released an ear-piercing scream. It scared the hell out of me. I asked him what was wrong; he didn’t respond. His body tensed up as he started screaming again. I had no idea…

I did what I assume most parents would do. I picked him up to offer comfort, but nothing worked. It was clear that he wasn’t lucid. I thought it would be a good idea to hit the lights, so I did. For the next 10 minutes, he was terrified.

Then, after 10 minutes, he looked at me and smiled. I asked if he was OK, he said yes. I laid him back down, and he immediately fell asleep again. My heart was racing for at least an hour!

Toddlers can have night terrors where their eyes do not open, and some have night terrors but look like they are awake. During a night terror, your toddler is asleep. To answer the question ‘why do kids cry in their sleep,’ it could be a night terror!

2. Nightmare

Nightmares are different from night terrors, but they are also a common reason why your toddler cries in their sleep.

Often, a toddler will remember a nightmare, and it may wake them up. If this happens, you should talk to your toddler about the dream; if they want to – do not force them to talk about it.

When you are talking about their nightmare, you have to tread a fine line between not making lite of it and not taking it seriously.

3. In Pain

Toddler years involve a lot of growth and a lot of injuries too! If you wonder why your toddler cries in their sleep, it could be because they are in pain.

If you feel as if it is necessary, it is worth waking your toddler up to see if they require any pain relief.

Also – if your toddler regularly cries because they are in pain, you should seek medical advice.

4. Scared

Why do toddlers cry in their sleep? One reason might be that they are scared, and they are in between a state of sleep and awake.

You could add extra comfort by providing your toddler with a night light or even a light projector with soothing music.

5. Sick

You should always check your toddler to ensure they are not sick if they are crying while asleep.

If my son is sick during the night, it will always start with crying in his sleep! You get to know the cry too, so before I go and check in on him, I’ll grab a bowl, thermometer, and some medication too.

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Frequently Asked Questions

frequently asked questions

What are night terrors in toddlers caused by?

There are many triggers that could cause night terrors in toddlers. After going through tons of night terrors with my son, I have come to the conclusion that his night terrors are caused by sugar-packed treats towards the end of the day. Other triggers include watching something scary, sickness, and reactions to some foods.

Can toddlers have bad dreams?

Yes – toddlers can have bad dreams. The toddler stage is a time when their imagination really kicks in, and that can be the cause of some bad dreams.

What is the difference between a night terror and a nightmare?

The key differences between a night terror and a nightmare are that a nightmare will usually wake your toddler up, and your toddler’s eyes are usually closed during a nightmare. Night terrors are much more terrifying because they look as if they are awake. Their eyes are usually open during a night terror. During a night terror, your toddler will also move, and thrash around. They may even sleepwalk.


So, why do toddlers cry in their sleep? One of the 5 reasons on this page is likely to be the cause.

It is important to remember that you should seek medical advice if you are ever concerned about your toddler crying in their sleep. Do not rely on self-diagnosing using the internet!

Good luck!

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