Is a 2-Year-Old Child Asleep or Crying?

by Johnny Jacks

A 2-year-old child either sleeps or begins crying. While this is an uncommon occurrence, it is a concern for parents of children in this age group. Most infants typically enjoy uninterrupted sleep at this age, except for occasional disturbances due to nightmares. So, what could be the underlying cause, and how can parents address and support their children in achieving restful sleep?

The reason why 2-year-olds either sleep or start crying

Understanding the reasons behind a 2-year-old’s sleep disturbances is crucial as sleep-related issues can significantly impact a child’s development. Parents, witnessing their children frequently waking up or crying, often find themselves anxious and unsure about the factors contributing to their child’s inability to achieve a sound sleep. Here are some key reasons why a 2-year-old may experience sleep disruptions that parents should be aware of.

Understanding the reasons behind a 2-year-old's tendency to get easily startled and cry.

Understanding the reasons behind a 2-year-old’s tendency to get easily startled and cry.

Children with calcium deficiency

Calcium is considered one of the essential nutrients for the early development of a child. Calcium deficiency can adversely affect a child’s bones, teeth, muscle system, and even their sleep. In cases of calcium deficiency, children may experience shallow sleep, restlessness, and episodes of waking up startled and crying.

Another indicator of calcium deficiency in a child’s body is the occurrence of night sweats, commonly referred to by grandparents. Calcium deficiency significantly disrupts children’s sleep patterns, preventing them from achieving deep, restful sleep and making them more prone to waking up easily.

Children experiencing sleep-related panic

Another common factor contributing to sleep disturbances is night terrors. Night terrors typically manifest about 2 to 3 hours after a child falls asleep, during the transition from non-REM to REM sleep. An apparent sign of a child experiencing night terrors is the tired and panicked expression on their face upon waking, resembling someone who has just had a nightmare. This reaction may be attributed to heightened stimulation of the central nervous system before sleep, possibly influenced by the child’s daytime activities. Some children are more predisposed to night terrors, including:

  1. Those not getting sufficient sleep
  2. Babies who are sick, fatigued, or stressed
  3. Infants placed in unfamiliar sleep environments
  4. Children taking specific medications.
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Due to the child’s diet

If parents allow their children to consume unrestricted diets, they may inadvertently disrupt the child’s daily nutritional balance. Excessive or repetitive daily food intake can result in insufficient calcium provision to the child, leading to conditions such as anorexia, aversion to eating, and other related diseases. Furthermore, certain foods that are not conducive to a healthy digestive system can trigger acid reflux in infants, contributing to instances where a 2-year-old may experience disrupted sleep or wake up startled.

Some other reasons

In addition to the previously mentioned common causes, there are several other factors that can contribute to continuous startling sleep in a 2-year-old child:

  • Uncomfortable lying positions, prone postures, or pinched limbs that make the child uneasy.
  • Bedwetting, which results in wet diapers and disturbed sleep for the child.
  • Suboptimal bedroom environment, potentially caused by loud noises, excessively hot or cold room temperatures, overly bright lighting, or poor ventilation.
  • Vigorous activities, excessive play, or exposure to frightening stimuli during the day, leading to nighttime disturbances for the child.
Ensuring a comfortable sleeping position can prevent your baby from getting startled during sleep.

Ensuring a comfortable sleeping position can prevent your baby from getting startled during sleep.

When a 2-year-old child experiences disrupted or shallow sleep, it not only hinders the child’s development but also has a significant impact on the parents, especially mothers. This is because mothers often need to wake up multiple times during the night to soothe the child back to sleep. Therefore, what measures can be taken to assist parents when their 2-year-old child has difficulty sleeping or is easily startled?

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What to do when a 2-year-old has trouble sleeping or wakes up startled?

To address the aforementioned challenges faced by parents, here are some steps they can take to help their child achieve deep and restful sleep:

Firstly, parents need to identify the cause of their child’s insomnia. Different causes require specific approaches to address the issue.

For children who startle frequently due to deficiencies in calcium or other nutrients like vitamin D, zinc, or iron, parents can consider the following measures:

  • Ensure regular sun exposure to provide essential vitamins.
  • Incorporate milk supplements and dairy products into the child’s diet.
  • Provide regular servings of orange juice.
  • Include calcium-fortified breads and cereals in the child’s diet, along with yogurt and fruits.
  • Introduce dishes prepared from beans, dark green leafy vegetables, or seafood.
  • Use functional foods and calcium supplements for infants as recommended by a doctor.

If a child experiences sleep disruptions due to panic attacks, parents should monitor the child’s pre-sleep activities:

  • Avoid scaring or shouting at the child during the day.
  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Ensure the child does not stay up too late, prioritizing sufficient rest and sleep.
  • Create a comfortable living environment without imposing the parent’s preferences on the child.
  • Before bedtime, avoid exposing the child to actions such as fighting, jumping, or loud music on phones.

To address nutritional needs, parents should include the following foods in the child’s diet:

  • Foods rich in calcium, iron, and zinc, such as beef, oysters, and crab.
  • Purchase calcium-rich foods like milk and dairy products (cheese, yogurt).
  • Incorporate dark green leafy vegetables, seafood (shrimp, clams, crab), fish, or beans as natural sources of calcium.

If a child’s discomfort during sleep is due to the sleeping position, parents should observe and adjust the child’s sleeping position:

  • Avoid having the child lie face down to ensure limbs are not compressed.
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Additionally, the baby’s sleeping environment should meet the following criteria: maintaining a suitable temperature, minimizing noise, ensuring proper ventilation, and controlling light levels.

Cereals, such as those pictured from Eva, are beneficial for providing calcium to support your baby's nutrition.

Cereals, such as those pictured from Eva, are beneficial for providing calcium to support your baby’s nutrition.

Read more: Optimal Sleep for a Healthy 1-Year-Old

Tips for Ensuring a Good Night’s Sleep for a 2-Year-Old

In the effort to facilitate a restful night’s sleep for your 2-year-old, parents should consider the following guidelines:

  • Limit Foods Rich in Oxalic Acid: When supplementing calcium in your baby’s diet, avoid providing excessive amounts of foods high in oxalic acid. Vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, white beans, soybeans, and amaranth contain oxalates, which can combine with calcium in the baby’s body. This combination forms oxalates that may hinder the digestion and absorption of calcium, potentially leading to constipation in children.
  • Seek Medical Attention for Persistent Sleep Issues: If your baby consistently wakes up startled and cries, and the aforementioned methods don’t alleviate the problem, consult a reputable medical professional for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.
  • Consult with a Doctor Before Using Medications or Functional Foods: Parents should refrain from independently administering drugs or functional foods to aid their baby’s sleep without the consent of a doctor. Professional guidance is essential to ensure the safety and appropriateness of such interventions.
  • Provide Comfort through Presence and Storytelling: Be present with your child and share stories frequently to instill a sense of security before bedtime.
  • Investigate the Cause of Sleep Disturbances: If your child frequently wakes up crying during sleep, make an effort to observe and identify the underlying cause of the disturbances in the 2-year-old’s sleep. Stay by your child’s side and actively contribute to their healthy development and growth through the insights shared above.
Tips for Ensuring a Good Night's Sleep for Your Baby.

Tips for Ensuring a Good Night’s Sleep for Your Baby. (Photo: CircleDNA)

If your child consistently wakes up and cries during sleep, make an effort to observe and identify the cause of the 2-year-old’s disrupted sleep or sudden crying. Stay by your child’s side and contribute to their healthy development and growth by implementing the tips and information shared above.

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