Waking in the middle of the night to eat — The Bump
Pre-School

Waking in the middle of the night to eat

My 3.5 year old keeps waking up at night to eat. She wants a snack before bed, and then will wake up to eat again sometime between 1-4 a.m. Last night she woke up twice saying she was hungry! I'm going crazy because my 7 mo wakes up about a zillion times a night, so I'm not getting much sleep.

Does anyone else's kid do this? We struggle to get her to eat at meal times, only to deal with this in the middle of the night. Our house is not big, and she seems to know that all she has to do is lay on the floor and scream and we'll give in because we don't want her to wake the baby. She also demands that I be the one to give her the snack and get her back to bed -- with screaming if my H tries to intervene.

I need help. Tips? Advice? Anything? 

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Re: Waking in the middle of the night to eat

  • Unless there's a medical issue she does not need to eat in the middle of the night at this age - even when she's growth spurting.

    If she's not eating during the day but you're feeding her at night it's going to become her pattern.  She needs x number of calories a day and if you give her part of them at night she's not going to want/need them during the day time hours but will be needing/wanting them again in the middle of the night the next day.  It becomes a repeating loop.

    I know how hard it is to feel like you're being held hostage by a child when you're trying so hard not to let them wake the rest of the house but if I were in your shoes I'd turn on a box fan in the hall and a white noise machine in the baby's room and plan for a long night of teaching her that she needs to eat when food is offered because there will be no more getting up to eat in the middle of the night.

    She may be hungry that night but I'll bet she'll eat like gang busters the next morning!  

    From that point forward I'd remind her at each meal that this is her opportunity to eat and she will not be eating in the middle of the night so you recommend she eats now while she can.

    For us when we know full well one of ours is in tatrum mode with no end in sight we make them go to the basement to wail it out (with us of course) because it's just not fair that they wake the house so we move them where the sound isn't as likely to wake the other family members.  

    We've only done it a few times with each one of them but they do seem to straighten up when we tell them that if they want to cry and scream and wake up the house they'll be doing that wailing in the basement. 

    If you stand strong she will learn that she's not going to get food in the middle of the night.

    However.... I wonder if maybe this isn't about hunger but instead about attention/comfort/etc?  

    I'd eliminate the food issue, get her back on track eating all of her calories during day time hours and if the night waking continues see if you can figure out what her motivation is for waking.

    Another thought:  Often times the body's need for hydration is sensed as hunger instead of thirst.  How is her liquid intake?

     

     

    Our IF journey: 1 m/c, 1 IVF with only 3 eggs retrieved yielding Dylan and a lost twin, 1 shocker unmedicated BFP resulting in Jace, 3 more unmedicated pregnancies ending in more losses.
    Total score: 6 pregnancies, 5 losses, 2 amazing blessings that I'm thankful for every single day.
  • Might as well let her scream and wake the baby.  Like pp said you want to stop this and she doesn't need it.  One really bad night is better then every single night.  Maybe you will luck out and the baby will sleep through it.  I am shocked that DS2 sleeps through bed time for DS1 every night.  
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  • Thank you so much for the pep talk. I had H read your responses and we are like, "Exactly!" So we're gonna start a new rule of no food after bed. I'm sure she'll adjust.

    Oh, and as to the idea that perhaps she wants something else ... I have wondered that as well. I will often tell her that she can't have a snack, but that I will hold her for a few minutes or pat her back, but she insists she's hungry, so I give in and give her food.

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  • My DD1 will sometimes wake up screaming with night terrors when she doesn't eat enough for dinner. 

    I will give her a handful of crackers or something similar to help her get back to sleep. I also will give her a snack before bed on nights that I know she hasn't eaten enough, and that usually heads off the waking. DH and I also remind her at dinner that if she doesn't eat enough, it gives her bad dreams. 

    However, it's not frequent, and it doesn't have a manipulation component -- she's truly distressed and can't get back to sleep, and it's not typical for her at night. I have the same problem myself at times; I was up eating a bowl of cereal at 3 a.m. because my dinner wasn't filling enough. 

    But it sounds like your DD is doing it for the attention that she knows the baby is getting in the night. You got some good advice from pp. 

    If you didn't want to go cold turkey, you could also try absolutely insisting that she must brush her teeth after a snack in the middle of the night. And/or that if she wants that snack, she must get up, get the snack herself, put everything away, etc. -- make it as much effort for her as possible, with as little attention from you as possible. Maybe she'd lose interest if you make it a lot work for her instead of you doing it all. 

     

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    DD1, 1/5/2008 ~~~ DD2, 3/17/2010
  • I'd tell her no and ignore it. It might be a few nights of hell but there's really no reason for her to do that. Set a time to tell her when her last chance to eat is. After that don't give in. The last thing you want to do is give in because random reinforcement is the worst thing you can do.

    I do have a student (I'm a teacher) who has an eating disorder. He cannot tell when he's full. His parents have to give him his food for the day and he can't eat any more than what is sent.

    If you really feel this is an issue, go see the pedi. 

  • imagelite-bright:

    But it sounds like your DD is doing it for the attention that she knows the baby is getting in the night. You got some good advice from pp. 

     

    good point!
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