Weird toddler sleep habits: Grinding teeth, snoring, twitching, and more

Does your toddler have some strange sleep habits? Here's what's normal and what may signal a problem.

A toddler sleeping in a bed
Photo credit: / Sasha_Suzi

Most parents would agree that the most delightful toddler sleep behavior is peaceful snoozing. But your toddler might do all sorts of other things while asleep – some of which might seem strange, or even alarming. Most are perfectly normal and no cause for concern, but a few are worth checking into.

Toddler snoring and mouth breathing

If your sleeping toddler snores, snorts, or breathes through their mouth, let your pediatrician know. If they snore once in a while or only when they have a cold or a stuffy nose, most likely they're fine. But snoring can be a sign of enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or may be a sign of a sleep disorder, so if it happens regularly or your child is showing other signs of a sleep problem (like pauses in breathing), talk with your pediatrician.

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If a stuffy nose is the cause, try using a humidifier to make breathing more comfortable. Running a steamy shower and having your little one sit in the bathroom with you for 10 to 15 minutes may also help with the congestion, along with a few drops of an over-the-counter saline spray in each nostril to help stuffed-up noses.

If your toddler has seasonal allergies, try to minimize their exposure to pollen by closing windows, changing their clothes and washing up after coming in from outside, and using an air purifier at home. You can also try giving them allergy medication, but talk with your pediatrician before giving your child any new medicine.

If your toddler snores loudly, pauses between breaths, seems to work hard to breathe, or gasps as they try to catch their breath, they may have sleep apnea, a disorder that causes people to stop breathing while sleeping. Sleep apnea happens in about 2 percent of children. Because they aren't sleeping well at night, older children with apnea may report that they didn't feel like they got enough sleep at night or they may appear very tired during the day.

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids (the glands in the throat just behind the nose) are a common cause of sleep apnea in children. Other factors include being overweight and having certain facial characteristics, such as a receding chin and cleft palate.

Toddler grinding teeth in sleep

There are lots of reasons that your toddler might grind their teeth – including tension, anxiety, misaligned teeth, or pain (from an earache or teething, for example).

In most cases, teeth grinding isn't harmful, and it's likely your child will outgrow the habit without you having to do anything about it. It's a good idea to ask their dentist to check for problems, though. You might also try soothing your toddler at bedtime with a soak in the tub, a little back rub, and extra cuddling.

Toddler sweating in sleep

Some toddlers sweat buckets while they're in the deepest part of their nightly sleep cycle, often ending up soaking wet.

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Deep sleep is when your toddler is getting the best of what sleep has to offer. Their body is restoring itself and getting ready for a new day, so don't worry too much about sweating. While sweating can occasionally be a symptom of sleep apnea, nighttime perspiration is usually nothing to worry about. Just make sure they aren't sweating or uncomfortable because they have a fever.

And make sure your toddler is comfortable. Put them to bed in light cotton pajamas and keep the room on the cool side – the ideal sleeping temperature for toddlers is 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If your toddler snores or has pauses in their breathing while they sleep in combination with sweating, talk with your pediatrician to rule out sleep apnea.

Toddler twitching in sleep

Some children twitch and jerk while sleeping or when falling asleep. These movements usually last just a few seconds. Up to 70 percent of children and adults have these "sleep starts," so it's likely nothing to worry about. Being overly tired or stressed can make them worse, though.

If the twitches are prolonged and your toddler doesn't stop when you touch them, take video and talk with your pediatrician as soon as possible to make sure it isn't a seizure.

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Some kids have a related condition called restless legs syndrome, in which their legs feel tingly or uncomfortable, and they feel an overwhelming urge to move around. If you suspect that twitching, jerking, or restless legs syndrome is causing your child's sleep problems, talk with your pediatrician.

Toddler night terrors and nightmares

If your toddler sits up in bed and seems terrified, they may be having a night terror, also known as a sleep terror. They may scream and sweat. They probably won't remember what happened, and they'll be difficult to wake up or console.

Night terrors can be triggered by fever, being overtired, and stress. Unlike nightmares, they often occur in the first third of the night during deep sleep.

Night terrors are most common in toddlers and preschoolers, but they can happen at any age. Most kids outgrow them as their nervous system matures.

Not getting enough sleep is often a major contributor to night terrors, so make sure your child heads off to bed early and gets plenty of shut-eye. If your child has frequent night terrors, talk with your pediatrician, who may suggest ways to reduce stress and break the cycle of night terrors.

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Like night terrors, nightmares can be caused by anxiety and stress. A fever, medication, or difficulty sleeping (from a breathing problem, for example) may also cause nightmares.

Nightmares are especially common in older toddlers and preschoolers. Children this age have a growing imagination and are starting to understand that things can cause them harm.

A nightmare will probably wake your child, and they'll be frightened or anxious. They'll probably remember the dream. When your child has a nightmare, all you need to do is comfort them as best you can and try to soothe them back to sleep.

If they're having nightmares repeatedly, think about what kind of stress they're experiencing in their waking hours and do what you can to reduce it. If you're concerned about your toddler's nightmares, talk with your pediatrician.

Other weird toddler sleep habits

Unusual sleeping positions

Many toddlers are restless sleepers, changing position numerous times during the night. Some have a favorite sleeping position that they settle into for long periods, while others are all over the place.

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One toddler may prefer sleeping on their side or splayed out on their back like a starfish. Another may like to curl into a ball. Some toddlers sleep folded up on their hands and knees with their bottom in the air.

Most sleeping positions are harmless, so just let your toddler be – even if they look uncomfortable to you. But if you think they might have sleep apnea, talk to your pediatrician. They can help you determine whether your child needs to be evaluated and treated.

Rocking and banging

Body rocking and head banging are normal behaviors in toddlers, who seem to find the rhythmic movements soothing and sleep inducing.

Your toddler may rock back and forth on all fours or sit up to rock, bang their head on the side of the crib, or both. Although this can be upsetting to watch, think of it as being similar to a child sucking their thumb or twirling their hair to fall asleep. Some toddlers rock or head bang to distract themselves from pain – from an ear infection, for example.

Rocking and head banging usually start in the first year, and most children outgrow these behaviors by age 3 or 4. Head banging can be associated with developmental disorders like autism, but it's just one of many behavioral red flags. Head banging alone rarely signals a serious problem.

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Breathing pauses

Breathing pauses – combined with snoring and snorting – may be a symptom of sleep apnea, but an occasional pause in breathing during sleep can also be perfectly normal.

Many children also sigh in their sleep, which may make it appear as though they've stopped breathing for a very brief time. These sighs are also perfectly normal.


If your child walks in their sleep, they may appear to be awake, but they aren't. Their eyes will be open, but they'll have a blank look on their face.

They may get up and walk around or even engage in activities like getting dressed or playing. If they talk, they won't make much sense. They may sleepwalk for just a few minutes or much longer – even half an hour or more.

Sleepwalking is most common in children between ages 3 and 7, but it can happen at any age. Often kids will sleepwalk if they're anxious or overtired. Kids with sleep apnea are also more likely to sleepwalk.

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Sleepwalking usually isn't cause for concern, but if your child does it often, mention it to your pediatrician at your next visit. Make sure your toddler is getting enough rest, preferably with a dependable sleeping schedule and an early bedtime.

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Nemours Foundation. 2021. Obstructive Sleep Apnea. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) in Children and Adolescents. a new window [Accessed November 2022]

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Rebekah Wahlberg

Rebekah Wahlberg is an associate editor and baby name trends specialist at BabyCenter, the world's number one digital parenting resource. She lives in Southern California with her silly dog Booger, where she enjoys hiking, yoga, and watching Netflix when she "should" be reading. Wahlberg is passionate about creating content that helps parents and parents-to-be equip themselves with everything they need to succeed.