Should children drink water during the night?

Now that summer is here I have been receiving many requests around the same topic: how much water should a child drink during the night hours? How much is too much? Should we wake them up to give them water before us parents go to sleep? Should we let them sleep with a water bottle in their crib?

Summer can be a tricky time, especially if we live in warm countries because it can bring additional negative sleep associations or strengthen the already existing ones.

Did you know that?

In a recent study with mice, researchers at McGill University in Quebec found that an increase in the water intake 2 hours before sleep time helped to protect the mice from dehydration during their sleep cycle. The researchers wondered if the cells from the brain’s “hydration sensor” could be communicating with a part of the brain that controls the inner clock, hence prompting the mice to sleep and afterwards wake up.

Summarizing, the tendency to drink more in the evening might be a natural part of the sleep-wake cycle, in order to prevent becoming dehydrated overnight.

What could you do to find the right balance between enough liquid intake and a good night’s sleep?

  • It goes without saying that it is highly recommended not to feed our children salty, sweet or spicy foods in general and even more before bed, so they do not feel additional thirst.
  • Keep their bedroom at a cool temperature to prevent excessive sweating, and always seek medical advice if you have any concerns. If lowering the temperature is not an option, try to put the baby to sleep with just a little blouse on or nothing at all. Overheating is a real danger and I promise you it pays off: children will not “catch a cold”, in the summer, if they sleep without socks or pyjama!
  • Insist on drinking enough liquids during the day, make it a priority for kindergarten teachers or other caregivers to keep an eye on this aspect. While playing children forget all their other "needs" so it is easy to get dehydrated, occurring frequently when they are in good company!

The pros and cons of water intake before bedtime

  • There are well-known situations when it may be helpful to drink water before bed. For some children hot or warm drinks may form part of a calming routine. When children are ill, a glass of hot water or tea might help relieve symptoms so they can sleep better. Breathing through the mouth creates more water loss than breathing through the nose, so children with nasal congestion might drink water to replenish the lost fluids.
  • Drinking water before bed can also be disruptive to sleep as it can lead to frequent nighttime wakings for going to the toilet. Younger children who still use nappies might not have this problem but once potty training is attempted, this becomes a big issue to tackle. The ideal way to go through summer times and early years in general is to keep them hydrated throughout the day so they do not need to drink excessive amounts of water at bedtime and during the night.

What about drinking in the middle of the night?

  • If you keep an eye on all of the above aspects, children after the age of 1 should not require additional fluid intake during the night, of course, leaving aside the times when they are ill. From my experience and my studies I have observed that children who frequently wake up to require water during the night do not have a solid sleep foundation in the first place.
  • Some children tend to wake up from various other reasons, unable to connect the sleep cycles and have somehow formed the association between the liquid in whatever form it comes, milk/water and the parent who brings it. In other words, they wake up anyway and afterwards realise the sensation of mild thirst.
  • Sadly, there is not a simple & universal solution to help the child sleep better and remove the nighttime wakings but there is still hope! It depends on the age, liquid preference (is the child breastfed? does he/she ask for milk? does he/she ask for water? does he/she use a pacifier?) and on the sleep picture in general. A child who wakes up once per night to drink water in the middle of July might genuinely be thirsty but a 3 year old sleeping with his sippy cup might hide some deeper health & sleep issues.
  • Cutting down on the fluid intake during the night is not an easy decision and sometimes it can actually be a wrong decision or wrong timing so asking for professional advice from specialists can save you a lot of worries and endless ruminating over the matter.

As a breastfeeding consultant I have frequently encountered families who have tried to wean an older child (2 +years old) off the breast/ bottle by replacing milk with water and obtained the opposite outcome of the desired one: a child that wakes up even more, asking for water! This proves one more time that asking for water in the first place is not always a sign of thirst and it is a way more complicated issue as it might appear at the first glance.

We will leave the topic of nocturia and bedwetting for a different article and will conclude with 4 really important reminders:

1. Please keep an eye on symptoms of dehydrationsuch as dry mouth or skin & dark urine.

2. The need for drinking excessive amounts of water could be a sign of diabetes and it is always good to seek medical advice rather than relying on internet advice.

3. Allowing a young child (under 3 or 4) to sleep in his own crib with a bottle of whatever liquid he prefers is not always the safest option if it implies him drinking and potentially choking while you are sleeping in another room. Better be safe than sorry and provide him with the drinks if and when needed.

4. Children under the age of 1 should only drink water at meal times, in order to get accustomed to the taste & habit but their primary source of hydration should remain breast or formula milk. Please do not get tempted to replace their milk feeds with water or tea!

If you need help in tackling the sleep & drinking issues, I am more than happy to help, please book an initial consultation with and we will sort it out together!

Have a happy summer & stay hydrated during the day, nights are for sleeping!

photo with Diana

I am the proud mother of a little boy called Toni and I used to google various tips and tricks about sleeping just like you are doing right now.

I qualified as a child sleep consultant after graduating the Family Sleep Institute in the USA which is one of the most well known and respected programs of its kind. I can provide you with a safe and non judgmental space where we will tackle your child’s sleeping issues and get you back on track as a family.

Are you ready to make positive changes to your family’s sleep and wellbeing? Take a look at my sleep packages and let's give it a try together!

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