Helping Older Kids Fall Asleep

Parent Q&A

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  • I’m looking for feedback on whether your kids are struggling with sleep right now. Has it become erratic? What’s helping you?

    We moved at the start of the pandemic and my child is in her own room, for the first time. It’s close to ours, but she’s really stumbled with both going to sleep and sleeping through the night. Bad dreams, or not enough excercise, especially this week stuck inside. Many times, when she wakes, she’s up from 3am.. til 6am. This has been hard. 

    We’ve used melatonin to get her to sleep so she’s not taking 2-3 hours to fall asleep. We’ve done sleep training throughout her life. But she’s particularly scared of fires (first really bad dream here was about fires in her school, many months ago :(. We don’t want to over use melatonin, nor do we want to be so severe in sleep training during this time, but open to what makes sense.  We’ve let her have books in bed to cycle down, or slept by her bed or have her come in with us, with a really bad dream or night. We want to stop a lot of that within reason but with these times, it’s felt like the best thing in the moment. 

    We’re struggling with whether to be just plain rigorously consistent in never staying there or letting her in bed, no books, and only check in’s (like extinction method), or perhaps continuing to really meet the trauma needs and knowing this is a long game, and offshoot because of this hard season. Thankfully, she’s a pretty well adjusted in this time, although beyond bored this week (no matter the exercise, obstacle course, etc). 

    Really want her to get good rest, and us too. It’s been hard. 

    Thanks for what’s worked for you. 

    Hi there,

    I’m so sorry to hear about these sleep struggles! I’d highly recommend consulting with a professional sleep coach - we’ve used Darrah Torres of Sleep Wise Consulting in the past and she’s been incredible. Any bumps in the road, I always go back to her.

    Good luck!


    Ugh, I’m sorry! This is such a tough one. My daughter went through the same around 3 when we moved her into a bed. Up for hours in the MOTN, often with tantrums. Every night for months, without fail. Our younger son was 6 months at the time so we were desperate for sleep and tried everything, sleep training wise. What eventually worked was a combination of several things, and I think also just passing through the phase (although I will say, she’s almost 5 now and still up 2-3 times a week but they’re usually brief wake ups unless we’re traveling or she’s sick- but in general much easier to deal with). Like you described, we struggled with whether we should just give in and lay with her every night or do some sort of sleep training. We did both for awhile which didn’t work. Finally we asked her what she needed to feel ok in the night and over a couple weeks she came up with: a special buddy (stuffed animal), soft blanket, sleeping with one of my t-shirts, a nightlight, and a light on in the hallway. I also told her she could call out one time for reassurance but no more after that. We also did a reward chart- the first couple nights when she finally slept through I gave her a little treat in the morning for immediate gratification and a sticker towards a larger goal (picking out a toy). I know, this sounds like a million things and maybe overindulgent, and it probably was, but we were all desperate for sleep and basically not functioning- I was sick for 3 months straight during the worst of it due to exhaustion! Anyway, involving her in the process seemed to help and at least gave us a little more insight into her mind during this whole ordeal. Good luck, and I really hope you get some rest soon! Oh, we also got her an ok to wake clock and explained how important sleep is for our bodies/minds- I got a few picture books on the topic too- the llama llama goodnight one was good at that age.  

  • Sleep therapist for a 9 yr old

    (2 replies)

    My 9-year old daughter can’t go to sleep by herself. Either my husband or myself have to sit by her bed until she falls asleep, which often takes a very long time. She also wakes up every night and comes to us. We have tried just about every suggestion we’ve been able to find online. Nothing works. 

    I wonder if someone else on this forum happened to have a similar issue with their child and was able to find a therapist who was able to help with this specific problem? If so, I’d love a recommendation. 

    Thank you! 


    My name is Jackie  and our daughter has struggled with sleep for as long as I can remember, she is now 15. We have consulted with several doctors on this challenge. Although we have not consulted with a sleep specialist. I would love to share what we have learned. Every doctor has recommended a consistent sleep routine. This is what our daughters  sleep routine looked like at 9. Dinner at 6, epsom salt bath followed by warm milk and melatonin by 8pm for a 9pm in bed time. While in bed she listened to sleep sounds on the Alexa pod in her room and we kept her room as cold as possible with a fan. This did not always work but it helped a lot. We also had to sit in her room until she fell asleep when she was 9. What helped with this is every night we would move our chair closer to the door until we were out of her room. This process took sometime but we were eventually out of her room. Good luck and please reach out if you have any other questions. 

    Our daughter is a poor sleeper and really likes snuggling, which we were happy to provide for a long time.  Ultimately we borrowed the idea of giving her a dollar every time she fell asleep on her own -- she was 11 or 12 at that point.  Problem solved, mostly.  She takes melatonin -- the key here being that it works fast but also wears off fast.  I still snuggle her to sleep once in a very long while, and I hear her sometimes raiding the fridge in the night.

    Even if your child suddenly started sleeping independently, you may want to check out issues related to poor sleep.  Our kid has ADHD, which often has a component of poor sleep.

  • 9.5 Year Old Son with Anxiety not Sleeping

    (25 replies)

    Hello wise parents! We are in crisis mode here and in desperate need of some advice. Our 9.5 year old son recently stopped sleeping through the night because he is scared of burglars breaking in and killing the whole family. We moved to a new home about 6 weeks ago, around which time he also overheard another mom telling me about how her home was burglarized a few years ago, and since this time he cannot sleep through the night. He lays rigid in his bed listening, looking and waiting for catastrophe and wakes us up whenever he hears any kind of sound in the house. I have woken up to use the restroom around 3 am before and have seen him creeping around the house checking the doors or investigating a noise. He has also woken us up by placing his fingers under our noses to make sure we are breathing. He wakes us up at least 5-10 times a night asking us if we heard a noise and to check on it until it usually ends with everyone in tears because my husband reaches his limit and starts yelling (which I'm sure has its own negative repercussions for my son's mental health). I know this is beyond normal and is getting into mental illness territory, so that is where I need your help. We live in Pleasanton and would be very appreciative of any recommendations for a psychiatrist that has successfully worked with children who are anxious (we can drive a bit if necessary). We are also open to psychologist recommendations for CBT but I do want to establish a connection with an MD so that if medication is necessary, we can begin that process. 

    Secondly, in the meantime, we are in crisis and cannot function. Has anyone experienced this and can you offer any suggestions or advice for us to cope in the meantime? Below I will list what we have/are already doing.

    -Cuddle him at night with a solid bedtime routine.

    -Talk during the day about strategies he can use at night along with talking out loud about his fears to reduce their charge a bit. 

    -Practice mindfulness activities during the day/at night.

    -Do guided meditations together (put your thought on a leaf and watch it float downstream, etc etc).

    -Over the counter CBD oil and Melatonin 1mg.

    -Reduce processed wheat/sugar at bedtime and/or throughout the whole day when possible.

    -Offer him $20 to sleep in his own bed and not wake us up.

    -Allow him to sleep on the floor next to our bed.

    -Sleep in his bed with him.

    -Sleep on the floor outside his door.

    -Put him in his bed and hold the door closed while you and your husband argue about the "right" way to handle things until he is yelling and you are crying and it feels like you will never sleep, feel rested or be happy again. 

    Oh wise parents, please help. 

    I feel for you, I have been through something similar with my now 9.5 year old boy. It is very stressful for the parents. The good news is, my son sleeps now, and yours will too but we definitely intervened. You're on the right track with getting a psychiatrist involved but you can also get prescriptions from your pediatrician if that will happen faster. Step 1: Everyone needs to sleep. Get a prescription ASAP or up the melatonin for him (confirming w pediatrician) and in the meantime, one parent sleeps in a different room with a locked door in order to be rested the next day. Take turns with that. Step #2: Your CBT-lite approach with talking about the fears & mindfulness app is fine. It's not hurting. But it really doesn't replace therapy with a qualified professional, and that could be a MSW or a psychologist - the therapy needs to be administered by someone who clicks with your son, and it may or may not be the person who can also prescribe the medicine; proceed on both fronts. Step #3: Everyone mentally prepare to acknowledge your son has anxiety, which seems like it will be pretty soon confirmed by a doctor. It is not the end of the world and actually getting the diagnosis helped us contextualize our son's fears & nighttime (mis)behavior.  But it was a very hard time - I'm blanking on how long his sleeplessness period was - maybe around a year where 3-4x/week he was awake very late (11 or 12) and then roaming around the house in the middle of the night at some point.

    Save your $20s and don't sleep on the floor. The same way that you wouldn't treat a physical illness with only home remedies, don't hesitate on the way to getting your son the help he needs. For our son, he had individual therapy at 6, group therapy for anxious kids at Kaiser around 7-8, and sporadic individual therapy since then as other issues came to the forefront that he was being treated for anyway. It ebbs and flows; we have seen panic attacks emerge in the last year; BUT, he does for the most part sleep at night now. He takes Prozac & tenex (which has a drowsiness side benefit), and we are very firm on bedtime routine and schedule - we don't let him stay up late on weekends. I have not tried CBD oil or diet modifications for my son. As with the melatonin, consult your doctor. And when you do talk to your doctor, don't downplay ANYTHING. Tell him or her exactly everything you told BPN. They need the whole picture, including the impact on siblings, school, work, etc.

    Good luck.

    Hello, I'm a parent and a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children who have anxiety. It would be very tough to explain through text but you need to develop an understanding of the way anxiety works. My suggestion is that you read "Freeing Your Child From Anxiety" by Tamar Chansky and take him to see a psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety. This can absolutely be corrected without medicating.

    My 6 year old also went through bedtime fears and the Kaiser psychiatric intake counselor recommended these books:

    What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep

    What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

    Hope they help your son!

    You are way past the "maybe" stage of needing professional help, and given the crisis that all of you are in, especially this little boy, I would get him to one of the many excellent therapists who specialize in anxiety this week. I will recommend Sarah Campbell (510) 250-7483 and she can recommend someone closer to you if needed. 

    In the meantime, many of your ideas are good (NOT melatonin or CBD oil, which are inappropriate for kids unless under a pediatrician's care). My own son became very anxious around 8 years old with similar fears, but to a much reduced extent, so I hear you on this. I would allow him to sleep next to your bed for 1 month, as part of mastering his fear and everyone getting sleep. The deal is - its for a limited time and he may not get up more than once, to quickly use the bathroom and return if absolutely necessary. Then, teach him ways to return to sleep by using (for example) the Headspace app and the sleep module and anxiety module. Young kids can enjoy these - not only the kid versions. These have been helpful in my family. Coach him in the daytime to come up with return to sleep strategies - have him come up with some. A stuffed animal. A nightlight. And explain that your entire family needs help together, and youre finding a family therapist to help everyone. I agree with the previous poster to get your pediatrician on board immediately. This is way outside the norm and the poor little guy needs help.

    We moved (about 4 blocks, from an apartment to a house) when my daughter was 10. She was extremely sensitive to the lower security of not having shared-wall neighbors; she started sleep-walking, including opening the front door and calling out for me, as if I had left her. Our solution was that we moved her mattress on to the floor of my room. She slept there for about a month until she was ready to move into her own room.

     I feel for you and your poor son. He’s clearly terrified. I suggest getting professional help asap. Could be more than anxiety, perhaps OCD in which case reassurance is contraindicated and will not help but actually foster continuing fear. Both UCSF and Stanford have pediatric psychiatry clinics with experts. Even if you have Kaiser, I’d go to a major clinic for diagnosis. They do a thorough workup. Kaiser is ill equipped to handle other than run of the mill anxiety and will focus on meds rather than a firm diagnosis or appropriate and long term, if needed, therapy. KP is being sued on this in Alameda Co (class action) and the state DMHC has been investigating its inadequacies as well. I know all this from personal experience. Hope your son gets the help he needs. 

    I agree that mental health help is warranted, but also wanted to note that a security alarm system might address the fear - we pay $14.99/mo for Simplisafe. If a door opens, a beeping starts, and then if the alarm isn’t disabled it goes off and notifies police. I wish my parents had something like this when I was growing up, I would have slept much easier. Every time I hear a weird noise at night, I remember the alarm system and I can go back to sleep. Good luck!

    Oh Mama, you are doing a good job! The nine to ten year change is a big one, which brings up so many things for kids. They are again separating from parents, from teachers, and feeling more alone, more aware of the flaws, fallibility, and humanity of those who care for them. I would advise using Rescue Remedy before bed and after any wakings. It contains Mimulus, which is a flower essence specifically for fears. Also, have him write a little bit about his fears during the day. The handwriting process is reportedly invaluable for healing so many kinds of trauma. Lastly, use humor. Maybe you can write a play together, or just use goofy role play that lampoons bungling burglars, making the characters you create laughable. It may allow him to release some of the tension he's feeling about it. Mimulus transformed my daughter's fear of fire sirens after a fire in our apartment building when she was 2. It took a few months, but turned into a healthy fascination with fire engines. Good luck. I hope you can avoid medication!  
    --Mama Who Feels Your Pain.

    I'm really sorry to hear that. I am no expert, but I would also look into OCD with your doctor and/ or psychiatrist. That can also cause people to check things at night (doors, whether or not people are breathing). There is pharmaceutical and behavioral treatment that helps with OCD. Unfortunately I do not know of therapists in your area that work with children but this website has a lot or resources. 

    My take on this is different than the first response you got. I have 3 kids and around age 9, they all experienced a period of @ a year or two where they had trouble sleeping and were more anxious. My youngest is almost 12 now and seems to be coming out the other side. In hindsight, my feeling is that it is a hormonal/developmental/pre-puberty stage. If you look up Rudolph Steiner and google "9 year change" you will find lots of interesting info on what he thought this stage was. In a nutshell, he thought that @ age nine, kids experience the end of childhood innocence. This made sense to me. At @ nine, our kids start to become aware of the bigger world outside their immediate circle (politics, natural disasters, more complex social dynamics at school, etc). This realization can be frightening and anxiety-inducing. With my kids, I made sure they/we stuck to a routine as much as possible. We brainstormed about what would be relaxing and then did it - it was different for each kid. With one, it was candles and tea before bed. With my youngest, letting the dog sleep on his bed and those bach flower lemon-flavored pellets have been very helpful. No solution was perfect, but they all helped each child feel like they were controlling the anxiety and not the other way around. Also, I talked to them a lot-why they were feeling anxious, how it was making me stressed, that growing up is stressful but also positive and amazing, because they are going to discover who they are. I would have a family meeting and tell your kid you and Dad have not been handling it well and you are going to re-set and work through it together, and brainstorm solutions together. The more you can portray to your kid that you are confident he/you are going to weather this successfully, ythe easier you will move through it. Good luck! 

    First of all, my sympathies go out to you.  Your situation sounds very difficult.  I know this may not be the entire solution to your problem, but have you thought about getting a dog?  A dog might be able to keep your son company at night and comfort him when he awakens so that he doesn't feel the same need to wake you up repeatedly.  And you may be able to persuade your son that the dog will bark and wake you all up should anything untoward occur at night, alleviating your son of the need to keep watch.  I'm not a therapist/medical professional, obviously, but wanted to share this idea with you.

    Good luck--

    We had a somewhat similar situation, although ours was caused by an actual person who started harassing our family (to the extent we had to get a restraining order).  What made our son feel better was (a) getting security cameras installed, (b) putting bars on some of our windows, and (c) getting a dog.

    I realize bars may not be an option for everyone, and cameras may not be an option or may be cost-prohibitive, but have you considered the dog angle?  Not only did it make our son feel better about the safety of our house, it has given our family an awesome new member.


    cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for this.   There is a therapist on piedmont ave that specializes in anxiety    It has taken over and he needshelp  

    Wow this sounds rough.  I have no personal experience like this, but I just wanted to say that this sounds complicated and difficult enough that it may be worthwhile to contact a sleep consultant.  I don't know anyone who works with older kids (we used Angelique Millette as a sleep consultant when our son was an infant) but I'm SURE they exist.  Good luck.

    So sorry for your family. My daughter had a lot of anxieties - hers was a round fire and how to escape if there was a fire. She could not sleep and stuck to Me like glue for a long time.  It sounds like your son has True anxiety - maybe OCD as well.  It helps to know that it is not in his control- he is. Not trying to be difficult and probably hates the way he feels. I suggest therapy and medication asap- along with being loving and reassuring of course. Good luck

    It seems that you are doing such a good job reassuring your son, even though it´s exhausting. He will get better and he will get to sleep through the night in your new home. 

    I recommend getting your son some professional help, it will be good for you all. You´ll probably hear all about the cognitive changes in that age, where they suddenly are able to acknowledge "real" and very frightening threats (it might as well be environmental issues, health issues, violence etc). Their probability calculus is just missing from the reasoning. I´m sure you´ve already been talking with him about it, as well as highlighting that it is your responsibility as a parent to keep him safe. Frightening feelings and frightening thoughts are scary, but that do not mean that they are true or worth listening to. Keep in mind how strong feelings have a tendency to be sounds that your child´s fear have created strong feelings within you to (both parents!). Be sure "to keep calm and carry on", and really model for your child that he has no need to worry; his parents are on top of things. As a parent you are fully able to hold his feelings and lend your patience to him, and eventually he will feel better.

    From what you are writing, I seems to me that you are already doing a whole lot, remember to give it time. The best of luck to you and your son! <3 

    I’m so sorry you are going through such challenging times. When we moved into our new home we had locksmith update our front door lock to make it more secure. Perhaps this kind of reassurance might be helpful?

    You moved into a new house? Does that mean new carpet and fresh paint? The toxic off-gassing can cause anxiety. I recommend opening the windows, getting an air cleaner with lots of carbon (I like EL Foust) and spending lots of time outdoors in green spaces. In addition, get rid of air fresheners, stop using perfume and  use only fragrance-free cleaning products and personal care products. These things can have a far larger impact on health and well-being than people realize. It may take awhile to help, but if it does, it is worth it. 

    I hope you all get some sleep soon. 

    That sounds like such a difficult situation! My heart goes out to all three of you. It sounds like you've already tried many good things. My only thought was to add the ritual of going around and locking all the doors and windows and closing any blinds. Perhaps you or your husband can do this while the other one cuddles with him on the couch, so he can see and hear you doing this.

    From a nervous system perspective, his sounds like it's on very high alert/flight and fright. It's possible working with someone trained in working with anxiety via the nervous system, such as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who works with children, might be something to explore. Helping him develop a sense of internal safety will be key, along with being able to tolerate uncomfortable sensations/emotions.

    I love peoples' idea of getting a dog (though realize that adds more work to your plate, too). A creature he can co-regulate with who serves as a "protective shield" might be really wonderful.

    Wishing your family the best as you navigate through this.

    People posted a lot of good ideas that will help in the long term, but right now life is very difficult for you and your child. Up the melatonin asap and ask your md about giving him an over the counter sleep medicine (they are all antihistamines). For the short term everyone will be sleeping. You can't make good decisions when everyone is sleep deprived.

    I haven't experienced this as a parent, but did as a kid, and struggled with it for years.  I think it stemmed from growing up with really high-profile kidnappings, like Michaela, Polly Klass, Jenny Lin.  Every creak of the house settling caused a spike of anxiety, and if the motion-detector went on outside, I would bolt up and stare out the window expecting to see an intruder.  I would try to remind myself that it's normal for old houses to make noises, and that our yard bordered open space so many animals came through our yard.  I made up little chants and prayers and repeated them over and over.  I did get up and go to my parents a lot.  I don't remember how it got better, but eventually it did -- until in my early 20's I was held up at gunpoint while walking to BART.  I think it was a PTSD response, but the anxiety only came on while trying to go to bed, and would sometimes cause hyperventilating/panic attacks.  I did eventually go to Kaiser for anxiety and that was helpful.  But probably the most helpful thing for me was one night when I was really afraid, my boyfriend (now husband) convinced me we should go out and drive around the neighborhood at night to demonstrate that it was okay.  I don't know why, but seeing the peaceful neighborhood and even normal people walking their dogs out and about at night helped a lot.  Maybe it gave me a new thing to imagine instead of my mind always going to shadowy figures lurking in corners waiting to break in.  

    I feel for you and your son and wish you guys the best.  I also think it's wonderful that you are trying to get him help, wish my parents would have thought of that, ha!

    Hi!  If you'd prefer a less allopathic approach to start, my friends have had great success with curbing their children's anxieties through acupuncture, homeopathy, and flower essences.  It's a holistic approach that treats the body, mind, and spirit.  Especially if he wasn't an anxious child before this one trigger, it seems like he just needs help around this instance instead of a lifetime of prescriptions and medications. I recommend Jill Stevens, L.Ac., at Whole Family Wellness Center -- she specializes in pediatrics and offers all the above modalities that I mentioned in addition to herbs and nutrition.  I've seen her personally for years and have multiple friends and their children who are her patients as well.  She is ver y knowledgeable with a an office that is warm and geared toward children.  You could also think about utilizing both allopathic and holistic treatment simultaneously?  

    I just wanted to respond quickly to the "husband yelling" parts of your post. I can definitely relate and encourage you to include resolving this parenting conflict with your husband in the professional help you get. Your husband needs to learn to stop yelling. Anger is not an appropriate response of a parent to child with these psychological issues. Did your husband get angry at your son when he was a baby and woke you up? Your son is not "choosing" to have anxiety and to engage in these behaviors, frustrating as they may be. Maybe I am projecting my own experience onto your situation, but in my case my husband actually thought "getting angry" was an appropriate consequence for our daughter's actions (not anxiety to the extent of your son, but related.) He also continued to use this kind of behaviorist approach (rewards and consequences) long after it became clear that she did not have conscious control over her actions in such a way as to make rewards and punishments an effective approach. It sounds like your husband has a similar understanding of your son's actions as being under your son's control, which is why is is getting angry. Maybe if he understood the situation differently, and had more tools in his parenting toolkit, he could be more empathetic to your son and would not get so angry at him. I'm sure your husband's anger is contributing to *your* stress (and his!), and not helping the situation. I really feel for all 3 of you. It looks like you have gotten a lot of good advice and I'm sure you will be able to come out of crisis mode soon! Wishing you all the best!

    You've gotten a lot of good advice. Just wanted to mention that the podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting interviewed a childhood anxiety specialist that I found illuminating:

    I just want to second the idea of getting a dog.  My kid was also waking every night around age 8-9.  We got a dog; s/he has slept through the night ever since.  The dog sleeps on the bed.  They are both very happy. I think the dog is both company and security. 

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9-year-old's persistent insomnia

Jan 2010

Our 9 year-old has pretty persistent insomnia: most nights (3/5) can't fall asleep within two hours of going to bed, and some nights (1/5) comes into our room in tears around midnight because he's so frustrated.

We put him (and our other kids) to bed around 8-8:30, allow him to read for 30 minutes (he LOVES reading) and then ask him to turn out the lights. We typically finish dinner by 6:30 and have a small dessert (couple of cookies, small dish of ice cream) by 7.

I'd love to hear about any experience or expertise people have with this! Michael

You may want to reconsider the dessert items at night. Your child's body may no longer be able to work through the sugar so late in the day. (My child can't have anything sweet to eat that is processed after, say, four in the afternoon.) You may also want to ask your child to read something calming after the 30 minutes of what he wants to read. Maybe he could take some time to write about his worries that are keeping him awake. Maybe he could do (with one of his parents) a brief meditation after reading, to get himself and his brain calmed down for the night. Maybe a hot shower? Maybe some time to just chat with his parent(s) after the younger siblings go to bed? My fondest memories are of my father coming in to talk with me about my day, after my siblings were in bed. We talked for 15 minutes or so, and then he came over and turned out my light for me. I am sure your child will have some great ideas too. anon
Two comments: 1. The dessert has to go! No more refined sugar after dinner. Replace it with organic fruit. It can be done. My daughter is 12 now and that's what she has been getting for years. Make sure the adults adopt this healthier attiude for themselves too or I can't see this work. 2. What is the contents of the books? If it is adventure stories or science fiction that is way too wild to fall asleep after. I have been reading to my daughter at bedtime for half an hour since she was little. So I am aware of nice, mellow stories while she will turn over and close her eyes and listen. One last hug, lights out and she is asleep within 5 minutes. At the age of 12, she gets ready at 8pm, is in bed by 8:30pm and either shuts the light off or reads a non-violent book (yes, they are out there and they are not boring) until 8:50pm. Since she needs to get up at 6am, that still gives her 9 hours of sleep. Anonymous
My almost-9 year old also sometimes stays awake 1-2 hours past bedtime. Sometimes he is reading, sometimes he is playing with toys, in bed, with only a night light on. My older kid used to do this too. We don't usually have dessert, and we don't watch TV on school nights, and we usually have a calm bedtime story before bedtime. So, none of these strategies have worked for us. What we are doing now is not that great but it does work better than just putting him to bed and then waiting, waiting, waiting: we let him go to sleep in our bed. Sometimes my husband lies down with him. Most of the time he goes right to sleep. Then we walk him in to his room when we are ready to go to bed and he does not wake up.

The other thing you could try is some exercise in the late afternoon or after dinner. My older son told me when he was 9 that he couldn't sleep because of ''bad pictures'' in his head. I used to have to sit with him till he fell asleep. I should have just put him to sleep in our bed but I thought at the time it would set a bad precedent! Anyway, he is grown now and he is a total night owl, so I guess we were fighting against a nocturnal clock when he was younger. Good luck! another mom

I have a son who sounds a lot like your kiddo, and I was this kid way back when. My son has always been a difficult sleeper, but so am I so I think I was better prepared to handle this issue. What has worked for us is some of what you've already done. We allow him to read in bed with a reading light so he doesn't keep his younger brother awake. I snuggle with him for at least 10 minutes and during this time we talk about his day and settle ourselves. When he was younger we used to do a breathing exercise to calm and focus him, nothing fancy just deep breathing in and out. From my experience having a set ritual each night is helpful. One thing we've done that's worked as well is having him listen to music with headphones. Keeping the room as dark as possible is also good with a light he can control like an LED reading light so he can either read or use it as a night light. Sometimes I also put him in a warm bath before bed or encourage him to take a shower.

Try to create an atmosphere of calm, when bed time becomes anxiety producing there is no way to sleep. And be sure to explain to him that there is nothing wrong with him, some people just have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. I came to the conclusion years ago that I just need less sleep than other people, my son is the same way. Lately things have been better, he's asleep pretty consistently by 10pm, but these things go in cycles. It sounds like this lack of sleep is distressing to him so I would avoid having him lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, that was always the worst for me as a kid and exacerbated my anxiety about sleep. good luck

Hi Michael, How about trying some relaxation stuff. I have a CD on our iPod that seems to knock my son out. It's called Guided Meditation for Children narrated by Chitra Sukhu (you can find it on iTunes). There are a few versions but one will suffice. We have the Earth Elements one. There is a meditation on Fire, Water, Air, Ether and Earth. Perhaps that would help him relax. If I listen with my son at bedtime it knocks me out too! Also, have you talked to a naturopath about maybe giving him a dose of melatonin? LogicalMama
you mention he gets cookies and ice cream for desert. Have you considered the possibility of allergies or sensitivity to either diary, wheat flour or even the stimulating effect of sugar? If I were you I'd experiment with offering a piece of fruit instead or at least see what happens if you cut first the ice cream, then the cookies to see if there is any difference in his sleep. There's also the possibility his sleep problem is connect to pre-pubescent hormonal changes. Why not experiment with just letting him read himself to sleep. amma
I was a child and am a grown woman who has cycled in and out of insomnia--so I offer this from my own experience (and very clear memories of SO many nights like those your son is experiencing!)

1. Acknowledge what he's going through. It drove me nuts that my mom would dismiss the torment of this by saying ''just close your eyes and try!''--as if it were that simple!

2. Talk to him about it to see if he has any knowledge about it that could lead to solutions. Does he notice a difference in his thoughts and actions on the nights he can sleep vs. those he can't?

3. Meditation or other practice to help him at least rest his body if he can't rest his mind--which can also give him a positive sense that he can do SOMETHING in this situation, even if he can't sleep (guided meditation with earphones has been a blessing for me in this regard--I actually fall asleep in the middle about half the time)

4. Exercise: if I'm not challenging my physical body, my mental health suffers--directly. When I was a kid, I was way more prone to insomnia the months/years I was not paticipating in a challenging, daily sport (for some reason, martial arts and running were the best sports for me in terms of promoting sleep). Hope this helps!

I had trouble sleeping when I was younger and finally found relief by focusing on my breathing. Counting sheep didn't work, but meditative breathing did. A meditation class or wok on mindfulness might help him. Even if he feels silly going, being able to calm your mind is a lifesaving skill to have that I still use as an adult. karen
Melatonin has worked wonders for us with our now-13 year old, and I only wish we'd tried it sooner (we started about 3 years ago). We had nights similar to yours which usually involved one parent laying down with her for up to 2 hours, as she had anxiety as well. I think many kids take 5mg, but she does well with 2.5mg. If you're hesitant about giving your child a ''sleeping pill'' (I was), we called it a ''sleep vitamin'' at first, and I explained that it was a substance your body makes at night, but hers just didn't kick in early enough. got my evenings back!

5-year-old's insomnia

Oct 2006

Our daughter, who is 5 years old, has always had trouble sleeping. She goes to bed with no problem, usually after a routine of bath (on bath nights), brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, drinking water, books, and guitar from her dad if it's his turn. She goes to bed at the same time with her almost-3-yo brother, who sleeps in the same room but a different bed. After a full day, which can include preschool, playdates, dance class or the park, she still cannot manage to get to sleep. She might come out or yell a few times to say she can't go to sleep, but generally she doesn't bother us. If we put her to bed at 8, she won't sleep until 10, if we put her to bed at 9, she will not sleep until 11, and last night she did not fall asleep until after midnight. If we go out all day, say to a wedding in Davis like we did last weekend, and drive home at night, she won't fall asleep in the car. This girl just does not like to go to sleep, and never has, although once she does she's out like a log and we have to wake her every day to go to school. Sometimes I think it's her very active imagination. She has said before that she imagines things that bother her. She's also expressed frustration at not being able to sleep. Sometimes she's playing with toys in her bed. Our sleeping with her is not an option (I can't sleep next to her) and the times I have laid down with her, I always fall asleep before she does and it doesn't seem to help. Sometimes she says she wants to sleep with her brother, but he doesn't like it. I don't know if anyone else has an insomniatic young child, but I would appreciate hearing about others' experience with the same problem. Thanks

All three of my daughters have had insomnia at various times in their childhoods, the youngest most regularly and beginning at about age five. We are somewhat resigned to it because my mother, siblings and I all have it to some degree. What we have found works best (though nothing works all the time, be warned) is to have my daughter listen to a story tape as she goes to sleep; this is after her regular nighttime routine. We have about 10 or 12 story tapes that she rotates, that are 1/2 hour per side or even better, an hour on CD that doesn't have to be flipped. (The ''Classical Kids'' series, i.e. ''Beethoven Lives Upstairs,'' are the perfect lenght.) Listening to the words of the story helps her turn off the voice in her own head that's keeping her awake, and once she's listened to a story two or three times, the story itself won't keep her awake. My older daughters, for whom we used the same method, now both listen to the radio very low as they go to sleep.

Like I said, it doesn't always work. On the advice of my pediatrician, I have at times given my daughter Benadryl to help her sleep when she's gotten into a particularly bad pattern and is so tired that she can't seem to wind down. Good luck, and take comfort in the fact that when they're teenagers, they usually fall asleep in the first 15 seconds No Easy Answers

I have a 6 year old who is just as you describe your 5 year old. I am eager to hear what feedback you get because we are in the same situation. The only thing that seems to help her is to go to sleep in our bed with me holding her. It still takes her 20-30 minutes, but at least she is going to sleep at 9:30ish instead of 10:30 or 11:00! The problem with this is that I inevitably get tired and fall asleep, leaving no me time at night. It is frustrating because my daughter is also moody and needs her sleep so I feel obligated to help her get to sleep as early as I can. I think she just cant relax on her own. Her docter even suggested that we give her benadryl, but this just wired her up even more. Let 's hope for some ideas.
Here are some ideas, in no particular order, about what has helped us with our insomnia.

1. Wake your child up at the same time every morning (even on weekends) as much as possible and especially during the insomnia phases.

2. Listen to kids relaxation CDs as part of going to bed. A Boy and a Turtle is good and there are some other CDs by the same author.

3. Ask an MD who treats kids with ADHD about melatonin. You have to make sure you get a good brand or it won't work. We give our daughter 1 mg. sublingual.

4. Sounds like you have a lot of activity and stimulation going on. You might want to try having more downtime (less stimulation) during the day and leaving your daughter alone in her room with the lights on to unwind in the way she wants to for a while before bedtime. So no input or stimulation from you, just being on her own. She might seek you out and you can tell her to go wait for you. Waiting is boring and she'll be able to process her day, get bored and wind down.

5. Progressive relaxation techniques for kids. There are books that teach kids how to make different muscle groups hard and then soft, also balloon breathing. A backrub or foot massage.

6. Lots of exercise during the day, hikes uphill, running outside, etc. A dance class may be pretty stimulating and actually not provide a lot of aerobic exercise.

7. Keep a sleep diary of what you did during the day, at bedtime, time lights out, time fell asleep, time woke up. You might discover some patterns we have insomnia too...

-- Have you tried really wearing her out physically? Lots and lots of running around? My son sleeps easiest and best when he is really physically exhausted. His toughest nights are when he has had lots of mental stimulation but not run around as much. Anon

4 year-old resisting bedtime

June 2005

Our 4 year old hates to go to bed unless she is ultra tired. We have a consistent routine and bedtime but getting the whole process started is the biggest problem. She just knows she is missing something (What? cleaning up and falling asleep on the sofa - whoopee!) and does not want to go to bed. She is transitioning out of naps and on nap days she is more open to the routine but then plays the hopping up out of bed game. On non-nap days she goes from fine and resisting bed to crazy- manic-tired in the blink of an eye which leads to tantrums. When she finally calms down she is asleep within 5 minutes. I have tried games to get her into bed & we have a ''star chart'' to reward her on sucessful bedtime nights. Tonight I even resorted back to driving her around like an infant. It didn't work. Any other suggestions? Please! Tired of Bedtime

We had a similar situation with our 4-year-old. She didn't so much throw a tantrum as she stalled going to bed by having about 100 excuses (needs water, looking for teddy bear, etc.). Anyway, we got a kitchen timer and let her know how much time she had before bedtime. When the timer went off, it was time for bed. I had my doubts about this method but it actually worked ! No fussing after that. You might want to give it a try. R.K.

5-year-old can't fall asleep until 10:00pm!

March 2002

My sister's daughter, who just turned five, is not falling asleep at night until 10:00 pm! She is up at 7:30 most mornings, has a busy day at preschool, and takes about a 45 minute nap most days. I have tried to skip the nap, but that usually results in her being very cranky and demanding at about 4:00 pm.. She can and has for months at a time gone to bed at 8:30 pm, which works well for all of us. Right now she says she can't fall asleep, which is difficult for me because I have anemia in the winter. So getting her into bed at a reasonable time is important to me, since I need to get to bed too! Thanks for all your good thoughts! Patricia

First of all, my sympathies. Everything is so much harder when there has been little sleep. In terms of the amount of hours of sleep your niece is getting, it sounds about normal. Sometimes my son, who is just three, can't or doesn't fall asleep until 9 or 10 pm but the deal is always the same: he's in bed between 7:30 and 8 and then he can play in his bed (is not allowed to get out of bed) or read, listen to books on tape etc. We've had this routine always an he just falls asleep when he is ready. This may be hard for you to do if it's new but it may well be worth it. She may enjoy a new routine??? Good luck!
We had this problem with our son when he was about four. He would take a two hour nap starting around 4 pm (!!), he would wake just before I got home from work at 6 and then stay up until 10:30 or 11. First, we had his pediatrician tell him at his 4 year well child checkup that he was a big boy and didn't need naps anymore (this was amazingly helpful!). Then, we started to allow our son to watch TV for an hour in the afternoon (at the time Sesame Street was on at 4:30-5:30, so this was perfect). We would sit and watch the show together, talk about what was happening, eat a snack and cuddle on the couch. He got the down time he needed (and so did I or his sitter), but it engaged him enough to keep him from falling asleep. Without the nap, he was asleep by 9pm. Good luck!
My three year old has never been a sleeper. He was born at 10:00 PM and did not go to sleep until 8:00 AM the next morning....nothing has changed. He usually does not fall asleep until 10:30 - 11:30 PM and wakes at about 7:00. Our routine is to put him in his bed at about 9:30 and just let him stay awake in bed. He can have his books, toys, etc., as long as he stays in bed. We do not tell him that he has to go to sleep, but rather he must stay in bed. He does play, but eventually falls asleep. This was a recommendation from his doctor because I too am very exhausted. It seems to have made things a little easier.
I think you have already hit the nail on the head...your sister's daughter is at that age where the nap has to go, otherwise the bedtime will be 10 or 11 o' clock each night. It happened with our oldest at four years of age, but this transitional age does vary from child to child. We finally decided we had to put up with the cranky late afternoon/early evening period for the sake of enforcing a regular, sane bedtime for everyone. Be comforted in that while it's not the easiest, you'll have much easier bedtimes and perhaps at 4pm or so she can spend some quiet time with a caregiver, books, or coloring so her body gets some rest if not actual sleep. For our daughter, even if we gave her a 15 minute catnap it wreaked havoc with the bedtime when she was at this stage. While our daughter still occasionally gets tired at dinnertime or late afternoon, six months after we've eliminated her naps, those periods are shorter and less frequent than before. Our bedtimes are now stable at 8pm - 8:30 pm on the dot. Good luck!
Does your niece read yet? If she does, try putting her to bed earlier with a book. My daughter will soon be nine, but ever since she could read on her own really well (around five) I never had a problem with her going to bed. I'd tuck her in with a book (after she no longer wanted me to read to her preferring to do it herself) and within 15 minutes I'd come back and she'd be asleep with the open book over her face. Worked like a charm. Still does.
As far as I know kids need 10 hours of sleep at that age in a 24 hour period. Mine sleeps from 8pm to 6am, when we need to get up for work. Definitely no naps. We let her stay up late on Christmas Eve when we do the gift exchange - that means an afternoon nap of 1.5 hour and she stays up easily until 11pm in the best of mood/energy. I suggest you determine when bedtime should be, count 10 hours forward and set the alarm for the new earlier wake-up time. The 45 min nap must go. Transition slowly over several days in 30 minute intervals.

8-year-old can't do early bedtime

Oct 1999

My 8 yr old son has a really hard time falling asleep at night. Partly I think that his body would like to be on a later schedule, but since he has to wake up at 7, he also has to fall asleep by 9 or so otherwise he's sleepy and irritable the next day. He will lie in bed with the lights out for up to an hour, just keeping himself awake with his own busy brain. It helps when we lie down with him, but that's not a good long-term solution! And no, he never has caffeine, and he finishes soccer by 6:30 (I know exercise right before bed is a no-no). I'm thinking some kind of meditation or relaxation exercise might help. Any ideas? Thanks!

As a child I had problems going to sleep at night. My mind just kept working. Come to think about it, I have had this problem most of my life until I became a father and now I am so exhausted at night that I easily fall asleep. In fact I have fallen asleep while playing with my children, if I am in a horizontal position! What I did as a child and occasionally with my 7 year old, is to read with a flashlight. There is nothing like reading that helps those eyelids start to close.
I always had a hard time falling asleep too (until I had my son). What always worked for me was what my mom called the relaxing exercise. My mom would say it to me when I was younger, but as I got older, I would say it to myself in my head. The way it works is, while your son is laying in bed, in the dark, in a comfortable position, say Feel your feet, feel how heavy and tired your feet feel. Now feel your ankles, etc. Work your way up the body, front and back, out to each arm and hand and up the neck and head. You say it slowly in a nice relaxing voice. I've used this on my husband a couple of times and he is always asleep before I get to his torso..... Good luck!
My 8 yr old son has a really hard time falling asleep at night. Partly I think that his body would like to be on a later schedule, but since he has to wake up at 7, he also has to fall asleep by 9 or so otherwise he's sleepy and irritable the next day. He will lie in bed with the lights out for up to an hour, just keeping himself awake with his own busy brain.
I would like to share something that worked like a miracle in helping me get to sleep. I just wish I'd figured it out twenty years ago.

I have had trouble falling asleep all my life. As a teenager it used to take me over an hour to fall asleep every night. My brain just kept going, thinking about this and that. Especially if I happened to wake up in the middle of the night, I would often spend a couple of hours lying awake thinking or worrying. As an adult, I tried everything: sleeping pills (didn't work and made me groggy), herbal remedies (didn't work), relaxation techniques (worked only sometimes). Total exhaustion would sometimes help me get to sleep more quickly in the evening, but then I would wake up around 2 a.m. and start the cycle of lying awake again.

Most recently, when I became pregnant, it was horrible. I was waking up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night 4 or 5 times, and losing 3 or more hours of sleep a night.

Then, my husband started reading me to sleep in the evenings and it worked like a charm. You have to pick the right type of book: one that doesn't have too gripping a story. We found history books or other nonfiction worked great.

However, this didn't help when I woke up in the middle of the night. So we started taping him reading. We made about six 45-minute-long cassettes. Now, whenever I wake up and need to go back to sleep, I just pop one of those cassettes in the player, and I am *always* asleep before the end of the tape.

The story requires just enough attention that my brain doesn't keep spinning away on its own thoughts.

To me it seems like a miracle! I was so exhausted from lack of sleep during the first part of the pregnancy, and now I get a full night's sleep every night! Hope this helps someone else.

Other, more lyrical books to read adults to sleep with are Ivan Doig's autbiographical-historical fiction. This house of sky, his first, is his best. But they are all wonderful. And they work like a charm.
Who thinks, can't sleep! You need to make yourself stop thinking. Of course, you can try eloborate things to eventually stop yourself from thinking through external stimulation (music, being read to, exhaustion from baby care) or you can try the direct route, which has always worked for me, since I was a teenager. Almost every night I fall asleep within 5 minutes, unless I purposefully allow myself to think - then I'm in for an hour or longer tossing and turning. My strategy is to immediately catch myself when the first word forms in my mind or cut off the first sentence. No words I remind myself in my mind and don't allow my brain to go further. Instead, I focus on the snuggly/cocooning feeling I get from my pillow and when another word or thought comes back up I stop it right in the track with the same reply. After five or more attempts of this your mind and body gets so tired of this, you fall asleep out of boredom and lack of stimulation. It's all about not permitting yourself to think. Just this little bit of consistant discipline/control over yourself will do the trick. Of course, you make it much easier on yourself if you only go to bed when you're tired, if you make the time to think about and solve your issues during wake hours and if you don't go to bed with the emotional charge of the 10pm news that you haven't had a chance to digest. Furthermore, it helps if you don't go to bed following a big meal and if you use your bed for sleeping only habit forming) and not reading, talking or writing. Good sleep is as important and should be treated with the same respect/have the same value as our other basic needs.