10-year-old can't fall asleep, has trouble waking

10 year old child does not know how to fall asleep. It sounds very strange but in the last 2 weeks, we have had a couple of nights of child staying up almost all night. Some nights they fall asleep past midnight. I would not be worried if the child is getting enough sleep but they have a hard time getting up in the morning. I don’t know what to do. I often fall asleep before the child and the child wakes me up wanting me to help them fall asleep or I hear noise and wake up. 

the child’s room is dark (their preference), we have a white noise machine, temperature is kept cool but not cold. Honestly the child has the most luxurious beddings. Child is active at school and does not eat chocolate or consume caffeine in the evening. 

the child appears incapable of falling asleep on their own and seem to sleep when the exhaustion becomes severe and they pass out. 

we have Kaiser. Do we ask our pediatrician to connect us to a sleep specialist? Should we seek a therapist for insomnia? This seems highly unusual. Child is obviously sleepy because they look horrid and yawns constantly. But why won’t they sleep! I thought this sleep thing will get better once we pass the baby stage. 10 years later, it is hardly any better than when the child was 10 months old. I am losing it. I need sleep and I need my child to get 9-10 hours of sleep daily. I don’t know what to do. 

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

I’m so sorry you are going through this. We had a similar issue with our son and to a lesser degree our daughter. Our answer was melatonin. You can purchase a low dose chewable melatonin at any pharmacy. Start with half of a 3 mg tablet. What we learned with our son is that some children have very active minds, and they need extra time to process their day before falling asleep. The problem was that he wasn’t getting enough sleep and he was exhausted during the day. I don’t love that our kiddos need melatonin to sleep but the alternative, having sleep deprived kids, was worse. I check with their pediatrician at every well visit and they assure me it is safe. To be on the side of caution you should talk with your pediatrician to rule out any physical condition that may be causing this but melatonin really helped us. Good luck!

Absolutely see their pediatrician. At this age they can likely get in therapy for insomnia (cognitive behavior therapy) to learn tips and tricks to help with sleep. I imagine the pediatrician will look into ordering a sleep study as well. If this has truly been lifelong and is not a new thing, then they'll need continued support via therapy to help retrain their brain. If it's brand new (hard to tell from your message) I'd also look into anxiety or other stressors that might be going on for them. Good luck! 

your poor kiddo! i'm so sorry you are going thru this. Sleep is so important and we have found we needed some supports for our kids too. 

one thing that has helped me with sleep is taking magnesium. there is a brand called Natural Calm that you can find at pharmaca--they have one for kids. I would try giving that mixed into a glass of water in the late afternoon--4 or 5pm. I also like to use a KidSafe essential oil blend on my kid's feet and chest (always dilute with a carrier oil like coconut oil). Plant Therapy has KidSafe oils. This helps with relaxing as well. Two of my kids listen to a meditation as they fall asleep (they also have white noise machines). Sometimes a story can work them up or get the brain revving so we stick to a music sleep meditation (we use the free app Insight timer). You could try giving a deep leg arm massage before bed too to help with relaxing. And some kids are able to relax/fall asleep better with a weighted blanket. 

I would also get them up at the same time every day and get sunlight in the their eyes first thing in the morning. Andrew Huberman (prof of Neurobiology at Stanford School of Medicine) has a great podcast on sleep issues and the importance of morning sun exposure to help with circadian rhythm.  I would look that one up and give it a listen. 

Try to stay away from using melatonin as over time it will affect your kid's ability to produce their own. But you could try for short term use to help get back on track. Make sure to get a kid's brand like Zarbee's. 

I also found with my girls that school activity was not enough activity. One of my kids was having a really hard time with sleep until her got her into more physical activity. They need more exercises than we think! Playing a sport a few times a week or even extra playground time where they are running around/climbing, helped my kids a lot. Swimming is also great and tiring.

If none of these things work/help matters I would consult a sleep specialist and also screen your kid for anxiety.

Good luck.

so my first memory of being like this was when my dad busted me in my closet playing with some toys.  i was in preschool, kindergarten or first grade, because we moved halfway through my first grade year, so different house.  spent my entire life being the only one awake all night. chased the school bus cause i could not wake up. ridiculed my entire life for being lazy, late, didn't care, rude... you name it. being misunderstood and suffering lifelong criticism is a hallmark of DSPS, unfortunately. my self esteem still has the scars. i worked in bars & restaurants because... night work. then became a professional catering professional because... i could choose night work. 

somehow or other i stumbled upon some information after i had downed my umpteenth bottle of melatonin (i was still trying to be like a regular person), and i just didn't want to keep taking pills for sleep. i read about LIGHT THERAPY for correcting circadian rhythms. upon more digging i learned that there is such a thing called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPD). holy cow what i was reading was ME!!!  for my entire life ME!!!  i bought a light off amazon and promptly started using it.  IT. WORKED.  via light therapy, i could reset my circadian rhythm and magically turn myself into a morning person that got tired at night and woke up with the birds. the cool thing is i can turn it off as well.  inspite of my own research i had some concerns about the lights damaging my eyes (they are VERY bright), so i make an appointment with a sleep disorder specialist at oakland kaiser; sub department in neurology. the doctor i saw was amazing. congratulated me on accurately self-diagnosing, literally pat me on the back. she said most folks go their entire lives thinking they have insomnia (different thing all together) and spend their lives miserable, on Rx trying to fit into mainstream awake hours. insomnia is inability to sleep. DSPD folks are able to sleep, but NOT at night, as our circadian rhythms are on an opposite schedule as most. she assured me that as one does not look directly into the therapy light and that it is for short amounts of time, it really isn't a worry.  i said to her, this is crazy, it's like magic. it really is that simple. she cracked up and said, yes ma'am it really is that simple.  *side note: there is also a thing called Early Sleep Phase Syndrome (ESPS), where folks are unable to stay awake. light therapy works for them only it is used during a different time of day.  not sure if this is what is affecting your kiddo, but if i were you i would do a deep dive on it and get to a neuro sleep disorder specialist!!!  fyi~ most MDs do not know anything about this. my GP certainly did not, and was super interested in my story. so there you have it. a lady who in her 50's discovered she isn't broken, just different aka special. best of luck to you and your kiddo. i'm rooting for you and your boy!!!

I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. I would say yes to asking your pediatrician for some help with a sleep study. Would Kaiser have something like Wellness Coaching for kids? There is some great stuff that can be done with reframing and re-wiring the neural pathways that help sleep. 

good luck! be so gentle with yourselves as you work through this. 


Dear Mom:  The light therapy suggestion sounds GREAT! Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.."Moodozi" shows up on several recommendation lists.  BTW: Please don't start your child on Melatonin.  This really should be an over-the-counter drug.  Why? Reportedly, it inhibits one's body from producing melatonin, naturally---PLUS you become dependent upon it (like Dumbo the flying elephant & what he thought was the magical feather).  And the dosages people are recommending are downright SCARY.  My goodness, I'm nearly 80 years old and started taking melatonin, at 3 mg. That does caused me to feel drugged all day. Ultimately, I dropped it to .3 ...yes l/3 of 1 mg...and that was quite effective. YET, not wanting to be dependent on it, I am now free of melatonin.  Instead, homeopathy helps PLUS I'm going to get one of the light therapy approaches.   ---- All the best dear mom.

A sleep specialist could help.

One thing you didn't mention was screen time. TV's, cell phones, tablets- any of these an hour or 2 before bedtime can affect sleep quality, waking up the brain so to speak.  I think there is something about blue light emanating from these devices that stimulates the brain.

My child's sleep became a problem during covid sheltering due to lack of activity. I tried to get them active but over time, it became harder and harder to get out the door. Perhaps worry/anxiety about the whole pandemic had something to do with it too, but I've found that when they aren't active during the day, it was harder to get to sleep.

However, they also had trouble getting to sleep when they were having sports practices that went till 7pm- they were stimulated and it took hours after dinner before they could get to sleep.

Finally, have you asked your child if anything is bothering them, or if they have an idea of why they might not be able to get to sleep? Especially since this is a change of behavior, there might be things going on in their life that caused the change. 

This must be so difficult for everyone at home. I hope you are able to find a solution sooner rather than later. Best of luck.

Adding onto this thread, has anyone had experience with toddler insomnia. Our 19m old has had extended night wakes of 2-4h for the last 7 months. Diagnosed with mild sleep apnea but no anatomical abnormalities. Giving iron and magnesium supplements. Sleep trained. Nothing seems to be helping. Any cases of light therapy or others working?