5 reasons why your child won’t settle at bedtime

Posted on May 10th, 2019

If your little one fights bedtime, the experts say one or more of these could be the reason. By Tammy Jacks

Toddler resisting bedtime

Has bedtime become a huge battle in your household? You’re not alone. According to the founder of parenting-based website Parenting Science, Dr Gwen Dewar, around 20 to 30% of young children have significant problems going to bed and/or waking during the night.

As a busy, tired parent who probably can’t wait to hit the sack each night, the fact that your child regularly resists bedtime might leave you feeling confused and a little desperate. The good news is, there are solutions to these bedtime battles. The key is to pinpoint which sleep-related problem resonates with your child the most – and stick to a consistent plan of action. If all else fails, speak to your child’s paediatrician or a registered sleep trainer who can help you find a solution, because every child is different and every family is different, too.

ALSO SEE: 5 baby sleep strategies that work

The problem: He’s testing his limits

As your child becomes more independent, he may start testing you to figure out where his boundaries are. This is normal, but unfortunately often happens at bedtime when your child stalls and tries everything to stay awake for longer.

The solution:

Dr Dewar says it’s important to be consistent with your bedtime routine as well as the time your child goes to bed. This will help to regulate his circadian rhythms as his body expects to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day. Also, try to avoid tears and tantrums as much as possible. Tantrums can raise adrenal and cortisol levels, which will make it even harder for your child to fall asleep. He’ll be wired, but tired.

ALSO SEE: 3 toddler tantrums decoded

The problem: He’s overtired or overstimulated

According to clinic nurse, childcare expert and author of Toddler Sense, Ann Richardson, once children are overtired or overstimulated from the day’s activities, it becomes more difficult for their little brains to slow down and get ready for sleep. Also, “Going to bed too late plays havoc with bedtime routines and is also a major reason for frequent night wakings due to sensory overload,” she says.

The solution:

Try to aim for bedtime between 6pm, or 8pm at  the latest. If you’ve had a busy day and your child has missed a nap, aim to put him to bed earlier. Also, be very clear and consistent with your bedtime routine and don’t waver. If your child appears to be overtired, help to calm him down before bed with a warm bath, light massage, bedtime story or play soft, relaxing music.

The problem: He’s not tired enough

If your child is wide awake at bedtime most nights of the week for at least a month, or wakes up at the crack of dawn each morning, it could be time to look at his nap schedule and see if it’s time to drop a nap. Because the truth is, even adults who aren’t tired at bedtime tend to have a disrupted night’s sleep.

The solution:

Neonatal nurse, mom of four, and award-winning sleep therapist and blogger behind Taking Cara Babies, Cara Dumaplin believes if the last nap of the day interferes with bedtime, or if your child suddenly fights bedtime and doesn’t appear to be tired, it might mean he needs more awake time before bed. “Shifting bedtime a bit later can help for a while, but eventually he’ll need to drop that last nap to keep his bedtime between 7 and 8pm and get the awake time his body requires to fall asleep easily,” she says.

The problem: He’s sick, thirsty or hungry

The solution:

If your little one is in any kind of pain, or has a fever, there’s a good chance he won’t fall asleep easily. If your child isn’t well, chat to your doctor about the appropriate medication to give him for his age to ensure he’s comfortable enough to fall asleep and get a good night’s sleep. For instance, teething can sometimes be so painful that it can cause the whole mouth to feel sore and inflamed. In this instance, it’ll be hard for your little one to fall asleep even if he’s tired.

Also, if your older child hasn’t eaten enough healthy fats during the day, such as full cream dairy products, avocado or protein – he may still be hungry at bedtime. The solution? Make sure to include plenty of nutritious foods into his snacks and meals throughout the day so that he’s full and satisfied before bedtime. It’s also not a good idea to overfeed your child before bed as digestive issues can keep him awake too.

ALSO SEE: 11 reasons for toddler night waking, PLUS tips to help your toddler fall asleep on his own

The problem: His imagination is running wild

Author of the No Cry Solution and parenting expert, Elizabeth Pantley says that the toddler years are rife with night-time fears because children’s active imaginations and intelligence are starting to develop.

The solution:

If your little one is fearful at bedtime, researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital suggest:

  • Understanding the nature of your child’s fear. It’s important not to support or build up the fears. For instance, if your child is scared of monsters, rather tell them the truth that monsters don’t exist instead of getting out the ‘monster repellent spray’.
  • Use a night light or security object such as a soft toy to help your child fall asleep. However, ensure the light doesn’t interfere with your child’s sleep onset. Use a dim, yellow light at bedtime rather than a blue light.
  • Leave your child’s door open at night. This can create a sense of comfort knowing that you are close.
  • Avoid screen time before bed. And don’t allow your child to watch any scary TV shows that aren’t age appropriate.

ALSO SEE: Screen time can lead to your toddler developing sleep problems

Checklist: Is your older child getting enough sleep?

According to research done by the University of Michigan, your child is getting the right amount of sleep if they:

  • Can fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Can wake up easily at the time they need to get up and don’t need you to keep bugging them to get up.
  • Are awake and alert all day, and don’t need a nap during the day.

TOP TIP: Check with your child’s teacher and make sure your child can stay awake and alert during school.

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About Tammy Jacks

Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.