Sleep issues in preschoolers and older

(I have a new piece up at the Huffington Post Divorce section, about the holidays and Dolly Parton. Please comment.)

Hey, sleep issues with preschoolers and older! My kids have been having a hard time going to sleep in the last couple of weeks, and it seems to be going around. Are your kids having problems or delaying going to sleep? Or just showing up in your bed in the middle of the night?

I think it has a lot to do with the general excitement in the air about school break coming up and all the hoopla around Christmas. Adults are either tense or excited, or tense and excited. Media of all kinds are excited. Even just going to the grocery store with a parent is different because of all the glittery displays of special Christmas foods (at my grocery store: Pannetone Italian boxed cakes, chicharron, pfeffernusse cookies, a huge tower of Ferrero Rocher candies).

My kids have been thinking about and talking about gifts, the gifts they hope to get and the gifts they're giving. Planning the tree. Thinking about the trip to see my family.

It's not really surprising that they're having a hard time being interested in falling asleep and then actualy falling asleep.

But they need to. Tonight I'm going to make an effort to start the bedtime routine 20 minutes earlier than usual, to see if that helps.

What else can I/we try to help our kids get in bed and stay in bed more easily during the Most Exciting Time of the Year?

38 thoughts on “Sleep issues in preschoolers and older”

  1. We need to make sure our preschooler is warm enough. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night having turned into an icicle. And it’s hard to send her back. It’s this weird juggling of making sure her room is warm enough (thermal curtains, clear heat vent, bed away from exterior wall) and enough covers/warm enough jammies without making her too warm. Because then she’ll kick off the covers (which she tends to do anyway) and wiggle out of her jammies. So on the coldest nights, she’s sleeping naked and uncovered.But generally she sleeps pretty well.

  2. My kids, like me, will have a hard time falling asleep if they have a lot on their minds. One successful technique we’ve used is to give them something to focus on when we turn out the lights. They’ll ask us for ideas now, saying “What should I dream about.” Recently, for my 8 y.o. son, an animal lover who has been reading The Adventures of Vin Fizz, it was “dream about flying over the African savannah in a little plane like the Vin Fizz and seeing all the animals below you: herds of gazelles, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs….”For my 6 y.o. daughter, we’ve been in a flower fairy mode lately. We pick a favorite flower and imagine how she’d dress if she were, say, a tulip fairy. Then we tell her to imagine flitting around the garden with her wand, making the flowers grow. Generally if they have something fun and distracting to think about, they drift right off.
    Granted, coming up with this stuff takes a little extra creativity at the end of the day. But it really seems to pay off. A little lavender scented Badger Sleep Balm rubbed on the temples or chest helps put them in a sleepy mood, too. It always helps when we’re sleeping away from home. When all else fails, Calms 4te for Kids (a homeopathic calming remedy) is my ace in the hole.

  3. Good point. YOu might be right seeing we have Christmas and kids’ birthdays a month apart. There is always a hiccup in DD’s sleep (4 in 3 weeks)around this time of year and this is now the 3rd year in a row I have noticed it. She sleeps great ( finally now after 4 loooooong years), but takes sometimes an hour to wind down. This year is so much better than in the past as she doesn’t need me to stay with her or tuck her anymore. She might get up to ask a a question, then go back to bed and get up again, 10 minutes later. Repeat, rinse. HOwever, at some point ( between 3 weeks before and a week after her birthday) she must go through some kind of developmental spurt, ‘cos then she goes to bed easily again, sleeps all night and wait for it….starts being cooperative, pleasant and even wants to hang out people other than me!

  4. Moxie, I loved the piece at HuffPost – I couldn’t comment there because I don’t have an account. It’s funny that you wrote about Dolly because I just recently made a custom Christmas music playlist, inspired by your musical Advent. And my first thought was – There has to be some Dolly on here! I didn’t opt for Hard Candy Christmas (I did We Three Kings), but in the same vein, I put “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” on the list – it’s the only non-hymn on my list. I never realized until recently that it’s a sad little song, really, and there is so much sorrow around me this season (in my world, it’s illnesses & death rather than divorce), I wanted to remember that. Hard times are so much harder at Christmas, especially for families facing a loss (whether it’s the loss of a nuclear family through divorce, or death).

  5. My son is 4 yrs and two months. I have not slept in 4 yrs. and two months. That has not changed due to the holidays. What HAS changed is that now my 2 yr old daughter will not sleep either. Oh, the fun we have!

  6. Do you have a camera going in our house? My younger son was up til 10 last night, bounding about in a santa hat and jammies … then up at 2, then 5 …Must read tips in here pronto! After I shower, and nap, and get said preschooler from preschool, and … But I’m looking forward to the ideas everyone posts.

  7. Interesting. I’ve noticed Younger seems to be conking out *faster*. She just seems really more tuckered out than usual. I’ve assumed it’s because we have extra family in town, more stuff going on.@T: what a wonderful, magical mother you are!

  8. My kids are going to sleep just fine, but they are not staying asleep well at all! My youngest was up for an hour and a half in the middle of the night last night. Granted, a nasty cold is making its way through our family, but I don’t think it’s the main factor in the sleep issues… I usually hate January, but I’m kind of looking forward to it this year because it will mean things will slow down again.

  9. We’ve actually moved bedtime a little earlier in the last few days – partly because the girl (4.5) is fighting a cold, and partly because we’re doing so much more with her between school and bedtime… lots of activities planned, Christmas projects with one parent or the other — she just seems pretty worn out. The first night we tried it, we put her to bed 15 min early and she slept an entire 30 min later than usual the next morning. I’m not counting on it to continue, but it’s a sign to me that she needed the rest.

  10. My son is 2.5 – so a little younger- but his sleep has been TERRIBLE this week! Up for an hour in the middle of the night, waking early. I have no explanation for it – i keep thinking he’s coming down with something, but he’s fine. Maybe it is the holiday bustle! No tips – just co-misery 🙂

  11. When we’ve had late nights- our church Christmas concert last Thursday started at 7pm and I really wanted to take my son (who usually goes to bed at 7:30)- we’ve put him to bed in school clothes. I don’t really like for him to wear sweats to school often since they look sloppy, but it certainly made the morning simpler. He had less to do and thought the whole thing was funny, which had him more cheerful than I’d expect under those circumstances.

  12. I’ve been working really hard at getting them physically tired every single day with climbing and running, etc. Outside time while the weather allows.And they still can’t go to sleep. My suspicion is that they get a lot more sugar right now (including the tiny piece of chocolate right before bed from the advent calendars). I also am dying for them to go to bed at night, and, of course, I’m sure they sense that.

  13. My son (just turned 5) isn’t having trouble sleeping, but with all the excitement of the past month, he’s had a few nights where he starts crying for very trivial reasons while we’re cuddling in his bed before I say good night. An example of one of the “reasons” for his crying was that he forgot to tell something to his friend at school and he’ll NEVER EVER REMEMBER AGAIN what it is. He’ll be fine one minute, goofing around like normal, and then the next minute, he’s crying uncontrollably. I think it’s his way of releasing tension. This time of year is extra crazy for us, too. It starts with Thanksgiving (although it really feels like it starts with Halloween), where we travel 300 miles and spend a week with my family. One week later is his birthday, which this year consisted of a family party, a kid party, and then cupcakes at school on his actual birthday. Throw 8 nights of Hanukkah into that mix, and then there is Christmas a couple weeks later… Sheesh! I’m near tears too some nights!

  14. Suddenly (like, in the past 3 weeks or so), my 4 year old has been TAKING NAPS again. Totally off the wall, but much appreciated when I can get them timed to coincide with the 9.5 month old’s naps! :)Night wakings are the norm around here for both kids; I’ll sleep when I’m 60.

  15. After almost 4 years of sleep issues with my lovely daughter, my only tips are putting MYSELF to bed early and trying to enjoy the snuggles when putting her to bed (we still have to lie down with her) and when she comes into our bed in the middle of the night.And I repeat the following or other variations to myself:
    -She will not always need us to get to sleep.
    -She will not always come into our room at night.
    -She will not always want to snuggle with us.
    -At some point, she will want very little to do with us.
    -She only going to be little once.
    -When she stops needing us, I will miss these times. Maybe not right away or all the time, but I will really truly miss them.

  16. With us it’ times of change, so right now isn’t horrible in terms of sleep. It is horrible in terms of mood…I told her the last pancake was gone the other morning and it was like 20 minutes of genuine, tears falling, sadness. I’m going to try to build more quiet and more time with me into her day (I have been busy with work so not as present as I would like to be).

  17. We have had trouble getting our 2 four year olds to sleep lately. So far I’ve had the most success doing guided meditations or progressive muscle relaxation. e.g., Pretend you’re on the beach, feel the sand between your toes, feel the sun on your shoulders, etc. Seems to calm down their minds some.

  18. Sleep has gone to hell in my house since we introduced the toddler bed. I really don’t want to go back to the crib, and in fact, the threat of taking away his big boy bed and putting him back in the crib is what seems to get the most results in terms of him staying in his bed all night. i think after the fuss of the holidays we’re going to start a sticker chart for him–I can’t remember where I read it, but someplace said that you shouldn’t think of this as bribing your child to stay in their bed but rather acknowledging that it is hard for them and rewarding their efforts. Not sure how we’ll set up the reward system.

  19. The 7.5-year-old has been a little wired at bedtime. She’s also been smuggling flashlights and books into bed and reading under the covers. She’s “lights out” by 8:00, so I figure if she wants the thrill of reading on the sly for a while after that, it’s okay by me. When it starts affecting her morning attitude, we’ll deal with it.The 5.5-year-old actually slept through the night in his own bed four nights in a row a couple of weeks ago. First time he’s done that in about, oh, five years. And now he’s back to climbing in with us sometime in the wee hours. We stressed about the waking up at night way back when, but once he was at the point of falling asleep on his own and coming in without waking us up (say, 2.5-3 years old), we just kind of threw up our hands. I’d so much rather sleep than argue with a small person about where he should be sleeping. Plus, the snuggly warm extra body is appreciated on these cold, cold nights!

  20. Ah! We’re seeing the opposite: going to bed just fine, but then springing up like a demon jack-in-the-box in the morning at 5 or 6am. (And, just to note, we live in the far north & it’s pitch black outside until almost 8am these days). I do think it’s still a result of seasonal excitement…she often charges out of bed, directly into the living room & starts rearranging the ornaments on the Christmas tree. I think it’s funny, once I’ve actually been able to ingest some coffee & wrap my brain around the fact that I am awake several hours before dawn.

  21. Well, my 3.75 y.o. has, oddly enough, been sleeping better the last couple of weeks (oh, demon gods of sleep, please don’t strike me down for putting those words in writing!).Sleeping through the night hasn’t been a problem but he started dropping naps around 3.5 and has been getting up at 6:00 am (or earlier) forever. Suddenly, naps are back pretty regularly and he’s been sleeping until 7 am (hallelujah!). This despite the excitement and the extra sugar. Maybe we should let him eat chocolate from an Advent calendar year round. Actually, I think it’s because he’s growing almost visibly (seriously, if I could get him still enough, I bet I could see it) and the days are shorter. But then again, who the hell knows?

  22. Strangely, I just posted this on my Facebook status today:”Almost 5 years of broken sleep seems to be coming to an end…it’s a Christmas miracle!”
    I have no idea why, but my almost-5y.o. and almost 2y.o. are sleeping better than they ever have. My 20-month-old didn’t wake up once last night. And that has only happened, like, twice in the past 20 months of her life. I slept more deeply last night than I can remember.
    I hope my good luck lasts and that it rubs off on everyone else. My Christmas wish for parents everywhere is SLEEP!

  23. 2.5 year old is having never-before-seen tantrums, skipping naps, delaying and refusing bed time, insisting on being rocked or bounced on the ball. Just this week I labeled it sleep regression -but didn’t know why. This helps. Sometimes having a rationalization for the behavior makes the behavior more tolerable even if I can’t change it. Phew.

  24. We start our bedtime routine a little earlier, I pour some Epsom salt in their bath and sprinkle in some lavender oil (but not too much or else you have to open the bathroom door and the cold air defeats the purpose) and sometimes we drink some hot tea (kid’s sleepyrime tea is a favorite!) and I read an extra long (and extra-long) book in the most soothing and monotonous voice I can muster. And then I tuck my sweet angel into bed and if he fusses I scream, “just shut the hell up and go to sleep already!” before slamming the door on my way out of his room.I’m just kidding about the last part but sheesh. DH has been out of town all week and simultaneously putting two wound-up kids to bed is killing me.

  25. What @caramama said, exactly – except for my firstborn is a 3-year-old boy. ;)Playing out in the snow for at least half an hour seems makes everyone at our house want to fall asleep at a reasonable hour. And like others have said, there is this indoor play gym for kids under 6 that is our absolute lifesaver in cold weather, for both my 3-year-old and my 14-month-old alike!
    Both of my kids suffered last night because when we couldn’t find a sitter, we selfishly chose to bring them along to a dinner party where they were serving this amazing home-cooked Indian food that is very hard to come by in Podunkville. There were 10 other kids there, mostly between the ages of 3 and 9, so they all stayed up super late, drank lots of juice, watched “The Year Without a Santa Claus” … and the predictable result was that we had the most miserable car ride home with 2 screaming kids who could not be consoled. But man, to be honest that Indian food was totally worth it!

  26. Mine is 7 and SO WOUND UP in that time after dinner and before bed. Bouncing off the walls at really high volume. She generally goes down for bed pretty well though.

  27. Just yesterday I was searching a past post about sharing a room and all the non sleep that occurs. We have #3 coming soon and decided to have #1 and #2 share a room and at the same time move #2 from crib to a twin bed.Mostly it’s going ok. But now I have to sit outside their room so they stay in bed. I’m fine with the talking and jumping but they have to stay in bed-which goes much better if I just stand in silence. And it has been taking an hour. That is too long and I’m grumpy and bitter the entire hour. I really hope this is just part of the adjustment phase. Besides when #3 gets here I’m pretty sure I won’t have the time to do so.
    Oh, and now they both get up at 5:30. Thank goodness everyone is still napping.

  28. We’ve resorted to bribery to keep our just-turned-4-year-old in bed at night. She only gets to eat the chocolate candy from her advent calendar if she didn’t wake us up during the night…otherwise she gets to pick whether its mommy or daddy who gets to eat it. Up until that point she was waking us up at least 3 times every night…just to get escorted back to bed and re-tucked. It was a total nightmare. I was totally nervous about how this would work, but now every morning she’s all proud of herself “I didn’t wake you & daddy up…you have to say hurray and then I can eat my candy”. We tried every other form of encouragement we could think of, but treats happens to be the thing that really hits home with her. She’s not upset if she doesn’t get them, disappointed yes, but so incredibly happy when she does.

  29. Moxie–you read my mind! My four-year-old and two-year-old, who are normally solid sleepers, have been terrors about going to bed lately.I have no major advice, but I agree about it being the excitement/tension of the holidays. We have had middling success giving our four-year-old 3 chips (milk caps) every night and taking one away when he comes out of his room for no good reason. Some nights it seems to work, but last night it sure didn’t. He was up till 10 p.m., with lots of crying and whining.
    Our two-year-old also has been fighting the going to bed routine(stories in his dim room, songs, hugs etc.) Some nights I think, “Why does this seem like the very first time he’s ever gone to bed in his life?”

  30. I wonder if all of the holiday busyness causes families to get overwhelmed, so that kids end up going to bed too late for a number of nights, missing naps, etc., which leads to cranky and wired kids. I think most people are really busy to begin with, and the holidays make it that much harder to keep things on track. There is just too much going on sometimes!

  31. Not to bogart the discussion about getting toddlers to bed during the holiday season, but does anyone have any advice on helping a 2yo stay asleep/in bed until 6am?He’s climbing out of his crib now and over the past month, regularly coming into our bedroom before 5am, bright eyed and bushy tailed.
    His regular bedtime has always been 7:30pm and he typically tells us he’s tired at that time. (No trouble getting him to sleep.) He goes to daycare 3 days a week and will sleep anywhere from 1 to 3 hours there. At home he usually sleeps 2 to 3 hours.
    Seems like an awful long nap. Should we wake him from his naps even though he’s tired at 7:30pm no matter how long he naps? Should we push his bedtime later, as his dad suggests?
    For what it’s worth, he wakes up hungry and often has a soiled diaper, though not always.
    Thanks!

  32. Hi Anna – This sounds like a radical suggestion, but it has been discussed on Ask Moxie many times – maybe put him to bed earlier. Yes, earlier! It sounds like he is already tired by 7:30pm, so going later might not work too well. A lot of people report that putting their child to bed earlier results in a later wake-up time. Maybe try a lot earlier for a few days, like 6:30pm. There are no guarantees, of course, but it is worth a try to stop a 5am wake-up call.

  33. I agree with BiteSizedTherapy – earlier bedtime almost always delays wake up around here. Inevitably, my dh pushes bedtime back and when it gets to be at 730 (it’s usually 7) then E starts waking up earlier and earlier. And that’s when I bring the hammer down and get us back on track.

  34. CrazyMama–As part of the loooong process of getting my son to fall asleep on his own, I spent a couple of months sitting in the hallway outside his room at bedtime.Sitting there doing nothing made me twitchy; all I could think of were the million things I should be doing instead. When a friend taught me to knit, I decided that would be my practice time. It was a win-win–he had what he needed to fall asleep, and I got to do something productive (and fun!).
    Would it be possible in your situation to do something you enjoy (knitting, reading, surfing the internet on a laptop) while you’re hanging out in the hallway? It might be a *little* less crazy-making. I know it was for me–and, as a bonus, I still wear the scarf I made on those nights a few years ago.

  35. Too funny, I saw the headline for this in my reader the other day and wondered what it was about. Then the last 2-3 nights my 2.5 year old daughter has been taking foreeeeever to fall asleep, so I came back to check it out.My husband is actually up in her room rocking her to sleep right now, the poor thing. Must be something in the air- I’m having a hard time sleeping as well.

  36. I had a very hard time sleeping around Christmas when I was a kid (heck, i still do!). The anticipation was just too much for me and my brain would not settle down. I would sing “Jingle Bells” in my head until I finally bored my poor brain to sleep.

  37. Well, it is summer here and the hot nights make it hard for everybody to sleep. Also Possum gets up with the sun so he is up 5am-ish. We got a sleep in today because he was in bed till 6am (obviously very tired from his birthday party yesterday.A month or so ago Possum started appearing in our bad during the night, but he had some stuff going on at school so I just assumed it was residual anxiety?

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