29 answers

12 Year Old Son Having Trouble Sleeping Well

My 12 year old has never been much of a sleeper, but his sleeping seems to be getting worse as he gets older. He takes a while to fall asleep (we try an earlier bedtime, but with sports and other activities, we don't always get home before 8:30 or 9. Then he reports waking often during the night, sometimes getting right back to sleep, but often lying there for a while. He gets LOTS of exercise during the day, and as a rule he never has caffeine and not much chocolate either. He reads a book at night - usually an assignment for school, or his Bible. He is sometimes hard to wake up, but usually will get up when I say and getting a shower helps him become fully awake. He seems to have plenty of energy, but the thing thta concerns me is he is more irritable and fights more often when he hasn't slept well.

I have not called the doc's office yet, as I really don't want to medicate my 12 year old! He will not drink chamomile tea or warm milk (don't blame him!) so I am hoping to find some herbal remedy in a capsule form, or something else. We have tried massaging feet and back with lotion (lavendar) but he didn't like that scent, either! So any suggestions you might have will be welcome!

Thanks in advance!

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Wow! Lots of replies - thanks everyone!

I should have mentioned more about our routine - 1) we eat dinner before/at the ball games, and homework MUST be done before or they don't play or practice - period! 2) I have 3 kids, and they all have always had to choose just ONE activity at a time. Both the boys are playing baseball and are on the same age team. When that is over, they will sign up for basketball. I did let him try running Cross Country for his middle school this year (WHILE playing baseball!) and that just wrapped up. All those races were after school or on Saturdays and he actually does sleep better on days when he runs. 3) None of my kids have a TV or computer in their rooms (neither do we). We actually just got satellite service again so we could watch the Olympics, but we lived without any TV service for 2 years while building our house. 4) I will never be one to "cut out" sports as I am a firm believer in fun exercise and all the other benefits of being part of a team. If my kids had NO activities or sports, they would be sitting around trying to watch the TV or play video games all the time! Not having that! 5) He chooses whether to read (by lamplight) and WHAT he reads. I would never force my kids to read anything - even the Bible - but he has better Christian habits than I do!!! So I leave it up to him. 6) He does shower at night if he has gotten sweaty during the day or evening - he hates to go to bed dirty, but he also likes to get one in the mornings as it wakes him up better and helps with his longer hairstyle now.

So, alot of what people suggested, I have already tried or we just do them habitually, so I am thinking his hormones have alot to do with it. He is very bright and has never needed ALOT of sleep, but this summer (during no sports/activities at all) is when it started getting bad. We talk regularly about any problems he may be worried about and he is good about telling either me or his dad about things that bother him.

I am going to call the doc and see if they can just suggest things over the phone instead of me paying them $85 for a visit! Melatonin sounds good so far, but I am always leary of drugs or herbs, especially things that are not tested and approved first. We try to take as little as possible into our bodies that we don't need for immediate extreme relief.

I am saving all these suggestions for the talk with the doc and will likely try things until he is sleeping regularly. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to respond! I will try to be more thorough to save people some time in the future! :D

Featured Answers

Hi A.,

I just wanted to mention that exercise is like a stimulate. It is sometimes hard to go to sleep or stay asleep right after exercising. A hormone is released in the body that can keep you up.

I give my kids melatonin, 3mg tablets. My 10yods was having trouble waking up & often told me he didn't sleep well. I crush his up & put it in a little bit of water about 8pm at night, bedtime is 9pm. I also have been giving it to my 16yodd and they both tell me they sleep better. I take it to and it helps. You can find melatonin at most stores, Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens.

Hope that helps.

Melatonin 5 mg is what we use. Give it to him about 30 minutes before bed and it will help him unwind. It is an herbal remedy and works with it being dark and it works great. It is a tablet not a capsule so it has to be taken whole but is worth it. I even take it sometimes when I am wound up. My daughter had the same issues. Good luck.

More Answers

Hi A.,

I thought almost exactly what Anna said in her post regarding your son coming home so late - 8:30 or 9:00. Getting home that late, eating, doing homework, etc, is not giving him decompression time that he really needs. It is like he's pulling a double-shift, A., "working" first and second shift back-to-back. I wouldn't be able to go to sleep that quickly either if it were me.

The other thing to remember is that teens usually start developing a later "sleep clock". That's why so many of them want to stay up late and sleep in the next morning. So much the opposite of little kids who wake mommies and daddies at 6:00 am ready to play and go to bed early! Your son is moving into teenhood, and between that and having no time to "let his hair down" at home, it may be hard to change this unless you have him drop some after-school activities. I would recommend that you take him for a sleep study and see what the doctor says that might help. This is their expertise and they might have some good ideas for you.

All my best,

1 mom found this helpful

As a psychotherapist I hear about sleeping problems all the time. Your son is going through puberty which brings about a whole set of changes, sleep being just one. It doesn't sound like he has a problem going to sleep, just staying asleep. I often suggest relaxation or visualization exercises to get back to sleep. First, figure out if he is worried or anxious about remembering something. If so, have him write it down. Otherwise, have him imagine himself someplace soothing or calming, like the beach or the mountains. It's best if it's a real place he's been to. Have him imagine being there and using all his senses: what does he see, smell, hear, feel. Really try to put himself there. He can even use external aids. My son had a fish tank in his room and it really helped him imagine he was snorkeling. Limit external sources such as light, TV, etc. and don't ever look at the clock. This can be managed without medication.

Good luck,
L. D.

1 mom found this helpful

You can try melatonin. You can buy it at any health food store or Whole Foods. They dissolve under your tongue. You can try valerian, L-theanin, or lemon balm. All come in a capsule. I have given all to children younger than 12. There are no side effects and it would be very difficult to give them too much. Ask a knowledgeable sales person for mg. and dosage. If you live in Louisville. Dr. Judy MInogue at Louisville Compounding Pharmacy is amazing.

1 mom found this helpful

Try Valerian, it is an herb that is readily available at most grocery stores. Comes in a pill form so no "yuck" factor. It is very good about inducing sleep. Few adverse events attributable to valerian have been reported for clinical study participants. Headaches, dizziness, pruritus (this is itching), and gastrointestinal disturbances are the most common effects reported in clinical trials but similar effects were also reported for the placebo. If you decide to give it to your son, just make sure the Dr. knows if he goes to prescribe any medications. There is no documentation of drug interactions, but to be on the safe side...

I would consider a wind-down routine for bed. It would be hard for anyone to rush home after playing sports and jump right into bed. You need time to settle down if you're going to sleep well.

Perhaps he could try taking the shower before bed? That could be a way to relax. The reading could follow that. Or record and watch a favorite show before bed even if it's a little later. It seems like it's less important what time he goes to be than that he's relaxed first.

Honestly, too, with a 12-year-old boy there could be other issues going on too to disturb his sleep. I don't want to be graphic here and I haven't faced this with my boys yet to have any advice, but body chemicals change a lot at about 12 and it may be something no pill will cure.

Good luck.

I give my kids melatonin, 3mg tablets. My 10yods was having trouble waking up & often told me he didn't sleep well. I crush his up & put it in a little bit of water about 8pm at night, bedtime is 9pm. I also have been giving it to my 16yodd and they both tell me they sleep better. I take it to and it helps. You can find melatonin at most stores, Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens.

Hope that helps.

Really consider talking to your child's doctor about this problem. Let him/her rule out any medical problems, because there are medical conditions that can interfere with your son's sleep. You should also know that herbal medicines/treatments are also considered "drugs" by your body. They can often have as many disturbing side effects as conventional medications. Also, make sure he does not have things on his mind that are keeping him awake. See if he will tell you of his fears or worries.

Hi A.,

I just wanted to mention that exercise is like a stimulate. It is sometimes hard to go to sleep or stay asleep right after exercising. A hormone is released in the body that can keep you up.

Good Morning!

I understand your plight. I too have the same concerns with my son. Here is what I have done to help him, and maybe it can help your family as well!

As it nears bedtime in my house I start turning off sounds and turning down lights. I use lamps a lot now and that seems to help, as it isn't direct light. The computer and/or TV gets shut off and the whole family takes time to read, including myself! :-) Trust me, I need this just as much as my son!

The other thing I would think about would be his reading choice. You stated he reads his reading assignments from school or the Bible. Does he get to choose his books from school and does he make his own choice to read the Bible? Please don't get me wrong, I believe wholly in the Bible, but I know my son gets angry if he is forced to read something he doesn't like and that doesn't help the sleep situation.

I hope I have given something for you to chew on! ;-) Good luck!


Maybe he has too much on his plate. Cut back on some of the sports and let him be a kid. He has to do his homework and maybe you are stretching him too thin. I know children want to do all of these things but as adults we have to recognize when it is too much. He is probably not sleeping because he is exhausted and tense. Good Luck!

It's hormones and age. My son is 12 going on 13 and is the same way. He prefers to stay up late and sleep late which is not acceptable during the week. He, too, plays sports and does not get home until late. Our solution is to let him relax before bed, have a few days of "nothing" during the week and have a day on the week-end where he can sleep as late as he wants. That way he catches up on his sleep for the week and has a day for his brain to rest. Another option to the melatonin is to give him antihistamine at night. My son has allergies so I give him his dose at bedtime.

Dear A. V.

He sounds like a wonderful young man.
I would be proud of him.
It might be he has alot on his mind.
His mind might not be shutting down to relax
for a spell.
He wanting to learn and know alot about life maybe.
Set with him and talk one on one about whats is on his mind.
Maybe there is too much activity for now.
To learn this and that all at once.
Maybe there is something gone on or pressure at school.
These are just some idea.
I hope I helped.

Have a great day Today
Vicki W.

You might observe him some time when he's sleeping and watch for him to stop breathing - sleep apnea. If that happens, then he has a problem and needs to see a sleep doctor. Some of the symptoms are being sleepy during the day - even though they had plenty of time to sleep, and being hard to wake. Allergies can contribute to the problem. They would likely have him do a sleep study and put him on a breathing machine. You'll want good insurance because that's all pricey. Does he breathe through his nose or mouth during the day? That's another sign (if he mouth breathes).

My son had obstructive sleep apnea and had his tonsils/adenoids out (the doctors said they were enormous - no wonder he couldn't breathe), and tubes put in his ears, all at the same time (in July) and now he doesn't snore all day and night, or mouth breathe, and he sleeps much better at night, and hasn't had another ear infection. My husband has always had terrible allergies and finally had his sinuses opened up (surgery) because they were completely closed off with all the inflammation he's had his whole life and had his deviated septum corrected. (His tonsils and adenoids were removed when he was small as well). He breathes much better, and is supposed to use the machine at night as well.

This may or may not apply to your son, but it would be worth observing him for a while when he's asleep to see if he partially wakes up over and over (because he is not breathing continuously). Then his brain isn't getting enough oxygen either, which isn't good.

It very well could be that his own personal sleep pattern just doesn't fit his present schedule! My husband loves to be in bed by 10 or 11 and up by 6. When I go to bed by 11, I usually wake up several times during the night. When he is out of town I stay up until 2 in the morning and sleep solidly until 8 - then I wake up feeling great! That could be your son's problem. One solution is to try one of the natural sleep aids that are sold in drug stores. They usually have valarien and cammomile in them, and should be safe. I would stay away from anything with melatonin in it, since that can affect hormones.
One other thing to consider - does he have a tv or computer in his room? I have heard that watching tv or playing on the computer right before bedtime can intefere with sleep patterns. Good luck!

talk to his doctor about giving him half a unisom or even some rx meds. i know you dont want to medicate but when you think about it if hes fighting more and harder to wake up is it really worth the debate??? good night sleep happy kid vs. no sleep mad kid??? to me the answer is clear but i was also on trazadone at 12 to help me sleep so its not a big deal to me.... good luck i hope he gets some sleep now

Our pediatrician recommended the herbal supplement "melatonin". It helps our kids fall asleep, it's natural and not habit forming. It does not help keep them from waking up in the middle of the night however. Melatonin is a substance our bodies produce when we're falling asleep. Hope this helps!
K. K.

You might try magnesium for him, I'd suggest mag citrate as it's better absorbed than the mag oxide in cheaper supplements. There's a product called Natural Calm which is a decent tasting. You can also get cheaper, unflavored mag citrate powder that can be mixed into warm water but it doesn't dissolve as easily as the Natural Calm (or Ionic Fizz which is what I use for my son). Maybe start with half a serving then increase slowly as too much mag causes diarrhea or stomach gas/pain. The magnesium could be used with herbs like valerian and/or the hormone melatonin (not an herb). Others have mentioned good sleep hygiene (complete dark, quiet routine) and I'd definitely second it. If he's a person who is/will be prone to difficult sleep then it's all the more important that he be careful about his sleep and presleep habits. I hope you find something that helps your son sleep better.

It may be getting worse because he's almost a teenager. research has shown that teenagers sleep pattern is different than other ages. They tend to be nocturnal. Their bodies naturally tell them to be awake at night and sleep during the day. This is why teenagers are so hard to wake up in the mornings whether they stayed up all night or not. can't offer any help on what to do though.

Lots of doctors are suggesting Melatonin for sleep-- talk to your pediatrician -- but Melatonin is found in a natural food store and I took it when I was in college-- it helped me to fall asleep more quickly and it's not really drug.


You may just have an insomniac. However, Melatonin is in the Vitamin section at Wal-mart, Target, drug stores, etc. Melatonin is naturally occuring in everyone's brain. This is what makes us relax so that we fall asleep. My husband began taking it when he workdnights and couldnt stay asleep during the day and I take it as well. I have a newborn (11 days) and I took it during pregnancy!! OB approved b/c it is naturally ocurring in the brain already. My five year old also takes it on occasion with approvalfrom the pediatrician. They come in 3mg and 5mg. Increase if one doesn't work to two (pediatrician again)It will help him to relax and fall asleep and he will wake up refreshed instead of dopey like a Benadryl would make him feel. Hope this helps.

There are lots of great herbal sleep remedies, you just need to find a good natural foods store in your area. I don't know where you live, but could recommed several in the Charlotte, NC area. There are also some great CD's to try that aren't too much like lullabyes! One is the "Transitions" CD for babies (it's basically the soft sounds of a heartbeat as heard from the womb with some very soft music behind it) It's been MORE than worth it for my two kids, and even myself when I've had a hard time falling to sleep. And just so you know, the sleep ingrediant in Tylenol PM or sominex is the same ingrediant found in Benedryl. I would find a good herbal remedies or natural food mart and check out the herbal sleep capsules. Good Luck!

I would look into natural ways of increasing his melatonin production, instead of supplementing. The darker the room the better - no night lights, drape something over the lights on a clock radio, thick drapes, etc. Bright lights during the day help also or going outside. Dr. Mercola's website talks about lots of ways to improve sleep.

Hi, A.. My brother is the same age as your son and he has gone through this as well. My parents cut out sports, because they don't feel it's healthy for kids that age to be up so late, and they're right. See if you can find an alternate sport that doesn't keep him up so late, or maybe is on the weekends only. Like Dawn said, he probably is trying to "decompress" after getting home, eating, doing homework, etc. and that's why it's taking him a while to go to sleep. Also, see what your doctor suggests. They usually have some good advice and ideas for you. All the best to you and your son.

You could try valarian root. It's an herbal supplement that you can buy at Walmart. It's in capsule form and you just need to taked it about an hour before wanting to sleep. Good Luck!

Dear A.,
The phrase that catches my eye is, "with sports and other activities, we don't always get home before 8:30 or 9".
What that means to me is that he is still "wired" that late at night. Then, you eat dinner or he snacks, and then he's got his homework that he has to finish before he goes to sleep. That is a lot of routine activity and stress for that late in the evening on school nights.
I'm used to the idea that older kids should avoid stimulating exercise within 2 hours of bedtime if they are having trouble sleeping.
Having said all that, try having him soak in a warm tub and/or try Melatonin. I've never used it, but I've seen it work wonders.
Good luck!

Melatonin 5 mg is what we use. Give it to him about 30 minutes before bed and it will help him unwind. It is an herbal remedy and works with it being dark and it works great. It is a tablet not a capsule so it has to be taken whole but is worth it. I even take it sometimes when I am wound up. My daughter had the same issues. Good luck.


I have always had this problem myself. I can remeber many nights being awake well after my mom and dad were asleep. Sometimes I have a good run and sleep for an entire week straight. I have tried sleep aides and find them to be very habit forming and I still don't feel rested. As a teenager I discovered the after school nap not to mention the biology nap (I was always falling asleep at school and had someone at work ask me if I had a sleeping disorder because I sometimes fall asleep at my desk). I haved used melatonin which is an herbal supplement with much success. I an not sure how I would feel about giving this to a child since it is not approved by the FDA. I know I have an active imagination and have a tendency to be a very high energy and sometimes an anxious person. Maybe his mind is going a little wild when he is trying to sleep. I remeber my mom would sit with me before bed at night and try to get me to imagine peaceful images that would stop my mind from going crazy before sleep. It was kind of hypnotizing. Reading also helped me. I also find that too much activity before bed will keep me up. I have to excercise in the morning.

Make sure that his bedroom is cool and dark. Try to stay on a schedule and get him to bed at the same time every night. (I understand this is hard because of activities) You are doing the right thing by having him read before bedtime, but make sure he is reading by lamp light and not by the big light in his room, this can stimulate him and not soothe him. The lavendar lotions are quite stinky so maybe try a diffuser.(The bottles with the sticks in them) You could also try giving him a benedryl before bed. Now I have to warn you that it will help most kids sleep but causes hyperactivity in others. I would try it on the weekend just incase!!

Best wishes to you. I have a terrible time staying asleep and I understand how he feels.

Maybe try to change his bedtime routine, Make sure it involves some quiet time and something that he thinks is relaxing. If he enjoys and finds calming music relaxing try that. When he wakes during the night does he start thinking about things? If he is that could be a stress for him. I usually sleep better if I stretch, raising my arms to the ceiling, moving my head side to side,front to back, rotating my shoulders. The same types of exercise that you do to break the monotony when you work at a computer. These help to relieve the tension and help me sleep better. Could he be over stimulated? Hope this helps. C.

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