20 answers

My 3 Year Old Doesn't Sleep

Please help, I'm so frustrated, I just want to cry. My 3 year old doesn't seem to sleep more than 8-9 hours in a 24 hour period. Aren't kids this age supposed to get 11-12 hours of sleep in a day? She's been out of her crib for two months, and she started preschool earlier this week. Our bedtime routine is a nightmare (for me), and it has been for a while, not just recently. I start with the end of her TV show at 8:15, then it's brushing her teeth, which usually takes 15 minutes to half an hour because she doesn't want to cooperate, stories for 15-20 minutes, and then the real frustration begins. She's in and out of her bed and mine, she wants me to rub her back, she wants me to go, if I leave, she won't stay in bed. I usually try to be done with stories no later than 9:15, and I stop talking to her after 9:30. She usually falls asleep at 10:15 pm and sleeps until 6:45 - 7:30 am. Today she was up at 6:45, didn't nap at day care, it's 10:08 pm and she's still up. The two hour nighttime routine is driving me insane. I'm seriously considering putting a lock on her door that locks from the outside just to keep her in her room. I'm worried about emergencies, so I'd unlock it after I go to bed at night. On the weekends, she'll only nap for me if I drive her around in the car at naptime. I'd willingly give up trying to get her to nap if she slept longer at night. Anyone have any suggestions that worked for you? Can I get her to get more sleep without drugging her (kidding)?

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So What Happened?™

Thank you all very much for the great advice. I should add that I've tried to follow the "no TV until after her bath/shower" rule because I didn't want her sitting there watching TV from the time she gets home until she goes to bed. I wanted her to play. A lot of nights she doesn't want to take her bath or shower, so we told her no TV until after her shower, and then used the TV time to let her hair dry before bed. What I'm going to try is dinner at 6 (our normal time), she can watch 1 cartoon, then shower/bath. No TV after her shower/bath, we'll just read a few books, then bedtime by 7:30 -8 pm. And I'm definitely going to look for that Calms Forte to try.

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Yep, 3 seems to be a tough age for sleep. I going through it the second time now! It seems to be extra challenging because they are not quite ready (typically) to give up the nap, yet taking one seems to make bedtime later and more difficult.
You may be in a cycle of her being over-tired (this happens to us too, no matter how religiously we keep to routine DD just won't fall asleep until later than she needs). I think you already got the key advice (no tv in the evening, aim for earlier bedtime). The other thing that I have noticed is that this age seems to be the start of the worry about darkness and monsters phase. I've found that I've had to regress and stay in her room and/or leave a light on for her be able to settle down. Putting on soft music also helps to motivate her to stay in bed.
Hang in there....someday we will all get some sleep again!

1 mom found this helpful

I can be guilty of the tv thing too but try to exchange it for "tickle time," then have her tell you a story to calm down, then teeth, book, light's out ... but then I still have to use melatonin for my child who has not slept on his own since birth and may be dependent upon it for life. Hope this helps ... Oh and one thing that WILL actually work, if Mom is calm kiddo is much calmer (tall order I know but that I do know works).

1 mom found this helpful

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I would... make your ENTIRE routine, at night, MUCH earlier...
She seems real over-tired... over-tired kids actually cannot sleep, have a harder time falling asleep, and wake more... and get more "hyper."

For me, for example: I would, start her whole bedtime routine... 1 hour earlier. Having her show end at 8:15... is late... then everything after that... is later... then it just gets all later like dominoes.
And it is too late... for a 3 year old.

I have 2 kids... 4 and almost 8. I start, WINDING-down my kids, 1 hour... PRIOR to their actual bedtime.
Kids need to wind-down first... not doing it AT bedtime... but prior. It is "prepping" the child for bed... time.

Before bed, I make everything quiet, dark and leave only 1 lamp on... they brush teeth, put on pajamas... they can watch Little Bear or something, or do something quiet.. then it is put away... and go to bed. They do so. Without battle.
For them and me, it is the SAME EXACT routine... every single night. In the same order.. and wind-down, is ALWAYS in the SAME room. So, my kids get into the routine, like auto-pilot.

Again, I really think, your girl is WAY over-tired... thus she can't sleep... thus she does not sleep... thus she gets sleep deprived again... thus she can't sleep and gets more "hyper" the more tired she gets and over-stimulated... thus she can't sleep, and it just all exacerbates itself, like a vicious cycle, and like a bad dream, for you.

There is also something called "Hyland's Calms Forte- for kids." Which, is all natural, not a 'sleep' aide, and not habit forming... but simply helps to calm a child. There is also something called "Animal Parade- Warm Milk" which is also for kids, to help them sleep. It being all natural and like "milk." You can try these... just so that she gets her sleep rhythms, back to normalcy. My friends have used it for when they travel.. and I have used it when my kids are sick and uncomfortable and cannot sleep.
These are NOT 'drugs"... it is homeopathic.
You can find it at Whole Foods or any natural food store, or online like at Amazon and read the reviews there.

I might also wonder... what does she eat at Daycare???? Anything with caffeine? Chocolate? Sugar? junk food??? Some of these things... affects kids a ton... even the littlest amounts....

All the best,
Susan

3 moms found this helpful

She is going to bed too late. My 4 year old goes to bed at 630-7pm and has had this schedule for at least a year. When she gets out of bed you walk her back every.single.time. with no emotion, no back rubs and no lock on her door. We also found that if our daughter took a nap during the day(at day care or where ever) her bedtime routine would be out of whack, so we said good bye to naps.
It may take a couple of nights for her to get it. The first night we transitioned our daughter into a big girl bed she was up 30 times-no joke! By the third night she wasn't getting up anymore. Check out the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth. It has amazing strategies and great tips!

Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful

Try starting the wind-down routine earlier, like at 7pm. If she has a difficult time with transition, the routine is going to be on the "long" side no matter what.

True, 11-12 hours is the ideal, but some people are just not "good" sleepers. I am not - never have been, my daughter is not. It's hard, but usually it is just a phase, at least in my experience.

You can also try a homeopathic remedy called Calms Forte, which seems to help us out a bit when getting ready for sleep.

2 moms found this helpful

DO NOT LOCK THAT DOOR! Not only is it a safety issue, it's a serious emotionally-crippling issue too!

My gut feeling on this is that you are starting the bedtime routine too late. I also believe that the TV show needs to be eliminated. No child really "needs" to watch TV. !!

A lot of sleep issues begin & end with the parent NOT being in control of the child. I know this sounds harsh, but if you have to resort to driving her around in the car.....then she's in charge & you're not!

At age 3, your child is old enough to understand a "family conference". This is a phrase I use a lot when responding to Mama's Questions. You simply sit down with your child, you explain what you want, what is going to change, & how she has to comply. At this point, you also clearly explain what the consequences are if she does not comply.

A good way to start with the consequences would be to "lose" her TV time. I would truly reserve that priviledge for on the weekends...& it has to be earned as a reward for going to bed "like a big girl". Using a chart system & stickers may help your child adjust her bedtime rituals!

Somehow, some way, you need to gain control & maintain it. The "1-2-3" discipline method is very effective & is used consistently in my daycare. I also used it with my own children....& it worked! Good Luck!

2 moms found this helpful

how about letting her konk out on the couch next to you? i don't have a routine for my son anymore..he's 4..sometimes i let him fall asleep next to me on the couch..other times in his bed..or in another bed in the house..sometimes i let him watch a movie on his mini dvd player in bed til he konks out...i remember 3 was a tough age for sleep..he would only nap in the car..and he would wake so early...
i put a lock on his door for a week..and i sleep trained him to sleep in later..now he sleep in til 9:30am..i also co slept with my son sometimes when he was 3..so i didn't have any pressure one way or the other..we stuck to a routine the first 3 years and then at 3 we just lightened up a bit..and its paid off b/c he sleeps well through the night and sleeps in :)

D.

2 moms found this helpful

Your bedtime routine is starting too late and she shouldn't be watching a TV show prior to starting bedtime which ends too late. What time does she take her bath? That also helps with making them more comfortable prior to bedtime. Bed time routines are always changing and she probably lost her naptime so needs to go down earlier and will get up earlier but if you can handle that, it works better. If you have a set schedule she will be more confident. Wake up time, breakfast time, snack time, lunch time, pick up time, dinner time, play time, bedtime. If you are consistant and keep the TV shows limited and not at bedtime you will be more successfull. It's ok she wants you in her room because she's scared, she just watched tv and didn't have a bath, her minds wide a wake! Rule should be at such a young age, no tv shows before 7 p.m. and after dinner! The driving and naping is common even in old children, they are relaxed. She has given up naptime at home but will fall asleep in the car, that's natural. No locks on her door, what if something was to happen to you, she's locked inside and well, it's just not right, put a gate on her bedroom door but not shut the door and lock it, that's even more scarier for her. AS they get old the monsters are more vivid especially watching allot of tv shows.

2 moms found this helpful

With my daughter, I tell her that she has to go to bed and stay in bed, because mommy is tired. She doesn't have to sleep, but she can only come out to go potty. We try to start about 5:30 with dinner, then some running around, or a bath or both, then stories and rocking and bed. I try to have her in bed by 7, but recently it has been closer to 8... my fault. I still have a moniter in her room and can hear her reading to herself for about an hour. She has a night light and is not allowed to turn on the main light. It works out ok...
Good luck!
R.

1 mom found this helpful

I STRUGGLED with the bedtime routine for more than 6 months... before I figured out a trick!! For more than 2 months now, he's only gotten out of bed again 2 times...

I put something in his bed that he likes... for him it is his Cars little cars. Before I leave, I ask him "Do you want me to take your cars?"... "No" is always his reply... "Then you need to stay in bed, or I am going to take your cars!" He has only lost the cars 2 times in over 2 months!! He gets them back in the morning. Just the threat of losing something he loves, has really worked for us! No yelling required.... like I tell him, it's his choice to make. If he chooses to get up, he chooses to lose these beloved toys until morning.

I know how frustrating it is!! Hang in there!! :)

1 mom found this helpful

I was having the same problem you are just a few weeks ago. And another mom friend suggested I try beginning the night time routine earlier than I was. She suggested I aim for having bath time over by the time I was starting. So now we start bath by 6:30, dried off and in pajamas by 7pm, brush teeth and in bed no later then 7:15. We do 3 stories while rocking with mommy. Then its time to climb in bed for sleep. time. He is usually asleep by 8 pm now. Prior he was
falling asleep around 10pm! Maube it will help your daughter too?

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

HI D.,

I'm so sorry for your sleep issues. It is frustrating when the house is sleep deprived.

We had similar issues with my daughter. We didn't let her watch TV before bedtime. We switched to playing games, drawing, or doing a craft. Somehow, the TV seemed to amp her up.

After our bedtime story routine, we slowly started "moving out" of her bedroom at night. We told her we'd stay for five minutes after stories but that we'd be nearby (i.e. not next to her, not scratching her back, etc). One of us would sit near her bed for the first night or two, then we'd leave. If she cried, we'd go in, make sure she was okay, then leave again. Slowly, when we stayed after stories, we'd move closer to the door, then out the door, then in the hallway. This seemed to work, but it took a little bit of time.

I wouldn't suggest the locks, and I hope that you can resolve your issue before doing anything that drastic. Like you, I would totally worry about thhe safetly aspect.

I wish you the best with this, and hope that you are able to get more sleep soon.

Take care,
L.

1 mom found this helpful

Dear friend,

I had similar issues. Started bedtime routine earlier. I figured she was just overwhelmed and overly tired. There's the psychological fear of the sudden change - preschool. It was stressful for my little one. Bedtime, I had to be next to her to calm her to sleep. It didn't matter where she starts for the night. I'll let her fall asleep there, then move her back to her room. She might stay for a few hours then come back to my room. Eventually, we started rewarding her to sleeping through the night in her room. Now, we're at the start of new school year, she's back in my room by 2am. Just the insecurity of change.

My older one did that too. It ended by kindergarten. Now she can articulate the reasons. She said that there are night mares. And she just missed mommy so much that she wanted more time with mommy. Usually bed time is the only time left she can get mommy to herself.

I was so strict with my older one. I think it really hurt our relationship for a few years. Now I just don't pick on those night time battles. I'm tired too. I might as well just nap while I put the little one to bed. Later get up to finish chores in peace and quiet.

Hope this helps.
Mom of 2 girls.

1 mom found this helpful

My advice may sound insane to you, but if possible, give it a try. Change the routine entirely! (You want a vastly different outcome, so it may take a vastly different approach). Rather than tv prior to bedtime (it can increase agitation), following dinner, have a little playtime or go right to books. Let her have some control, like, "How many books do you want tonight?" Let her pick the books and perhaps where the reading will take place. Start the reading / wind down process no later than 7pm. Try changing the tooth brushing routine as well. Maybe brush your teeth together and each take a turn brushing each others' teeth for a moment. Keep the focus on the 'special new bedtime routine' you guys are creating together (include her in this "new plan" and make it sound fabulous!)

Discuss the new routine earlier in the day. "Sell" it to her, like, "It seems like we need a better plan at bedtime because we aren't having enough fun. Let's make it just how we want it to be." Engage her ideas for what would make it more fun. Let her see you writing down these ideas (even if they are ridiculous- my kids made up some very silly ones, but it tickled them to see them dignified by my writing them down) and ensure you include plenty of your own, sound ideas. Include some new rituals in the process, like playing soothing music while you're reading books and consider a calming bath prior to book time. Even consider a few drops of lavender oil in the bath, or in a diffuser in her room- it's very calming. Then, be specific on the time that constitutes bedtime. With my four kids, it's 8pm sharp. After this time, if we need to return to their rooms for whatever reason, we do, but it's done in a 'business like' approach. In other words, lavish on the lovey mama time up to 8pm, but afterwards, keep things more brusque. Otherwise, you are just reinforcing the behavior you are trying to change.
As with most of child-rearing, you must be clear in your own mind prior to making a change like this, and make it right for you and your family. Once you are clear and firm, they are far more likely to adjust their behavior as they now know what the boundary is and there isn't such an ongoing need to test it.
Good luck with the new plan!

1 mom found this helpful

I have a 2 year old who would take a nap everyday then one day he just stopped the naps. I thought i would never get a break. But i started putting him to bed the same time everynight he didnt like that. But after many nights of crying his self to sleep he eventually got used to the idea that when it was bedtime he might as well go to sleep. Because he didnt have much choice. But it was a little easier since he still sleeps in a crib. I think the best thing you can do is make a shorter night time routine. And get her used to going to bed whether she wants to or not. Hang in there.

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I have three girls in school. Two in elementary and one in highschool. The two in elementary, I call "Medium Fries". While in elementary, they follow a pretty tight schedule: By 6pm no tv or anything electrical (ex: radio, computer), we have dinner together as a family EVERY night (if there is music, its slow love songs, classical, or jazz at a VERY low volume, but any other noise besides our own voices is very rare), showers at 7pm, story times until 8pm, then its lights out.

my girls are in bed by 8pm. My youngest of the medium fries have been on her sisters' routine since she was 2. We've had no problem with this.

The way you break them down slowly practically bores them to sleep. They can't wait to sleep! LOL! Cute pajamas, cute bedding, their own special bears from BuildABear, hugs & kisses, telling them how much I love them and want them to get great sleep so they can have the best energy in the morning, and getting tucked in to bed help, too. hope that helps... good luck to you!

1 mom found this helpful

I can be guilty of the tv thing too but try to exchange it for "tickle time," then have her tell you a story to calm down, then teeth, book, light's out ... but then I still have to use melatonin for my child who has not slept on his own since birth and may be dependent upon it for life. Hope this helps ... Oh and one thing that WILL actually work, if Mom is calm kiddo is much calmer (tall order I know but that I do know works).

1 mom found this helpful

I agree with the other posters - her bedtime routine is starting much too late. And definitely cut out the TV right before bed. TV stimulates the brain which is not conducive to rest. Try a "no TV after dinner" rule and spend that time doing something relaxing with her - reading, bath, puzzles, whatever you both like. Keep lights low and noises to a minimum.

At age 3 my two girls were bathed, teeth brushed, stories read, lights out, and physically in bed by 7:30 every single night (weekends too), which means our bedtime routine started around 6:30! Routine and predictability are key. And she will take her cues from you, so try to stay calm and relaxed through it all. If you're keyed up and anxious, she will be too. Bed time is a happy time!

If you can help her get a handle on her sleep now, it will pay her dividends the rest of her life (and give you back your evenings now!). Best of luck to you and your precious girl!

1 mom found this helpful

Wow, I'm so sorry for what you're going through. That's tough. It seems though that she's running you ragged and getting away with it. She shouldn't be watching tv before bedtime (too stimulating) and her bedtime routine should start a lot earlier. You need to be in charge - not the other way around. How do you get in charge? Take a parenting class or check out Love and Logic via the internet. It's a very good, basic parenting philosophy regarding how to get a kid in control for your sake and theirs. Regarding my kids, they were always very good about going to sleep, until lately. My son started getting out of his crib and crying/screaming. When he didn't do this with the nanny I realized it was a control issue with me (this is what is happening with you). So, I had already bought crib tents but didn't zip his up because he asked me not to. But when he started crawling out at his naptime (and not doing that with the nanny) I finally lowered the boom - I zipped his tent. I've never had a problem since. When my kids don't cooperate with brushing the teeth we stop brushing. This gets their attention. You need to enforce consequences for undesirable behavior.

Rereading my Love and Logic and other parenting books helped me to stiffen my spine. You need to get stuff under control now, otherwise you're going to be in trouble later on. And by the way, Love and Logic does okay locking a door as long as the room is completely safe. I think this parenting approach could REALLY help you. I can't recommend it to you enough. Get the CDs and listen to them as you ride in the car. It'll change you and your daughter's life. Good luck. P.S. The excellent parenting workshop I took is called Developing Capable Young People. They, like Love and Logic offer books, CDs, and conduct workshops around the country. Just google it.

1 mom found this helpful

Yep, 3 seems to be a tough age for sleep. I going through it the second time now! It seems to be extra challenging because they are not quite ready (typically) to give up the nap, yet taking one seems to make bedtime later and more difficult.
You may be in a cycle of her being over-tired (this happens to us too, no matter how religiously we keep to routine DD just won't fall asleep until later than she needs). I think you already got the key advice (no tv in the evening, aim for earlier bedtime). The other thing that I have noticed is that this age seems to be the start of the worry about darkness and monsters phase. I've found that I've had to regress and stay in her room and/or leave a light on for her be able to settle down. Putting on soft music also helps to motivate her to stay in bed.
Hang in there....someday we will all get some sleep again!

1 mom found this helpful

Yes put a lock on the door.
Some people just don't sleep as much or the same as others.
Accept it.

Hello D.,
My heart goes out to you. That is a long journey to sleep each and every night. You are not alone - I have helped many clients in similar positions. I get Mamapedia to reach out to Moms like you to let you know that there is professional help and guidance out there if you would like it. We can build a strategy together based on your daughter's personnality and your parenting style that will work. You will be able to put sleep on the shelf and not worry about it again.
I look forward to hearing from you,
P.
www.sleepsense.net/kelowna
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