My 3 Year Old Is Awake for 2-3 Hours During the Night

Updated on July 21, 2011
E.F. asks from Austin, TX
25 answers

Hello all. My 3 1/2 year old son has been waking up in the middle of the night, talking to himself a little and then going back to sleep since he was about a year old. The time he spends talking to himself has been increasing as he gets older but in the past 4-6 months it has gotten out of hand with him either a) waking up between 2-4 am and talking, singing, laughing, etc for 2-3 hours OR b)waking up at 5am and not going back to sleep and finally calling for me at 7am when he's ready to get up. He goes to bed consistently between 8 and 8:30 at night but sometimes talks to himself for up to an hour before falling asleep.

We thought it was because of his nap in the afternoon, so we've cut it out as much as we can, but on mornings that he's up at 5am, he often asks/begs for a nap around 2:30 so we'll let him sleep an hour and then wake him up. At first, he slept a little better on nights following a no nap day, but lately it doesn't seem to matter.

I reached the end of my rope this weekend when he was up from 2-5:30am despite me going in and telling him to go back to sleep, going to the potty and offering to sleep in his big-boy bed with him (he still sleeps in his crib and refuses to give it up so I've chosen not to fight that right now) which he refused. I finally gave him Benedryl at 5 and he went back to sleep at 5:30 and woke at 9. All in all he is not getting enough sleep for a 3 year old and is often cranky and impatient like a child that needs more sleep. Lately, mommy needs more sleep too since I keep his monitor on low in my room but he still wakes me up.

I've ruled out sleep apnea because he doesn't snore unless he has a cold although he does breathe heavy sometimes. Has ANYONE ever experienced this??? Any help would be appreciated....

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answers from San Antonio on

Have you tried putting him to bed later? Some kids need less sleep than others. Try putting him to bed later and see if that helps.



answers from Austin on

Even if it's not sleep apnea, it could still be a sleeping disorder. I know it can affect young children and be very difficult on mom and child both, especially when they get older and in school. One friend I know, her daughter is always falling asleep in school because she can't sleep at night. There are medications and such, but I would definitely mention this to the pediatrician. And you don't want to discipline him for what could be a medical condition that he can't help. Rule out any medical reasons first, then if it is just a bad habit, deal with it then. Good luck.

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answers from Laredo on

Hello, my name is O. and I don't mean to scare you but I agree with Tessa. My daughter now 9 went through the same phase. She would get up in the middle of the night and have tea parties and talked, laughed, and sometimes cried. I would get up and tell her she needed to go to bed and if that didn't work I used the Benedryl too. I was so fed up with it that one day I decided to get up and listen to the conversation and I was amazed as to what I heard and sat down and cried for a long time. A few months before all this was happening I had given birth to a still born son and all along the angel that she had been laughing, crying, and conversating with was our angel her baby brother. My daughter at a very young age had been doing this but we did not think much of it since she was born with cerbral palsy. We started to listen to her when we could understand what she said and that scared us. She is now 9 and she still has this gift. She gave me a message that my baby had sent and closed this empty feeling that I had and stopped the guilt trip as well. I hope this helps you and don't be afraid your child has a gift. Let him talk and whom ever it is and ask him you will be amazed with what he will say! Best wishes!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I help run parenting courses through our church and the most frequent problem that the people who orriginated the parenting courses say, when there are problems with sleep, behaviour etc is that the child doesn't see his parents actively love each other.
Not that you don't love each other, but often times parents get the kids to bed and then they spend time together. What they say to do is to have "couch time" That is kiss the kids when he walks in the door and say a quick hi to them, then sit down on the couch for 15 minutes with you. Initially the kids will pull for attention if they are used to having dad come in and kiss you then play with them. But after a few days of dad and mom saying "no this is mommy and daddy time, sit and read a book" they are ok with it. Then just sit and talk for 15 minutes. With in a week the problem will resolve. A lot of the time kiddos don't actively see their parents together just talking and loving each other and it acts out in strange ways in other areas in their lives. Try it what have you got to loose?

Hope this helps.



answers from Odessa on

I think you may very well be dealing with something on the [paranormal] side. Dont let it freak you out though. I had an imaginary friend as a child, her name was mary. And we never had any demonic situations. My friend was an angel and i remember her clear as day. It is one thing to wake up for hours of the night, it is another thing to be talking to yourself or someone else. Have you ever just listened to what he says when he talks to himself? You do know that most paranormal activity happens at three a.m. Right? You may think i am crazy and thats alright, but i wont be a bit surprised if your son grows up and has psychic or medium abilitles. My mother does and has all her life. There really are people out there that see dead people. I could be way off, only god knows what is going on with your little fella. Seeing as how this has been going on for 2 1/2 years now and is increasing with his growing older, i think its paranormal. He is obviously happy during this time right? There is all kinds of research on the paranormal activity, you might want to at least look into it. I do not however think it is demonic. Trust me you would be able to tell, there are obvious signs to demonic activity. Have you lived in the same house since he was born by chance? If you have any questions feel free to hit me up on the topic.
T. from odessa



answers from Houston on

I actually don't have an answer for you but waned to tell you, your not alone. My son will be 3 in July and he has been waking up in the wee hours as well. He wakes up screaming and is so tired he doesn't even know what he wants or what is bothering him. He mentioned once he was scared.

I pray this is a phase!



answers from Houston on

I want to second the concern of the imaginary friend. Not to scare you or anything but this was happening to my sister's little girl and it also happened to my nieces' daddy's sister. They had the exact same experience with this 'imaginary friend.' my niece even had a name for him and when one of her uncles was looking online he found out there's a demon by the same name who forms a friendship with the child and asks to spend the night. Sure enough, all kinds of horrible things started happening in their home (started out as a loaf of bread flying through the air and progressed to some pretty awful stuff.) I also have found other such stories of demonic activity in the home following this imaginary friend coming to play.

I wouldn't do sleeping meds at this age...but you should know that the sleeping problems are common with children who have certain neurological issues like ADD/ADHD and autism/asperger syndrome/PDD. My children have sleep issues too.

He may have sensitivities to certain foods- try looking at his diet. Possible foods that can make sleep problems worse:
sugar, artificial sweetener, artificial colors/flavors, wheat/gluten, dairy, soy- I probably forgot something but that's a pretty good list.

Some children start sleeping though the night with good exercise and sensory activities during the day (swinging, jumping on trampolie, playing with squishy, slimy, soft, fluffy ect, pushing a wheel barrow full of canned goods and pulling a heavy box) and melatnoin at night. Melatonin is great but your body can grow accustomed to it so a 5 day on 2 day off schedule might be necessary. Weighted blankets can help too. you could try putting a heavy comforter on him, make something with beanbags on it, or buy something (just look on ebay or google for weighted blankets.)

My oldest always screamed herself to sleep from birth and didn't really nap at all, even as a newborn. When she was nearly 2 and I moved her sister into her room she stopped screaming herself to sleep but still didn't take naps. She will typically sleep on the floor instead of her bed and has a hard time going to sleep at night. She does sleep all night, though, about 10 hours! yeah!

My third child has taken only one nap a day since birth but has always gone to sleep OK otherwise. My fourth also has always only taken one nap- my second was the only 'normal' baby in regards to sleep- no other sleep all day newborns!

S., mom to four girls, some or all on the autism spectrum



answers from Longview on

Hi, E.! I haven't had that exact problem, but I would think cutting out his nap would help. What about limiting any sugar in the evening? Have you spoken to your doctor about it yet? Could be a sign of something more possibly that your doc should know about. I would think that maybe going into the room and going potty and giving attention to him could be keeping him up longer and maybe he has learned to expect you (and want you) to come into his room (possibly linked to baby bro jealousy maybe?) Just ideas..... I have 2 boys, too, ages 6 and 3 and it was rough when my 2nd was born. Not sure if this was any help, but good luck!
S. L.



answers from Austin on

E., I would investigate a bit further and figure out if he is talking to him self or if he is thinking he is talking to somebody. I had a friend who's child had and imaginary friend who he would play with all the time and talk to. He saw him we didn't.... Anyways, long story it got pretty scary since my girlfriend was bit into the paranormal stuff. She ended up telling he child he couldn't play w/ his friend anymore and he was not allowed in the house anymore. Her child told his imaginary friend he had to leave and couldn't come back. It worked. NOw her son was 6 years old which he had a bit better understanding of the situation. Not wanting to scare you but it may be something to consider.... Good luck....A.



answers from Victoria on

I am not a doctor, but my son; who is now 15 yrs old had the same problem. It started around 3 yrs old. He wouldn't fall asleep for hours and would be up around the same "middle of the night" for hours. I just dealt with it until he was around 4 1/2, and I found him OUTSIDE on the trampoline riding his bike on it! Another time I found him crawled on top of the refrigerator cutting up an orange, he said "I was hungry". It scared me. I also noticed that he was very irritable, cranky and impatient as your child. I took him to the doctor and he was diagnosed with ADHD. I know that a lot of children are diagnosed with this. But after experiencing that "overly energetic" child, along with not being able to sleep and being irritable, cranky and impatient. I know the medication they gave him has helped. He was so wired up his body wasn't able to rest. He takes Remeron to help him sleep and for his irritablity. Just a thought to go have him evaluated. It was great for me. I didn't want my son escaping out of the house in the middle of the night again to go play outside at 2am. Good luck!



answers from Houston on

My feeling is that your child is talking to his guardian angel, spirit guide, or deceased loved one, (perhaps a grandparent?)since he is talking happily and doesn't seem afraid or doing anything dangerous. Many young children have the ability to visit with the spiritual realm as long as they are not discouraged or told that is wrong or impossible. The hrs of 2-5am are the most common times for "visiting". Ask your son who he is talking to. All my children had "imaginary friends" and I did as well. I am a spiritual, prayerful person. This phenomenon is not to be confused with a night terror or bad dream. If it is disturbing to your sleep, ask him to talk/play quietly so he doesn't wake you. If your son is not well rested, tell him to tell his visitor that he needs more rest.

My spirit guide/guardian angel has helped me numerous times of trouble, sickness, danger that I couldn't have known to do what I did.

"Different" or "interesting" is not always "wrong".
Jesus said, "Be not afraid for I am with you always."



answers from San Antonio on

I had this problem with my daughter too. I had a few rough days but we took away her nap and put her to bed earlier (7 - 7:30 pm). It doesn't make a ton of sense but it worked. The house rule is when you're in bed, you stay in bed and you are expected to be quiet. I know she sometimes wakes up and plays quietly in her bed but she does not disturb anyone or make any noise. If we hear her, we go in and take away her toys and tell her it's time for sleep. We do have a consistent bedtime routine, which helps. I know it's tough at night to get it together and shooting for an earlier bedtime is rough, but it may help.

I also second the suggestion to try to keep him really active during the day so he wears himself out. Like I stated at the beginning, it's hard for a few days but that helped with us too. Good luck!



answers from San Antonio on

You might consider having your pediatrician rule out any sinus or allergy issues. I have to give my daughter a Benadryl tablet every night...or she will not stay asleep. She has seasonal allergies, and the Benadryl definitely helps her go to sleep...and stay asleep. However, since Benadryl has been reported to cause excitability in some children, you might want to discuss it with your pediatrician first. For my daughter, it has the effect of creating enough drowniness that she will go to sleep.

My daughter is school age now....but I can clearly remember her doing the same thing at that age. Once when she was 3, I laid down with her (we had just moved her to her "big girl" day bed) and she continued to play, jump up and down, sing and everything imaginable from 10pm to midnight. I finally found some instrumental music....very soothing...that I would play on a CD player that would help lull her to sleep. Have you ever tried some very soothing classical or instrumental music? I know many times....I would lay down with her and end up falling asleep myself listening to the music!

I see that you have a nanny, but perhaps at 3 1/2 it might be time to look into a Kid's Day Out program, a nursery or preschool, or something where he has to wake up each morning, go to school at a set time, come home at a set other words, have a definite schedule. I know it helps my daughter when she has a set schedule. The structure seems to help...ok, now it's time to get up...time to go to school...time to eat lunch...time to come home...time to eat dinner...time to go to bed, etc. I just know I made the mistake of not getting my daughter on a set schedule early on. Since I elected to stop working and stay home, I would let her stay up late at night, thinking that would help her sleep longer in the mornings (because I like quiet mornings, to be up by myself for a while first). However, once she became a toddler, and was moved to her own bed...she was up at the crack of dawn! I had to go buy darker curtains for her room, just to get her to stay in bed!

Well, I've probably rambled on too to sum it up...

1) check for any allergy/sinus issues
2) try soothing night time music, played at a low level
3) consider enrolling in a kid's day out or preschool, so that he can experience the "structure" of a set schedule.

Just my are MOM and you know your child best!

Good luck!



answers from Austin on

My almost 4 year old has had this issue on and off as well. I have found that for her it's because her sleep is so sensitive. By this I mean that she must get a certain amount everyday (currently 11-11/12 hours in a 24 hr period) or else she becomes overtired and wakes up. She dropped her nap around 3 1/2 and it made it very challenging since she would be very tired by late afternoon, but nothing messes up her going to bed more than a late nap. Anyway, in a weird way, putting her to bed earlier seems to help her sleep through the night. She typically goes to bed at 7 and is asleep by 7:30. Otherwise, her rule is not to turn on her light or get up. There is no monitor in her room so if she does have a night time adventure, it's barely disruptive. As horrible as the night waking is, try to remember it will somehow resolve itself (kinda like potty training).



answers from El Paso on

Hi. My name is J. Ferguson. I have experienced lots of things with my boys; especially my baby, who is now 8. He gets night terrors, visions and dreams of demons sometimes. I sit with him, rock him, pray with him, and sing to him. It helps. My 10-year old used to wake up during the night and not know what he wanted, but would keep me awake anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. finally, my husband told me to start giving him a bowl of cereal and let him play for a minute and it would make him sleep better. I thought he was full of it until I tried it. Evidently, his mom had to do that with him. I also agree with Dawn about the soft music. My boys love music that is Jesus-related. It comforts them.



answers from Houston on

Hello E.,

My name is D. and I am also married (10 years), 34 years old and have four children (3 boys ages 7,4,&3 and a little girl age 2yrs).

My first question is how often do you pray? There are several questions I would like to ask before I can give you any suggestions. It's only because I've experienced the same thing's with my children.

My next few questions are these: What is your sons day like? What activities is he involved in? And what is your nightly routine with him before bedtime?

If you could answer these questions for me I can see where or may suggest a solution(s).



answers from San Antonio on

My 3 1/2 yo son is/was the same way, always has been since he was little, his phychitrist (know i spelled that wrong sorry), put him on sleeping meds though when he was 2 because he wouldnt sleep at all and he is adhd, he did great until lately he goes to sleep around 9-930 and is up around 1am till whatever time it is he goes to sleep again if he does, like right now it is 230am and he has been up since 1215am, i am tired and cant take much more i also have a 18 1/2 month old boy. Thankfully he sees his dr next mon, although i dont think it will help much he is already on a high dosage. Sorry, i dont know what to say except if my son is still awake and i cant stay awake any longer, i turn on cartoons in his room and tell him he may not leave his room unless he is going to go potty or come to mommys room, and he listens, he just has problems sleeping, hopefully i can get this fixed before he starts school in aug. I wish you luck, its hard i know how you feel, if you find anything that works let me know please.



answers from Austin on

Hi E., my 3.5 year old has the same issue. he started around his 3rd birthday. it seemed to have started as a power struggle and then turned into a cronic sleep deprivation issue. he had a lot of illnesses this winter (walking pnemonia, flu, allergies . . .) which made it worse. I tried the positive reinforcement with stickers and small gifts for good nights but it didn't work. so i turned to setting strict night time RULES which are reinforced every night. if they are not followed, then a privilage gets taken away, for example, his favorate TV show (wordworld, backyardigans) or favorate toy (drum sticks). so far it is working.
by the way, we have had soothing music, white noise, consistant bed time routines. . . since he was born so that wasn't the issue. we tried taking away his nap but htat made it worse. so now he still naps most of the time but he does need less sleep time at night. we are happy if he sleeps 9pm to 6:00pm (with 2 hour nap).
by the way, if it makes you feel any better, i have talked with tons of mom's with 3 year olds who temporarily develope sleep issues (early wake ups, trouble falling asleep, middle of the night visits. . .). for some reason it just seems to be a developmental time for sleep issues and hopefully it will eventually pass.
hope that helps. B.



answers from Houston on

Hello E.. Have you tried cutting down sweets. It can be juice or candy. Maybe it makes him restless. Also, it can be that the matress from the crib is not comfortable for his body now. I have 2 daughters, 5 & 3 1/2, and as soon as I put in the twin sized bed, instead of their toddler bed, you can just tell that they are getting better sleep. I also put them to sleep at 8:30 and they wake up until past 8:00 am, unless my 5 yr. needs to go to school. They don't take naps everyday, but if they do, I try to have them take before 3 pm, and like you no longer than a 1 hr nap. He may be upset at first if you remove the crib, but its better for him in the long run. Good luck...hope you get more sleep too.



answers from Houston on

Although I'm a grandma in my fifties I thought it could help to mention that I've experienced this myself. At times it's been caffeine (which I rarely have) too late in the day. If that's not the case with him I'm wondering if he's getting too much brain stimulation before bed time. I went through a period of time in which I would go to bed and be wide awake but very content so I knew it wasn't depression or insomnia. It took something that came on an email that told me I was getting too much computer time before bed time. I was spending hours staring at a light and my brain couldn't shut off and rest for a good while afterwards.

Another thing, if I stay up late one night my body is used to staying up that late the next and won't relax until the same time. It's the same with waking, if I wake up early for a particular reason one day, then the next day my body wakes me up at the same time. So this can easily become a habit. It's best to dim lights before bedtime, then have complete darkness if possible. Check out what they say about not having all these clock, computer and other lights on in our bedrooms at night. I read something about it being particularly bad for males. Other things that help one rest are a warm bath, lavender, comfortable clothing, a regular routine, exercise that's not too close to bedtime, certain foods and something else which I used on my children throughout their growing up years. Every night I would spend a few minutes with my children going over their day, speaking about how it was when they woke up, what they did, what they felt, the good things, things they may need to apologize or be grateful for. This is a good practice for anyone which helps to let go of their day and rest. My 2 yr old granddaughter was worried one night that she had gotten her new shoes dirty! Who would have thought, but she was able to let it go as we went over her day. The same soothing music every day really worked at the pre-school I worked at! I hope something here helps you.

Just one more thought since he's so content and I don't know where you are on this matter, but maybe he's having time with the Lord who really loves him and you. May God bless you with wisdom and peace in this situation. :-)



answers from Houston on

first for the baby bed. You can use the " we need to give it to a baby so they can sleep in it" excuse and have him put together a little basket made up of a couple of toys he wants another baby to have. Have him help you put it in the car and take the baby bed and drop it off to the slavation army or to another house where there is a baby so he can see that there is a baby that needs his old bed. That helped with my son that didnt want to get rid of his bed and his pasifiers. He didnt even throw a fit about going to bed in his big boy bed because he knew that his baby bed was being used for another baby.

Next try having him go to sleep in his room with no night light. If this is hard crack the door so some light will get in the room to make it easier for him to get to sleep. you might even try to move his bed to the other side of the room. My daughter use to want up and start playing in her room at all hours of the night and we couldnt figure out why until we moved her bed, my guess is she was getting to hot or to cold because after we moved her bed we didnt have any more wake up calls at night.

you can also try planing high level activities such as the park, playing follow mommy with jumping, turning, running in place, etc, to help with him getting all his energy out then the nightly stuff to wind him down like reading a book or telling him a story about how little boys sleep all night so they can feel good in the morning.

as for talking in their sleep no suggestions my kids have been talking in their sleep for as long as I can remember.

I hope this helps you in some ways. good luck



answers from Dallas on

Do not provide your son any stimulants prior to bed time ie sugary products or television/movies. Give him a bath/read to him and lights out. Turn his bedroom door knob inside out. As long as he's safe, things will be okay. Not to alert you but have you had him tested for ADD/ADHD? If he knows how to punch your buttons now, it will only get worse as he gets older. No means no and that's it.



answers from Odessa on

hi. my little boy is 2 1/2. he has been doing the same thing since 9months old. his dr. gave him sleeping med. a couple of months ago. it did not help at all. we took him to a childrens phsologist today and he said he just has a sleeping disorder and to give him benadryl. that was not the ansewer i was looking for. i don't know what to do. he keeps his brother,my husband and myself awake all hours of the night. . have you had any new findings. i don't know what to do. i wanna help him. i know he doesn't do it just for the fun of it. i think something wrong. my email address. is [email protected] i'm also on fb. i feel the same way.



answers from Houston on

I also have trouble keeping my three year old in bed all night. He doesn't wake up every night though.

I have found that he sleeps better at night when he naps during the day. (Maybe because otherwise he is wound too tightly by the time bedtime rolls around). Also letting him listen to soft music in his room helped. I think it helps screen out background noise and makes being alone in his room less scary if he has a bad dream.

What has worked best for us is a reward chart. He gets a sticker every time he follows his bedtime routine and stays in bed all night. At the end of each row of stickers he gets to play whatever game he wants with mommy and if we finish the whole chart he is getting a big prize that he picked out. He's allowed to leave his room as soon as it is light outside (or sooner if he wants to go potty, but he doesn't get a sticker).

Some nights are better than others, but setting a clear bedtime routine (pj's, potty, brush teeth, story) and a reward chart have definitely helped.



answers from Las Cruces on

Hi E.-

Have you talked to your doctor about this, it could be several reasons that this is happening, 1) it could be a developed habit and now his body thinks that it is normal to wake up at night. 2)It is common to associate sleep disorders to ADD-usually children have a hard time falling asleep. 3)it could still be sleep apnea-just because a child does not snore does not mean they don't have sleep apnea-my son was one of the rare percent that had this problem. He never snored-he would just wake up-just lay in bed for a few minutes and then he would start talking and singing loudly, the doctors said that many children do this as a self soothing technique-the older they get the harder it is for them to fall asleep- the doctor believes that they are scared that it will happen again and so they fight it the only way they know how. After we diagnosed that he was suffering from apnea the doctor had to work on teaching him proper sleep habits- he put my son on an oxygen tank for a little over a month and then they also gave him a mild sleeping pill to help him sleep all night and to teach his body to sleep. It took about 3 months all together but I assure you I get a full night sleep every night and my son is now 4 years old no more oxygen tank or sleeping pills. So definitely take him to the doctor and have his sleeping patterns monitored!

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