Sleep Problems in a Preschooler

Updated on January 30, 2007
H.M. asks from Aylett, VA
10 answers

My daughter is 3 1/2 and NEVER sleeps through the night. She was a great sleeper from 6 months until about 18 months, but starting at that point she began fighting us about bedtimes and then waking constantly throughout the night. When we put her to bed she screams and whines for hours, getting out of her bed and standing at her door asking us to come and cover her up again, read her another book, get her a drink, find her security blanket (lost in her bedcovers), etc. We almost always end up giving in to her screaming and whining after a while and do whatever she wants because we have a 1-year-old son in the bedroom next door that she will wake up with her noise if we ignore her. Additionally, once she finally goes to sleep, she usually wakes up AT LEAST 3 or 4 times a night whining or screaming with bad dreams or the same gamut of requests that we deal with when she's going to bed. We've talked to several pediatricians and tried everything they have suggested--later or earlier bedtimes, Benadryl (which doesn't help with going to bed and only makes nights worse because she sleeps so deeply she has more bad dreams and wakes more often), night lights, offering to fulfill only one request after bed....the list goes on and on. My husband and I are completely exhausted and frustrated beyond words. Any advice??? PLEASE????

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answers from Myrtle Beach on

I have the same problem with my five year old son and a friend of mine has recently educated me on the effects of ADHD and the disruption of sleep. It seems that it causes "sleep anxiety" because their mind just cannot stop and wakes them. Look into the possibility, even if there are no other symtoms.

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answers from Myrtle Beach on

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is a wonderful book and addresses sleep issues in children of all ages. I have used it, my friend has as well and we highly recommend it to everyone with sleep issues! Good luck and I hope things get better soon!



answers from Norfolk on

You didn't mention your daughter taking naps during the day. If she does, limit naps to one in the afternoon, no longer than an hour. Be consistent with her bedtime each night and wake her up in the morning, don't let her sleep late. Try giving her a warm bath before bedtime. Give her a night light, maybe if she can see a little she'll find her security blanket on her own.



answers from Norfolk on


I like the response from Rhonda. She could have sleep apnea which has been causing her to wake up. Maybe the startle response to not breathing is scaring her.

I was also thinking that she may be too hot. My 3 year old daughter used to sleep on a matress cover that had a plastic lining. Every time I checked her on her she would be very sweaty, so I found a Simmons waterproof mattress cover that has a waterproof fabric lining. She seems a lot cooler, so though the mattress cover was expensive, she seems more comfortable.

I know that when I get too hot while sleeping I have terrible nightmares. If I'm really hot I wake up during REM sleep, when my body is paralyzed. Talk about the most frightening experience! You can't even scream! So if you haven't already done so, try taking off a couple of blankets and take your daughter out of the footed sleeper. Maybe she doesn't like the feel of pajamas on her legs; try shory pajamas or a nightgown. (I refused to sleep in pajamas as a baby).

I keep a fan running in my daughter's room as white noice and ventilation. If jets fly over your house, the white noise really masks the jet noise.

I was a terrible sleeper as a preschooler, and I still have trouble sleeping by myself. I had night terrors as a child because I was too tired when I went to bed. I was also petrified of ghosts because we lived in an old house and my siblings loved to play up that fear.

I was determined that my daughter would be a good sleeper, and knock on wood, she is. I use black-out curtains and white noise, so my daughter sleeps in a re-created womb. She complains if the room is too bright when she needs to go to sleep She still has her moments, like when she loses her lovey in the covers or she is coughing too much with a cold. But once I find her lovey or get her a drink of water, she goes right back to sleep.

As to monsters and ghosts, you could tell you daughter monsters only live on Sesame Street, or spray scented water to chase them away. Or you could say that your house is too new to have ghosts or monsters, or that you paid too much money for it to have such manifestations. You could even try hanging a Dream Catcher over her bed. I've heard that works.

I hope something helps.



answers from Charleston on

How much time do you spend with your husband? Sometimes a child will fight bedtime and/or wake up at night because they want to see mommy and daddy together and oftentimes that is the only time they see mommy and daddy together. It's a security issue: mommy and daddy are their whole world and they want to make sure all is well in that world...try spending 5-10 minutes with your husband each night before she goes to bed...don't let her interrupt you...and she will try...this is mommy and daddy time. It sounds backwards, because you feel you should be reassuring her by spending time with her, but you are really reassuring her by spending time with each other...letting her know that her parents' relationship is strong...this was suggested to me after we moved to our new home and our 2 year old started waking up in the middle of the husband was working long hours and we hardly ever saw him...we had the same fear because she shares a room with her little sister...but after a couple nights of our "couch time" she started sleeping right through. She has only woken up once since then (and that was because she was sick)...Good Luck!



answers from Charlotte on

My son had problems sleeping until I stopped putting him down for naps altogether. Now he sleeps about 10 hours at night. He just doesn't need more sleep and does great without it (he's also 3 1/2).

However, he doesn't have a problem with bad dreams. If your family has been experiencing transitions or other difficulties could it be affecting her dreams? She sounds scared about waking up alone. If you are desperate, a child counselor may be able to help. I know they help children as young as 3. I'm a professional counselor, but I don't have experience working with children. I think it's worth at least a one-time consultation to see if there is anything you can do since they are educated on the general development issues of children. Insurance should cover it if you see an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor).


answers from Charlottesville on

I know my parents went through that when I was a child and it didnt end until I was very old. I would literally see ghosts. But I couldnt tell my parents this because I did not know what I was seeing. Also I would sit and think about horrible things I had heard or seen (despite not being allowed to see or hear bad things, it happens) and I would get so scared. My parents had all three of us kids in one room for awhile to see if that helped (of course it did not since they would fall asleep and I would feel alone again).
So no advice..just maybe she has that "sixth" sense so to speak or just a vivid imagination that causes her to dream about bad things.
I hope things get better for yall!



answers from Greensboro on

my daughter did not sleep through the night at all until she was 3+ years old, but even today, she wakes up through the night with bad dreams, or crying with no reason at least a couple of times a week... i finally started sneaking into her room at night to see if i could figure out any kind of problem, since she's 5 years old now and it's only a little better. she's always been prone to snoring, but only 2 weeks ago did i realize how difficult her breathing had become at night. she would toss and turn, choking and gasping for air as i watched. turns out, she has sleep apnea, and has surgery scheduled next week for adenoid and tonsil removal. maybe this is part of the problem for you. good luck!!



answers from Jacksonville on

My 3 year old hardly ever sleeps through the night either.It was pretty bad until I finally put my foot down. I will put him in bed and read him one story. and then I kiss him goodnight and leave the room. I don't go back to him if he doesn't NEED something, if he's just delaying the inevitable. When he would wake up at night, he would come to our bed, which was rough. So I started to put a gate across his door at night. When he woke up we told him he had to keep the light off, but if he wanted he could get up and get one toy and play quietly in his bed so long as he didn't wakeup anyone else. If we heard him then we would have to tell him he could play no more and had to go back to sleep. He did wake up and play a few more times, but he realized that he was exhausted in the mornings when he did this, so now when he wakes up he just lies there until he goes back to sleep. You may have to sacrifice a few night of sleep for your baby, but in the long run it mught be worth it to just let your 3 year old cry until she realizes that no one is going to coem to her. Good Luck to you.



answers from Asheville on

My children like to fight about bed also they are older but I put on music they like and Sometimes I will give my daughter Melitonin. It is a natural seratonin booster to help her get calm and go to sleep. But you should ask the doctor if that is ok and what dosage to give. sometimes I will make a deal with them and I will let them sleep in the living room on the weekend if they are good with going to bed during the week. I hope something helps that I could suggest. If not I hope she works it out soon for you. Good luck! Let me know if there is anything else I can do.
Peace, love, and happiness,

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