7 Reasons Your Preschooler Won’t Go to Bed

7 Reasons Your Preschooler Won’t Go to Bed

Usually, I talk about helping babies and toddlers sleep.

But then I got this this message: “What do I do if my preschooler won’t go to bed?” It was signed, “Embarrassed Mom.” (And yes, that tugged at my heart strings a little.)

Actually, I’ve had several clients who came to me because they had tried to get their toddlers to sleep, then just gave up when their youngster had severe temper tantrums. Some parents even expressed worries about failing pre-K work and signs of anxiety in their preschooler.

So this wasn’t entirely new ground for me.

Here’s the gist of what I told this worried mom:

Yes, all the books and sites will say a baby should sleep through the night by two months. But I’ll also tell you what these sites won’t say: a surprising amount of preschoolers struggle with sleep In fact, there are thousands of families dealing with this concern.

That’s why I decided to go beyond my usual wheelhouse to talk about young children rather than babies.

Here’s why bad sleep happens to preschoolers, the dangers of not getting enough sleep, and 7 things you can do.

In This Article:

  • Why Your Child Needs Adequate Sleep
  • Preschooler Won’t Go to Bed: 7 Scenarios
  • Out of Ideas? Contact Me!

Why Your Child Needs Adequate Sleep

I’ve been there as a parent, worrying about my daughter’s wellbeing. So please know that my goal is not to worry you.

But it’s important to know that lack of adequate sleep can lead to problems for your child. (And you. You need your rest, too.)

What the Experts Have to Say

According to the CDC, 41% of children who don’t sleep through the night, or who don’t get enough hours of sleep, can go on to develop chronic sleep disorders.

The CDC says children who have this ongoing issue can go on to develop anxiety, depression, or may have cognition and attention issues.

And let’s be real. The tension this situation causes in the family isn’t much fun. Over time, your child’s inability to sleep healthfully can make you all cranky and concerned.

Preschooler Won’t Go to Bed: 7 Scenarios

Here are 7 reasons your older child or your toddler may not be getting a full night’s sleep:

#1 Bedtime is Inconsistent

Your little one may have talked her way into staying up later a time or two. Or maybe you’re tired of the struggle, and you let her sleep where and when she drops. (NO judgement, nighttime crying is awful!)

Infants and children sleep better when they have a consistent routine. Try starting with the 3 B’s: bath, book, bed. Remember: consistency is key.

#2 Your Child is Afraid of Being Alone

This can happen for a number of reasons, but the main two are:

  • Your little one has never had to sleep without you holding her or being in the same room you are
  • Your child had a scare at some point
  • Your child has a naturally anxious temperament

Your child is a bit older and can understand explanations more completely than when she was an infant. So sleep training can involve more of an explanation. Just don’t make a habit of answering the same questions over and over, or it may become a subconscious tool for her to get to stay up.

If your child has had a scare she never overcame, or if she wakes up screaming from nightmares, my suggestion is to see your child’s pediatrician for advice.

#3 Your Child is Afraid of the Dark

Preschoolers can develop a fear of the dark even if they’ve been comfortable with it before.

At this stage, your child is thinking in different ways, including imaging all sorts of “monsters” in her little world.

A dim nightlight with your child’s favorite character, or leaving the door slightly ajar, can help.

#4 Something in Your Child’s Life Has Changed

Children handle household changes in different ways. However, just like you, some changes can disrupt your child’s sleep.

A house move, a new daycare or babysitter, divorce/separation, a new baby, or the death of a family member can all impact your child.

Your best bet is to keep your child’s bedtime routine, but be sure to show your child plenty of love in the meantime. You’re one thing in her life that won’t change.

#5 They Think All the “Fun” is Happening Without Them

I’ll bet you remember this yourself: a party is happening downstairs, but it’s time for little ones to sleep. Or an exciting movie is playing after the child is put to bed.

Keep things as boring as possible after your child’s bedtime. Keep the TV or streaming on low volume and answer your child in a sleepy, unstimulating voice if she calls out for you. She’ll see she’s not missing out on all that much.

#6 Staying Up Has Become a Habit

At a certain point, your child might not be responding to a crisis at all. Instead, staying up late or getting out of bed repeatedly may have become a habit.

In this case, tell your child you’re all going to make new sleeping habits. Tell her Mommy and Daddy are going to bed soon, but first, she can have her bath, book and bed. She will resist at first, but eventually, these changes will become routine.

#7: Your Child is Overtired

Believe it or not, there’s science-backed truth to this popular saying. In order for a child (or an adult!) to stay up well past tiredness, the body chemistry needs to alter. This can result in what is called broken sleep, which is not restful enough for your baby.

This phenomenon can also mean your body’s “stay awake!” physiology runs in overdrive, making it harder for them to sleep. Ask your child’s pediatrician what to do.

Out of Ideas? Contact me!

I’ve worked with thousands of families for better sleep and better health. If your preschooler won’t go to bed, the issue can impact the entire family. I can help you to encourage your child back on the right track to a good night’s rest, every night.


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