I've got a preschooler that plainly refuses to sleep most evenings. He gets up around 07:15, in time for kindergarten, does not nap during the day, and is visibly tired by the evening. His usual bedtime is around 19:30 and we've had a solid bedtime routine since forever that nearly always works.

Lately he refuses to go to sleep, even if we manage to talk him into bed. (Actually he had the same problem 2 years ago.) When this occasionally happened in the past, he was allowed to sit quietly on the livingroom sofa with his books, and after a fairly short while he would feel ready for bed. This usual approach doesn't work any more and things get irritable very quickly as he prevents us from doing our boring grown-up tasks that can't get done while the kids are up. If he gets his way, he'll still be up past 22:00 but that means lack of sleep and a tough next day for all of us.

He's not playing us parents against each other, either; we make sure to align our parenting. Explaining, arguing, or enforcing consequences doesn't work either because he simply doesn't care if we take away his toys or his privileges; he's only ever cares about "right now". Last night was particularly tough: My wife couldn't spend another evening that way and took him for a short drive in the car because that makes him fall asleep, and then carried him to bed. He then awoke and got up again, refusing to sleep. That's a first.

It's not just in the evenings, though. Our last vacation trip was typical: 4-hour car drive, our toddler fell asleep, but he practically forced himself to stay awake despite our best efforts. He finally fell asleep minutes before we arrived home.

It seems to me that he deliberately avoids sleeping under any circumstances, and I'm looking for options on how to handle that. We're demonstrating to him how boring it is to stay awake -- we don't do stuff that would make him feel like he's missing out on anything.

We haven't ever physically locked him into his room, and I don't believe that's a workable solution. I'd appreciate other suggestions as well as ideas about causes we haven't thought of yet. This is really taxing for us and we're running out of ideas, patience, arguments, and mental energy.

Update: some answers to comments:

  • He's 4½ years old.
  • An earlier bedtime is unthinkable, but we can try a later time, perhaps 20:00-20:30 tops.
  • We don't have a TV, and he sometimes requests 20 minutes of Barbapapa (5-min cartoons) on mom's laptop, or this cute good-night film (7-min Pixar) on dad's pc.
  • Dinner is typically around 18:00, so not right before bedtime. That's also pretty much the last drink. The bedtime routine includes a bathroom break, and he can (and does) go by himself in the night if he needs to.
  • His bed is cozy, in a corner of his room, with a dim (0.8W LED) night light and a canopy. He also has a Gro clock that we activated when he was younger, but these days we rarely use it so it's just another night light. Windows are shuttered at night, especially in the summer.
  • We're reasonably quiet; we don't watch action movies at full blast downstairs and expect him to fall asleep upstairs :-) but once he's deep asleep, almost nothing can wake him.
  • It's extremely rare that he has nightmares, less than 5 x per year. No phobias or common fears.
  • No noteworthy or chronic medical issues.
  • Okay, let's get the obvious ones out of the way. You've tried an earlier bedtime? No TV within an hour or two of bedtime? No food right before bed, and a potty break before bed as well? And how old is he? (Three was VERY different than 5 for our kindergartner with respect to sleep, and six is going to be vastly different than 5 if the last month is any indication.)
    – Valkyrie
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 16:24
  • Good questions @Valkyrie! Let me add to my post above. Commented May 12, 2014 at 17:49

5 Answers 5


Not Tired

It may be that he is simply not tired. A later bed time might help.

19:30 seems very early to me, especially given he sleeps past 7. (our toddler, a little younger, sleeps much less even if still takes naps during the day).

Trying to grab control

Our kid is very strong willed, and we have found a lot less bed time drama if he gets some decision power. Do you want to have your story before or after teeth brushing? which Pajama do you want to wear? It means the routine is not always routine, but he really is much more pleasant when he doesn't feel out of control.

We also actually let him choose where to sleep, his own bed, our bed (YMMW on whether you want to allow this) or the floor (yes, he wants to sleep on the floor, and will sleep on the floor...). He does not always choose the same place. Just as long as it is behind a closed door in a 'sleeping place'. If you have guest bed, maybe that would work for you?

Stays up to 'take part in fun stuff'

Sometimes it may not be an issue that he doesn't quiet down until he is in his bed/sleeping space. We also allow out kid to take a toy to bed sometimes, if he is particular contrary. He just has to STAY in his room quietly. I would advice against electronics in bed - tried that once, when adults were very, very busy. Not a success.

This might not help him fall asleep, but may help you to get the adult time you need. It may also help reinforce that even if he can't sleep, by bedtime he needs to be in room.

  • we are having the same issue with our daughter, and I think you maybe onto something with the 'Stays up to 'take part in fun stuff'' idea...Going to try and all go to bed at the same time tonight, so there is nothing fun to do outside her bedroom or no one awake to talk to, and i hope this may make her realize its time to sleep. We can then continue on with our night once she's asleep, this may help the OP.
    – MikeDub
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 6:13

Okay, at 4.5, he's old enough to try to verbalize what's going on in his head, but maybe not quite verbal enough to initiate such a deep discussion. Maybe try 20 questions with him, to see why HE thinks he's avoiding sleep.

Is he having nightmares and doesn't know how to deal with them? (If so, maybe try teaching him lucid dreaming; our kindergartner went through something similar, and we practiced imagining a door that is behind you: you turn around, open it, and you're at Pawpaw's and in a different dream! Or you're a lioness, and you roar so loudly the bad dream runs away in fright.)

Is he indeed afraid he's going to miss out on something? (Only thing I can think of is to talk it through, or maybe let him stay up a night or two to see how frightfully dull it really is.)

Is it his bed? Maybe he's afraid of falling out, or it has an uncomfortable spot, or he has a bad association with it (an accident, getting sick, something like that). Speaking as a former and recovering emetophobe, I had VERY strong negative associations with clothing I wore when I got sick, the place I was at when I got sick, etc., and would avoid them like the plague. Not that he's necessarily an emetophobe, but strong negative associations come packaged with all sorts of fears. If that's it, maybe rearranging his room or changing out the comforter or sheets or pillow for a new one could help.

Maybe it's something hurting him, that the pediatrician should check out. (I'm thinking that's rather unlikely, but again, at 4.5 they're quite verbal but sometimes not enough to introduce this stuff themselves.)

Another thought: does he have a visual cue in his room indicating that it's time to sleep and time to get up, like a day/night kids' clock (usually aimed towards pre-verbal children and children who cannot yet tell time)? Maybe having something like that, that gives him assurance that it'll be time to get up VERY SOON, will help? Maybe he fights sleep in the car because he knows that'll lead to being at home, and then in the same 'whatever is in his head' environment that he doesn't want to sleep in.

If I come up with any more 'maybe's, I'll edit this post. Trying to put myself in a kids' head always takes me into the most unusual and distracting places. :)

  • Thoughtful, thank you. I think there are several ideas we can try out! As for day/night, we emphasize every evening when it gets dark, and he still has a Gro Clock that we used a lot when he was younger, now it's basically his night light. Rearranging his bed is also an idea, but we'll "interview" him and see if we discover anything. Commented May 12, 2014 at 20:27

We recently moved and originally had a twin bed sticking out into the room, perpendicular to the wall. Hard to get our 5 year old to sleep. We turned the bed parallel to the wall, tucked into the corner, and that helped immensely. Apparently the open sides of the bed led to an unsettled feeling while the bed in the corner is a secure comfortable feeling. Maybe try that.


He may be not tired enough. You can add more or more intense physical activities to his day. Just make sure it's not directly before sleep time ;)


Different children need a different amount of sleep, and this level do change over time. It may be that 11 1/2 hours of sleep is simply more than he needs now.

Web MD reports that kids in that range typically need 10 to 12 hours of sleep - but that's "typical" and your child may need more or less.

Personally, my 18-month-old only sleeps about 11 hours a day, ten at night plus a nap, and my almost-four-year-old is about the same, minus the nap. Boring grownup tasks are a challenge!

  • @TorbanGundtofte-Bruun: Thanks for the edit, as far as I've seen one cannot add real links using the mobile site. If I'm wrong, please let me know!
    – user3034
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 15:06
  • I believe you can add links on the mobile site by manually using the syntax of [display text](URL).
    – user420
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 16:34

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