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My 4 year old daughter is not going to bed at a decent time. We have a routine in place: dinner at 6, story time at 7, bath time at 7:30. 8 is quiet down time and 8:30 is bedtime.

The problem: she won't go to sleep until 2 in the morning. She goes to school during the week and gets up every day at 6 am, and has plenty of energy all day. At school they had nap time for 2 hours and I had them stop letting her take a nap.

It's going on 6 months now, she just turned 4 two months ago. I'm at my wits end. I talked to our family doctor and he gave her allergy meds and said with this it should help her fall asleep. But it wakes her up even more. I stopped giving it to her because she wont go to sleep until 5 am then get up at 6.

She's not getting enough sleep, I'm not getting enough sleep, and I'm totally drained. What can I do? Please help!

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    If you've been giving her diphenhydramine (Benadryl), it can and often does cause a paradoxical effect in young children. – anongoodnurse Apr 25 '15 at 21:00
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    Just a small comment from my own childhood (age 6-8 I think): Whilst my classmates went to bed around 8 or 9 I was already staying up till 11 or 12 and getting up at 6-7. Realistically the amount of sleep people (be they adults or children) need is simply different. Now, I was older than your daughter and thus I was able to enjoy myself perfectly (addicted to books already then), so I didn't cause any problems for my parents... so I will leave it to the real experts to give proper answers, but I thought it would be fair to note that it needs not be as bad as it sounds~ – David Mulder Apr 25 '15 at 21:41
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    "She's not getting enough sleep." Do you mean that she's showing symptoms of sleep deprivation or just that she's not sleeping for the normal number of hours per day? If the latter, bear in mind that "normal" doesn't mean "obligatory" and some people need less sleep than others. – David Richerby Apr 26 '15 at 9:37
  • Check her thyroid. Try a small dose of melatonin 20 minutes before you think she can realistically fall asleep. Move the melatonin time a little earlier gradually to see how long you can stretch out her night. Use ambient noise such as white noise, and don't let any daylight come through her window. Give her books on tape that she can play for herself during periods of wakefulness. You may be able to find someone willing to prescribe a microdose of valium drops. If not a pediatrician, then perhaps a child psychiatrist. – aparente001 Apr 28 '15 at 7:17
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When you say "She's not getting enough sleep", what do you mean by that? Is your meaning limited to "She's not getting the recommended/customary about of sleep", or is there any impact on her personality or behavior since this started?

Have you talked to her to ask her if there's some reason she doesn't want to sleep? Can she explain what's going on in her head when she's lying in bed awake? She's not a neurologist but kids can be surprisingly good at coming up with metaphors for how they're feeling.

When she's awake, if you try to leave her alone, is she constantly bothering you, or will she sit in her room quietly and read / draw / play with stuffed animals or something else? How does she feel about being awake -- is she happy, frustrated, desperate?

When I was that age I would intermittently be awake until 2am, 3am or later. I described it to my parents as my brain running and running and not wanting to calm down. They suggested several mental relaxation exercises -- those relaxed me but didn't help me sleep. Eventually we found out it was a food sensitivity -- certain foods prevent my brain from damping down its own excitement (the daytime symptom was hyperactivity). Adjusting my diet solved both the hyperactivity and the insomnia.

Standard disclaimer: Your daughter is different than me; her problem is probably not the same as mine; diet-induced hyperactivity and insomnia is rare.

EDIT: I didn't include this anecdote to suggest a solution to the problem; I included it to show that (a) there is probably some physical reason for it--she isn't just "being difficult"; (b) it's going to be hard to find out what that reason is; (c) she probably has some inkling as to what's wrong but can't express it; (d) this probably won't damage or even affect her at all in the longterm; (e) show you care and don't get overly upset about it -- be available within reason but don't overexert yourself.

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  • Can you please provide more information on your food disorder; which food created the symptom, and where can we find more about this? – tutuDajuju Apr 29 '15 at 13:35
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    The foods that really set me off were tomatoes, apples, and anything with artificial colors, artificial flavors, antioxidant preservatives BHA BHT TBHQ, nitrates, and nitrites. The organization that advocates for this is feingold.org but take what they say with a grain of salt. They advocate a lot of unscientific stuff. In particular, studies have shown that the "Feingold diet" does not help most people. – Snowbody Apr 29 '15 at 13:43
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Some people naturally need less sleep, and that can manifest as early as childhood. With that said, is it possible that your daughter simply isn't getting enough exercise? I had terrible insomnia throughout childhood and learned as I got older that I require a high level of exercise throughout the week in order to sleep at nights.

When my children are wakeful at night --which is often --I sometimes put them through an intensive round of physical activity: Jumping on the mini trampoline, wheelbarrow around the house and up the stairs, jumping jacks, laps around the house, etc. The majority of the time that does the trick. Of course, it's better to be active outside during the day instead, but in the event that hasn't happened, or if it isn't enough, this can definitely help.

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I have had the sleeping issue with 2 of my children and the reasons were different.

Has anything changed recently? Move? New school? Even a growth spurt? Or it could just be a phase.

Keep to your routine, but see if maybe putting her to bed an hour or two later and then wake her at her usual time in the morning helps anything. Decide on a time limit on how long you can deal with this (e.g a month) and if the putting to bed later suggestion fails go to your doctor and discuss and make sure there is no health related issue contributing towards this.

And for you, although probably not convenient like having a new born — go to bed when she does, take a nap whenever you can, enlist family to watch her for an hour if you can so you can nap, eat well and take multivitamins to keep your strength up.

This is hard but won't last forever. Good luck.

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