My 3-year-old son and has lately been having problems sleeping. I've heard kids his age are supposed to sleep around 10-12 hours a day, although I'm no sure. He used to sleep in the afternoons but now he refuses to.

He only sleeps at night. We put him to bed around 9 PM but he always tries to slip from his room. After a couple of times of returning him to bed he finally falls asleep around 10, 10:30, sometimes even 11 PM but he usually wakes up several times at night. At 7 AM he is already up and playing with his toys.

I used to think it was just he growing up but we have noticed that he gets cranky and sometimes a little violent (he gave another child quite a bite the other day) and we think it might be related to his sleeping disorder.

5 Answers 5


My 6 year old still has this habit, though we tried to minimize this by removing any extra stimuli, my wife and I check on him and make sure that the covers are not thrown off during the night. Usually when one or the other of us is woken by one of the kids, both boys have a habit of kicking off their covers and then they get cold and wake up. Our oldest does wake up a bit more than the younger, mostly I think due to the amount of co-sleeping he had when he was younger, though he doesn't admit to needing it and can sleep through the night in his own bed if tired enough, we think he wakes up and then needs that extra comfort during the night.

Some things I have done to eliminate this:

  • Add a heater to the room if the temperature gets cold, keeps them warm and they don't wake up as frequently during the night. Some heaters also function as noise generators, so they eliminate loud noises for their constant drone, that was a plus for us.
  • Get the mood as calm as possible during the nighttime ritual, this eliminates stress during sleep and keeps bad dreams to a minimum
  • Bring him back to his own bed, and get him back to sleep in his own bed, that way there is no possibility of getting used to the parent's bed
  • Try and earlier start time, if it takes that long to get your kid to sleep, and ours was the same, start the bed routine earlier to trick him into falling asleep earlier. It's tough, since it cuts into other time, but I figure its better I lose out on Me Time if it helps my kids
  • Check for Childhood Sleep Apnea, this may be one of the reasons your child is waking up, ask your doctor about this

Good luck with it.

  • 1
    our sons (currently 3.5 years old) is also very "active" during sleeping, turns around and moves a lot, he sometimes even lies with his head at the foot end in the morning... So he would also loose his cover. A possible solution (and maybe a good and "green" alternative to energy consuming heaters) is a sleeping bag which can not get "lost" in the night. The only drawback: it is more difficult for the child to get out of the bed alone and to walk, but it looks incredibly cute when he's walking with the sleeping bag "floating behind". ;-)
    – BBM
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:01

There can be many reasons a child might develop sleeping problems, but fortunately there are also many ways in which sleep can be influenced.

On a neurochemical level, when we sleep, our brain detects that darkness is approaching and serotonin is converted into melatonin, which enables us to sleep, in the morning, as the brain detects light, the melatonin is reabsorbed and we wake.

The first principle then is to reinforce this cycle. Ensure that your son is exposed to early morning light and that he goes to bed in a dimply lit room, or if possible in darkness.

There are also ways in which we can load our brains with serotonin, (and therefore melatonin) before sleep. A good one is natural cherry juice, - this is packed with serotonin. Another trick is to make his last meal one which has foods which are packed with tryptophan, (the amino acid in our food which Serotonin is made out of) and carbohydrates. (Carbs help the absorption of tryptophan). So patotoes, bread etc are good sources of carbohydrates and turkey, chicken etc are excellent sources of tryptophan.

The other trick is to artificially raise the core temperature of his body, by giving him a warm bath immediately before bedtime and then sending him to bed in a nice cool bedroom. This will ensure that the artificially created high core temperature of his body will drop quickly. - The brain takes the dropping of our core temperature as a sleep signal.

Hope this helps.

  • +1 Great info! I will apply them as well to see how he reacts. Thanks! Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:49
  • -1 for tryptophan suggestion. Dietary tryptophan doesn't increase blood levels; tryptophan doesn't work as a sleep aid; etc.
    – DanBeale
    Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 12:09
  • 1
    DanBeale. Dietary tryptophan is utilised by the brain as 5 hydroxytriptamine, which is utilised to synthesise melatonin. Increased melatonin levels lead to sleep. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 10:06

This is a great question! Some of the posts here are similar to our own experiences. I'd just add two thing:

  • Run, exercise, play with your son. Our two boys seem to sleep best after they've had a full day worth of activity. An added bonus is that they will begin to form healthy active lifestyle habits.

  • Sufficiently nourished. If our kids don't eat a good meal they tend to wake up early

Every kid is different too, our youngest (age 3) falls right asleep but wakes up with the sun :) Our other son, age 5, can take 1, 2 or even 3 hours to fall asleep at night. During this time we are working with him that, while he can't control when he actually falls asleep, he is still responsible to stay in his bed, be quiet and calm. (My wife also takes a long time to fall asleep, maybe its all related?)

  • Thanks man! We do play with them when I get home from work, but we were actually talking about taking him to swimming lessons so he gets really tired hehe. Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 18:50
  • Arturo, For our two, swimming wears them out faster than any other activity they currently participate in. Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 20:01

I don't know how long this has been going on, but I've noticed my 3 year old daughter has been somehow following the sun lately. We try to put her in bed at 8.00 pm, but she hardly falls asleep before 10.00 and argues "but it's not night yet". This might also be a reason why he has trouble going to sleep in the evening. If you have shutters, and can dim the room, this definitely helps.

As for the afternoon sleep, I suggest something like a "time out". Our daughter has also been refusing to sleep in the afternoons but we've insisted on her taking some quiet time in her room, where she can play, and read, but needs to be "away" from us and the rest of the household. We've found her more than once asleep in her bed after a while. This helps with the crankiness in the evening.

Check for night terrors. It might be that he wakes up during the night because he's afraid of something and does not want to go back to sleep. Changing the orientation of the bed, and things around in his room might help with that, by giving him a sense of being a bit somewhere else and taking away what might have scared him.

I also find that some music to fall asleep helps her with getting away from surrounding sounds that might keep her awake. I usually put on her favorite songs and a timer so the music stops after an hour or so.

  • we notice the same thing: as the days went longer in the summer, it was not dark enough in the evening and our son (3.5 years) often says, it "is it still day" and does not want to go to sleep. Thick curtains (as we use them) or a roller blind might help.
    – BBM
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 14:03

Have you tried to start minimizing and removing stimulus as bedtime approaches? Get the lights turned down, get out from in front of any screens (tv, computer, games). Try a bath an hour or so before hand. Eliminate any "stimulating" food that has sugars are any kind of caffeine in it (chocolate). My youngest was like this also and it ended up just being a phase but the things I listed above definitely helped the situation. Get the lights turned down and seriously reduce stimuli and nature kind of does it thing.

  • Thanks for your answer. We do have a night routine, they take a bath and then a light meal. Then with all light out but one, we tell them a story and then they go to bed. We will be more careful with their meal, to ensure that it doesn't have many sugar or nothing at all. Thanks for the advice! Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 16:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .