Our 5-year-old has trouble going to sleep at night. If we put her to bed at 8, she might not fall asleep until 10 or 11, then sleep in until 9 the next day. She'll lay in bed and try to go to sleep, but I think she tries too hard and doesn't know how to relax herself.

I've been trying to give her strategies that have worked for me, which mostly involve imagining relaxing scenarios like flying through clouds or walking along a path full of trees. She claims to try these, but I wonder if there is a better way to get her to relax. Any ideas?

  • 1
    Is this a new or recurring problem? Have you investigated possible underlying causes such as lack of routine, inadequate exertion during the day, poor eating habits, stress (good or bad), environmental causes, etc.? One cannot force relaxation and sleep, but they usually come when one is tired, unless something else is up. Without more detail we can't guess whether it's one of the things listed above, a sleep disorder, or something else. Is she tired during the day? Does she still take naps? Please provide more info so we can be more helpful.
    – HedgeMage
    Aug 23, 2011 at 3:21
  • bounty added to generate interest, and voting, on this interesting question and answers.
    – DanBeale
    Aug 27, 2011 at 9:50
  • I'm 27, and haven't figured this out for myself yet. :/ Jun 29, 2017 at 10:22

11 Answers 11


Best way to make sure a kid sleeps at night:

  1. Make sure they get lots of exercise during the day. This is generally impossible at most public schools, so that means get them out of the house and running around after they get home from school. If they are attending a tutorial center or other daycare facility, make sure there are PE programs in place that get the kids out and about. Consider this homework: it is just as important for a child's mental development to get a suitable amount of exercise as it is for them to study books.
  2. No caffeine within five hours of sleep-time, including (but not limited to) iced tea, coca-cola, or even caffeinated candies, like chocolate or coffee-toffees.
  3. No sugar within one or two hours of going to bed.
  4. Make sure they get to bed on a regular sleep schedule, every night; do not vary this. Circadian rhythms are very strong, and if a child habitually stays up 'til 10 on weekends, then you should expect their sleep schedule to be disrupted for at least Monday and Tuesday. Also, don't let the kid sleep much during the day, or oversleep in the morning. If they went to bed late the night before, wake them early the next day and force them to get out of bed -- this reinforces circadian rhythms, and makes it less likely that the child will get habituated to a late-night schedule (like you describe, above)
  5. A hot bath helps. A lot.
  6. A bed-time story or other quality one-on-one time with a gentle, calm parent helps. A lot.
  7. A regular, habitual schedule (bathing, brushing teeth, putting on jammies, glass of water or hot milk, sitting for a story, etc) before bed-time helps. A lot.

If these strategies don't work (and i should first add, they have never failed for me), then other techniques can be used, like breathing exercises, where a parent teaches a child to breathe by filling their lungs to capacity, and then slowly exhaling in a controlled manner.

There are plenty of basic breathing exercises one can find on yoga and meditation sites; there is no need to teach any particular visualizations, or to indoctrinate the child with any dogma. Simply the act of breathing deeply and slowly will provide a tremendous material boost to the child as s/he tries to calm themselves for sleep.

Similarly, one can "play the quiet game", where whispers are used, and every movement is done in a calming, gentle, somnolescent fashion. Believe it or not, children do need to be taught this; as a teacher in Asia, I can testify to the complete inability of the kids over here to whisper; they just don't know how. By playing "the quiet game", a parent can easily teach their kids a lot of useful strategies for calming themselves before bed-time.

If wanted, visualization exercises can also be used; these can be religious in nature (i.e. -- prayers), or non-religious in nature (sometimes called "self-hypnosis", also "meditation").

In short: use common sense. Keep your kids away from caffeine and sugar (especially high-fructose corn syrup, which is what most candies are made of, today); make sure they get plenty of exercise, and work with them to help calm them, and get ready for bedtime.


Some children just don't seem to be able to shut off the brain. Ours has this problem and we've found that a backrub for a few minutes seems to help him relax his body enough to fall asleep sooner.

I think the toe tensing exercise mention in another post is also very good for similar reasons- the technique is called "progressive relaxation" and there are several scripts online that are adapted for children. It works great for parents too!

  • 1
    I also had this problem when I was a kid, and I would lie staring at the wall/ceiling for ages. For me, what I discovered worked, was just simple fantasizing, about pretty much anything. Being an astronaut, flying with Biggles, whatever. Don't know why it worked, but it's worth a try. Aug 30, 2011 at 21:13
  • I've had the same problem, and sort of still do, many times I cannot fall asleep without imagining something. Although now I am far better at it than I used to be, what got it working for me was imagining myself falling and that usually did it.
    – MichaelF
    Aug 31, 2011 at 10:29

Here's what I do:

  • Typical bed time routine (changed, teeth brushed, stories read if she'll sit still)

  • Then we turn on the white noise machine (iPhone hooked up to a speaker) and lie down and turn the lights out.

  • She is sometimes overly excited and I merely lie down beside her and close my eyes as if she wasn't even there but I breathe very loudly, obviously, and rhythmically.

  • If she doesn't begin to calm down by herself I pretend I am asleep and "in my sleep" pull her in closely and tightly. She'll then usually squirm free and play around the bed for another few minutes. Then I repeat.

  • After about 2-3 times of this she eventually sort of gives up and remains there curled up beside me. As soon as I hear that she's now asleep, I slip away as quietly as possible (assisted by the white noise).


My wife borrowed a book called Silly Billy from the library recently, and the story goes that the boy learns from his Grandmother about Guatemalan worry dolls, to whom he tells his worries before going to sleep so that he isn't scared. My son often comes to us scared in the night, so this has worked really well for him (5) and his sister (3), and making the dolls can be a fun craft project for them. Check it out.


Basically, she has to learn her own ways to relax in bed.

The preceding bed-time rituals vary between families but usually include dinner, a bath, brushing teeth and a story.

If a kid keeps getting out of bed then one strategy that works well with one of our kids is basically to keep returning him or her to bed gently but firmly without making a fuss or talking. This is usually tough for the parents because in the first days it requires several rounds over the better part of an hour and may involve crying. But in just a few days the situation can improve dramatically.


I suspect that the info Andrew Brereton posted in response to another question on the site may be helpful to you. I can't improve on his response. Here's what he posted.

Why is my toddler having trouble sleeping?

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. ...Andrew Brereton


Here are some techniques that I found helpful. They should be easy enough for a child to do, or are adaptable.


Toe Tensing

This one may seem like a bit of a contradiction to the previous one, but by alternately tensing and relaxing your toes, you actually draw tension from the rest of the body. Try it!

  1. Lie on your back, close your eyes.
  2. Sense your toes.
  3. Now pull all 10 toes back toward your face.
  4. Count to 10 slowly.
  5. Now relax your toes.
  6. Count to 10 slowly.
  7. Now repeat the above cycle 10 times.

Here's another link with some more in-depth information about sleep



Have you tried aromatherapy? My kids don't usually have problems falling asleep but if they do, I slather some Johnson and Johnson's Lavendar and Chamomile lotion on them and it seems to help them relax. You can usually find it in the baby section at the store, it's in a purple bottle. There is also a generic version of it, but I like J&J's because it is thicker and seems to have a better scent to it.

I hope that helps.


Two words: swimming lessons. Worked like a charm with my kid.


We give our kids some chewable Melatonin from Trader Joe's. It helps to ease them into sleep and avoid the late-night crazies.

  • 1
    Cultural note: Melatonin is a prescription only medication in the UK.
    – DanBeale
    Aug 30, 2011 at 10:58

Ask them to hold their breath for 20-25 seconds. Wait 5-10 seconds. Repeat until (s)he relaxes and fall asleep.

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