So I had asked why my 3yo takes 70-90 minutes to fall asleep—At night and nap time. When asked why he doesn’t sleep sooner he has stated he doesn’t know how to sleep.

It is obvious he does not get enough sleep as he doesn’t want to wake at nap. When he looks tired, he acts tired, and he is cranky, he continues to fight the sleep, wasting valuable hours in his crib.

He has a regular sleep routine. He is put down at 1pm and naps 2-4 but recently I have been waking him at 3:30-3:45. At night he is put down between 7:45 and 8pm but doesn’t sleep util 9:30 on average—sometimes as late as 9:45. He sometimes wakes as early as 5:30 but on average he wakes at 6:15. He wakes spontaneously 95% of time in am but ALWAYS has to be woken from nap.

He doesn’t use screens after 4pm and has limited use in general. Days he gets significant physical activity (i.e. walking the zoo grounds) makes no difference. However, days he swims outdoors (but not with indoor swim lessons) he sleeps at nap time very fast. He has TWO white noise machines. Guided meditation has been tried only 1-2x as he seems fascinated by the voice. Though, maybe the right meditation has not been found.

He has been weaned from 3 hr nap to 2hr over past 6 months. He used to take a giant 4.5 hour nap up to 18 months which has been reduced to current state. Reducing nap any further makes him overtired at night and he still doesn’t sleep. Taking nap away completely makes him a monster and he crashes the next afternoon as he lives for the afternoon nap, but these days he takes an hour to fall asleep at nap time too.

Over the weekend I slept on a mattress in his room with him to get a sense of if he is scared. He squirms around and tells himself stories—and that is true regardless of whether there is a person in room as I watch him on monitor. I basically yelled at him to cut it out and put his cheek on mattress, close his eyes and breath slowly. He did it and went to sleep immediately. It’s as if he just needs a hard reset to stop being mentally active. He sleeps very soundly once sleeping at nap time but overnight sleep seemed more restless.

My question is:

Is his internal clock set to sleep very soundly at nap and should I give him back a longer nap, though given he will go to school 3 days a week this seems impractical. I’ve been told kids adjust to new routines, but he seems to not be adjusting (to reduced nap) even after six months of active effort.

What can we do to help him sleep faster so that he is spontaneously waking fully rested at both nap and sleep time.

What do you make of his falling asleep and “snapping out of” mental activity with a stern talking to? It’s not something I want to do regularly. Is there a gentle alternative that would perform a similar action?

3 Answers 3


He's squirming around and telling himself stories for more than an hour after being put in bed, but he's out like a light and hard to wake up for his afternoon nap. Sounds like he knows how to sleep — just at the wrong time.

At 8 or 9 p.m. he has too much energy. In that state, it would be hard for anyone to go to sleep. In fact, it might feel like a bit of a timeout punishment and make him dislike bedtime even more. How would you feel if every day, at 11 a.m. after coffee, you were told to go alone to your room, lie in your bed, and not move or make a sound till you fell asleep? And then how would you feel if every night, once you got to sleep at 10 p.m., someone woke you up at midnight and told you to get moving?

"I would hate that, but why switch the times around? We're not trying to wake him at midnight!"

No, but you might as well be if his circadian rhythm isn't aligned the way you expect. Of course, no one here can tell you whether it needs treatment, but I think it's worth including in the hypotheses and talking to someone who knows more. Basically, if you set a pattern for long enough, a person's sleep/wake cycles will shift to adjust. What if for him, after years of consistent and satisfying long afternoon naps, his body understands afternoon to be in the middle of his sleep cycle and 8 p.m. in the middle of his wake cycle? Tweaking the little things like lullabies, books, and milk wouldn't undo that. It would take strategic moving of the times he does sleep, bit by bit (at least that's one of the ways you can do it).

Again, this is just speculation from a random online person, and I could be out to lunch. But it might be worth talking to the doctor about, or heck, even going to Biology SE and asking how to adjust circadian rhythms. If the problem has lasted this long and the little tweaks aren't working.


I read that you have tried spending in his room to as part of investigating what's the problem here, so I assume that the meditations etc that you've tried are all attempts at getting him to go to sleep by himself.

I respect that that's a parenting goal you might have, but I'd say that while there certainly are three year olds that do this, it's certainly not everyone who is able to, and you might have to consider the idea that your child is simply not such a child. At three years of age, while children may or may not sleep in their own rooms, I believe it is the absolute norm that a parent puts them to sleep.

I also think it's entirely normal for kids that age to be tired enough to fall asleep quickly if they only calm down and rest, but that they seem unable to do so at bedtime, so I'm not surprised that your yelling worked to that effect, but I understand that's not something you're happy continuing with. I think you need to find a way to help your child relax, that can substitute ordering them to. This is the role that reading a book or singing a song plays in the putting to bed of some children, but it doesn't have that effect on everyone. You need to find out what works for you. For very long time, my oldest was too excited by books for them to have a relaxing effect. With books, I find that reading something slightly above their comprehension, or slightly uninteresting to work best (you may recall studying textbooks in school having that effect). Most of the time, with our three year old, we simply lay beside her and pat her, or we do proper relaxation practices, where we instruct her to be mindful or one muscle at a time and flex and relax that muscle.

As regards daytime napping, I don't think you have to read too much into the fact that your child is hard to awake afterwards. Kids are hard to wake up after a short nap, that doesn't necessarily mean they need more. From personal experience, I'm 33 and certainly don't need a daytime nap, but if I ever end up getting one, I'm usually a bit disoriented and in a worse mode after the nap than before. That doesn't really inform me about my needs.

So if bedtime regularly happens too late, I'd consider cutting down on napping. But again, I think just trying out different things to see what helps your child relax is probably more important than that. The issue probably isn't that the child isn't tired enough, it sounds like they just need help to relax. I think your personal presence will be instrumental in that.

  • Well, he is never sent to his room to go to sleep by himself. He has a routine of wearing a nighttime diaper and Reading a book or 2 with mom or dad. Then we turn out the lights and cuddle in a recliner in his room, and sing a few tv theme songs—I didn’t grow up with lullabies so I’m not too familiar—while he drinks milk (he still takes his night bottle and I’m not interested in taking that away since he is an unmotivated eater and I don’t want hunger complicating sleep issues.) I also recite good night moon. He is variably drowsy at this time. I put him in crib and from
    – ChefShab
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 10:00

We had many many months of struggle getting our youngest into a sleep routine that worked for him and didn't require us to be spending masses of time sat in his room.

I think we sometimes forget that a child doesn't "know" how to sleep. One thing which helped me was the realisation that sleep is not something that you can do (or "teach"), more it's something which happens naturally when the circumstances are right.

For sleep to happen the child has to be:

  • Tired (but not over-tired)
  • Comfortable
  • Not hungry
  • Relaxed

So my approach was to try and remove all those "blockers".

Limiting nap time sounds sensible to me, as otherwise your child may just not be tired enough. Though be wary that he's not instead over-tired.

The trickiest part of it I found, was keeping a relaxed and pleasant environment, which meant masking my intense inner frustration at the amount of time the bedtime routine was taking.

Following these steps, the bedtime process did get marginally easier and and quicker. But there's no magic wand; it was still difficult and it still took longer than we'd like for him to go to sleep. The main victory being that it was less emotionally draining.

You have to be realistic. Some kids sleep very easily at night with relatively little effort from parents. Others, you can do everything right and they still sleep poorly regardless.

It may just be that your son is "built that way".

Also, he's only 3. It's not all that unusual, in my opinion, for a 3 year old to present the kind of difficulties you're having.

This will probably gradually change as he develops mentally and physically, and as his routine changes (you mentioned school; in my own experience starting at preschool 3 days p/week seemed to make a difference).

The way that he went to sleep quickly when you "yelled at him", is surprising - in that I'd have expected the shouting to make sleep less likely. Probably the key in that situation was not so much the shouting but getting him to close his eyes and breathe slowly?

If so, you could try a reward system; something like - "if you can close your eyes and take big slow breaths for one minute, you'll get an awesome sticker on your chart". If he falls asleep in that minute then great. If he doesn't, no problem, he still gets a sticker and will hopefully be incentivised to try it again.

If one minute seems like too long, try starting with really easy like 10 seconds, then doubling it each time.

Bottom line:

  • I agree it's a good idea to limit nap time;
  • Focus on removing the "blockers" that might be preventing sleep from happening more easily;
  • Be easy on yourself and your son - understanding that it's not something you or your son can control, but in all likelihood it will improve of its own accord given time.

Good luck.

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