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Our daughter (O.) is 6 years old. She has always (read: since she was born) been someone to rather get up late and stay up late (in contrast to her little sister (Y.), who is much more of an early bird).

Over the years, O.'s sleeping time has been gradually shifting further toward the end of the day, and we seem to be unable to influence it. While we could once get her to bed and asleep by 10 pm. long ago, this has gradually become later and later, so during the past 8 or so months, her sleeping time has become midnight. During our recent vacations (where, admittedly, there has also been a lot less pressure to get up at any particular time the next day), this has shifted further up to 1:30 am.

Note that the rest of our daily routine hasn't really changed: We start preparing both children for bed around 8 pm. (this can fluctuate a bit depending on what we did during the day, when we could have dinner, etc., so it might be 7:30 on some days and 8:30 on others). Y. is asleep at latest by 10 pm., typically already by 9:30 pm., at which time O. completes her preparation for bed.

Then, one or more of the following happens:

  • We bring O. to her room/bed, and wish her a good night, sometimes still reading something to her. After we've left, she'll get up again and come downstairs. This can repeat any number of times; my wife and I are often taking turns with this.
  • After O. has gotten up again, we accept her request to stay downstairs (which is usually more an ultimatum of the form "Either you stay in my room with me, or I'll come downstairs again, anyway. So, let me stay in the living room."). While we try not to give her much attention then, other than asking her to go to bed every few minutes (to clearly convey that at that time of the day, we're not offering any "interesting" activities), she'll happily sit down in the living room, drawing pictures or doing other creative hobbies, and can, without any issues, do so until past 1 am. without showing any signs of getting tired.
  • We bring O. to her bed and stay there in the darkness. Mostly, she falls asleep after roughly 2 hours. (But usually, us, as well ...) In any case, by the time we can leave her room, it's past midnight and we feel well ready to sleep ourselves.

In other words, at least one of us is spending their entire evening on trying to get the children to sleep. (This is especially the case when one of us stays with her, which is why we discontinued doing this every day after trying it for many months. We simply couldn't find any benefit anymore in one of us standing around in a dark room for hours, or falling asleep on the floor, every evening - and our daughter not sleeping any earlier than when she comes downstairs, either.)

Now, I know that children require a lot of attention and I'm happy to spend much time with mine. I'm just getting worried the mode in which this happens for us each evening is starting to have problematic side-effects, e.g.:

  • I've started missing out on certain deadlines (such as for paying bills, or making time-limited orders), as I haven't had the 30-minutes window required to properly do such things at any evening during e.g. 14 days on some occasions.
  • It takes months to get presumably straightforward household maintenance tasks done, as neither of us can spare a few hours in the evening browsing for the appropriate products (think furniture with the right measurements, etc.).
  • I'm feeling disconnected from my wife. There are virtually no opportunities anymore where just the two of us can talk even just for a few minutes. At least one of the children is constantly around, trying to redirect the conversation topic to something that's more interesting to them, or entirely disrupt the conversation to have mommy/daddy to themselves.
  • We're missing out on possibly important info events, as happened e.g. by child nursery. Some of those were scheduled to start at 9 pm., which seemed to suit most (indeed not all) other families, as their children (of the same ages as ours) were in bed by then. Not so for us, where O. would try to hijack our attention every time such an event took place.

Coupled to that, making O. get up somewhat earlier in the morning can be hard. While child nursery was on, we used to start waking up the kids around 7 am., still O. was rarely in child nursery before 9. We may be able to wake her up, but she'll usually simply lie around and refuse to do anything (easily for an hour) before slowly getting out of bed at some point (and complaining that we have brought Y. to child nursery already).

Now, O. is about to start elementary school. Some other parents tell me her sleeping times will automatically adjust in the very first weeks of school, once she is required to be awake and focused in the morning, but personally, I'm very worried we'll be having problems even getting her dressed in time for school.

I'm aware it's now pretty late to change things for school (roughly two weeks to go), but I didn't have any time to write and post this earlier - see above. Is there anything we can do to gradually shift her day-night-rhythm to an earlier time of the day, other than trust in automatically adapting to the school timetable somehow? Or is trying to shift her sleeping time an X-Y-problem in the first place?

I have found some similar questions, most importantly this one and that one. However, the answers seem to be dealing with (from our perspective) relatively "benign" cases (going to bed at 9 pm., or at least sleeping at 11 pm.). Also, in contrast to those questions, my focus is that O.'s daily rhythm seems to disrupt our, let's call it, "household organisation" as a whole, so I'm both open to answers that say "your daughter's sleep rhythm is the issue, try to change it like this" and to answers that say "your daughter's sleep rhythm is not the issue, try changing this and that peripheral aspect of our parenting-household instead".

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    Hi and welcome! Your flexibility as to answers/solutions is admirable. I hope you get some helpful answers. :) Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 5:12

3 Answers 3

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After O. has gotten up again, we accept her request to stay downstairs (which is usually more an ultimatum of the form "Either you stay in my room with me, or I'll come downstairs again, anyway. So, let me stay in the living room."). While we try not to give her much attention then, other than asking her to go to bed every few minutes (to clearly convey that at that time of the day, we're not offering any "interesting" activities), she'll happily sit down in the living room, drawing pictures or doing other creative hobbies, and can, without any issues, do so until past 1 am. without showing any signs of getting tired.

This is all a very bad idea. Letting your kid bully you into doing what they want? And you showing your powerlessness by asking her repeatedly to go to bed? All that does is teach her that your requests can be safely ignored.

You need to sit outside her door, and every time she leaves, you make her go back. If you have to, make the rest of the house dark so it's clear that there is nothing going on, and sitting and coloring is not an option. She doesn't have to sleep (though waking her up at an appropriately early time would help there) but she has to stay.

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I think one potential solution, which you alluded to briefly, is to force her to get up a specific (early-ish) time every day. Open the window, turn on the lights, play some loud music, pull off her covers, do whatever it takes to make sure she's awake and out of bed.

She'll probably be very tired for a day or two, but that should help her to fall asleep more easily in the evening.

Another option would be to talk to your doctor about melatonin supplements. I have used these with my daughter, and they are very effective at helping her fall asleep. Melatonin is naturally produced by the body when it determines you are at the time to fall asleep. If her sleep cycle has drifted to very late, the supplements might help to get it back to a more "normal" time. (People often use these when travelling to help prevent "jet lag" from being in a different time zone.)

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When I was a child, I hated to be alone in my room during the night. And I hated the idea that my parents were still awake, doing possibly interesting things, and I had to stay here alone in the dark. For quite a long time, I literally forced my mother to go to bed with me quite early. She didn't like it, but she lay down on the sofa then until I was asleep.

When do you usually go to bed? Do you stay up until after midnight, too? Perhaps she simply fears to miss out something and wants to be awake as long as you are. What happens if you go to bed earlier? Does she go then, too, or does she try to stay up alone?

When she comes back into the living room for the first time: What happens if one of you goes back with her into her room and stays there until she is sleeping?

Are there any signs that she fears to be alone in the dark? If so, a baby lamp could help.

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