My 2½ year old son generally has no problem with going to bed and that whole routine but once he's lying down quietly it still takes him forever to actually fall asleep. "Forever" in this case being an hour or more.

I had much the same problem growing up; I would lie for literally hours and stare at the wall, or the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come. Most of the time I wasn't very much aware that I had my eyes open but often enough I realized that they were. I got myself one of those black cloth eye-masks you get from the airlines, and that helped. I believe it was because the mask made me actually close my eyes which was the subconscious factor keeping me from sleeping.

How can I help him understand that he should close his eyes to sleep? I can't very well give my son one of those masks to wear.

Update based on first answers:

  • It's clear that he is tired when we put him to bed because he doesn't attempt go get up again. He gets plenty of activity during the day. Also, no sugary things.
  • We try to remove distractions at bedtime as a part of the bedtime routine: toys are put away, stories have been read (or a single Barbapapa video), curtains are closed, and it's reasonably quiet.
  • Is he usually tired in morning or does he seem to get enough sleep as it is?
    – mthomas
    Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 22:58
  • @mthomas: He usually wakes before we do :-) Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 6:56
  • Why can't you give him a mask? They make some without elastic or strings that just sit on the face so size and safety are no longer of concern. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 18:10
  • @balancedmama He's just too active for a mask to work. He won't lie still. Don't we all toss and turn a little before sleep? He does too, and is too young to grok that he needs to be still for sleep to come. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 19:20

4 Answers 4


Is he lying happily before falling asleep? If so, I wouldn't worry too much about it. One of mine would lie awake for a while, so we gave him a few toys to play with, and a couple of the starter books so he could look at the pictures, entertain himself and then drop off.

Another possibility is light levels - one of ours really needed the room to be dark before settling, so we bought blackout blinds for her room. After that she'd fall asleep as her head hit the pillow, pretty much.

  • +1 for books in the bed - this might spark or fuel interest in reading.
    – mthomas
    Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 22:55

Physical activity. Lots of playtime.. lots of sunlight (not too much).. lots of walking/crawling, laughing. Really really tire him out and he'll sleep like a baby (pun intended). I would also skip sugar-based snacks.


Have you tried the old 'glass of warm milk'? Our 1.5 y.o. daughter has no defense against it and falls asleep right after. It's unclear whether it has a physical effect (tryptophan often cited) or psychological (as reported in a NYT article in 07).

  • Neat! My grandmother used to give me a magic drink which was really just a thimble of milk. Gotta try this, thanks! Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 20:14
  • Just be careful about this one-- it will delay removing night diapers, because milk before bedtime generally seems to lead to night urination. At least, it does for my son, so we had to stop giving him liquid before bed.
    – mmr
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:39
  • Also be careful about tooth health. The Magic Drink should occur just before teeth brushing as opposed to after to prevent bacterial growth and build-up overnight. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 18:11

Getting himself to sleep is a skill he needs to learn, so follow a routine. Dress, brush teeth, tucked in with his favorite stuffed animal, story, lights out. Then leave him alone. Too often parents thing they need to do something when in reality it's best to do nothing.

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