We put him to bed at 9pm and he stays up til 1am or later. When I go to check on him he is always playing with his hands and sometimes talking. I ask him why he is awake and not trying to sleep and he says it's because he just wants to play. He never comes to tell us that he is having a hard time sleeping or that there is anything wrong. The weird thing is that he used to be the first one to fall asleep out of 3 boys and the staying up started a few months ago. He does this every night and on top of keeping us awake, he is now waking up his brothers.

About a month or so ago, we decided to punish him by grounding him from video games. He doesn't want to be grounded, but he still keeps doing it. Nothing we do seems to be helping and it seems to be getting worse. I have talked to him about why it is so important to get enough sleep and why it's even more important for kids. He also gets plenty of exercise and time to play during the day.

I'm really starting to wonder if he is doing it just to be defiant. If anyone has any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it.

The problem is that he is being disruptive to everyone in the house and it has been EVERY night for the last 3 months.

He is tired and emotional during the day, and it is causing his brothers to be tired during the day while they are at school.

Because he is tired during the day he doesn't really want to be as active as he used to be. However, I do still encourage him to be active. We have always had a bedtime routine. We have asked him many different times if he is just having trouble sleeping, if he is uncomfortable, and if there is something wrong. He always tells us that he just wants to play.

At the beginning of all this he told me that he wants to be the one to decide when he goes to sleep and when he wakes up. Which is why I would even ask if it was out of defiance.

We really didn't want to get to the point of punishing him, but nothing else seemed to help and it was only after he started keeping his brothers awake.

It's not like we haven't asked him what he thinks would help or what would help him sleep better. He ALWAYS says that he just WANTS to stay up and play because it is fun. We know it is important for him to get enough sleep, and I'm worried because I don't think he is (and he's preventing the rest of us from getting enough, too).

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    Can you mention whether he seems well rested during the day? Some kids need less sleep than others. Is his not-sleeping causing problems for him? Also, if he'll just play quietly and not talk, he wouldn't disturb his brothers; have you told him that? Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 7:01
  • Thanks for helping to clarify. I think I focused on the not sleeping part first. I'm sure it is frustrating for you to be kept awake! Since you can't force someone asleep, what can you brainstorm with him that he can do when he can't sleep? Read, listen to relaxing music, listen to an audiobook, draw? Something quiet so you don't wake up, and something relaxing to help him get to sleep. He might also benefit from a more drawn out bedtime routine than the current - his body may need more time to slow down. You know your child best, so just see if you can find anything in here you might try. Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 16:44
  • It may just be that his body is just not making enough of the sleep hormone melatonin. That could be the simple explanation. Take him to your doctor.
    – user9577
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 19:18
  • I think your child needs a new mattress. My children could not fall asleep, so I bought them a new mattress and pillow. Make sure its soft and squishy
    – user21836
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 5:27
  • He may have ADHD. I know I couldn't go to sleep on time. Go get him tested.
    – LostPecti
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 13:01

6 Answers 6


Kids go through periods where sleep is hard to come by from time to time.

I would suggest taking a few steps with him.

First. Does he have a routine for bed-time still? They still need a calming ritual. My own daughter is allowed to read to herself for about twenty minutes and then she has to turn the light out to try sleeping.


  1. Ask him what he thinks is up with the not sleeping thing when it is daylight and just you can talk. Do this when you have time to sit and listen. He very likely doesn't really know what is up and is playing at night because he is bored since he can't sleep. Allow him some time to think through things. You may need to sit silently waiting for answers to questions like, "why do you think you aren't able to sleep."
  2. You might need to give him some time. As you allow this time for thought and are quietly listening, if there is something he is anxious about, you are demonstrating that you aren't mad and just want to help and building trust. He will come around.
  3. Point out that his current way of dealing with being awake at night is preventing everyone else from getting sleep and how unfair that is. State this using an "I" such as, "I'm worried none of you are getting enough sleep, but it is especially unfair to your brothers who could be." Then follow your statement with what you would like without giving an answer, "Is there a way you could do something that would be calm and more likely to help you get back to sleep sooner as well as allow your brothers to continue to sleep even though you are awake?" Perhaps he would like a book light and some books to read. Perhaps he could have some headphones and some calming music to listen to. Who knows what he'll offer up. Listen to it.
  4. Leave the conversation not having made any decisions. "Lets continue to think about this and brainstorm and then we'll talk about it again same time tomorrow and make some decisions about what to do." He might think of something else while you are all "away from it" to add to the conversation because he will feel less pressure when not engaged in the conversation in the moment. You can use the time to consider options he brought up and options you've considered and what you think is a realistic solution and what won't work.
  5. When you meet again, let him speak first. After you've heard anything else he has to add propose your plan - that hopefully uses elements of what he has said. Put the plan into action and see if it helps. Give the plan at least a week. If it isn't working, revisit and start again.

FYI Sometimes there can be a shift in hormones (they aren't only for adolescence), a growth spurt, a spurt in learning that causes his brain to be over-stimulated so it has a hard time down-shifting at night, shifting adult teeth as they get ready to push baby teeth out of the way, or even a change in his stress level that is subtle and not easily detected even by him but cause temporary bouts of insomnia. Less sleep isn't necessarily a problem for him depending on the route cause (which none of you may ever know).

If he is still functioning fine the rest of the day, he may not need the sleep right now. As long as he isn't keeping the rest of the house up, you are probably better off coming up with ideas with him for options for how to spend those awake hours in the middle of the night. Of course his options should be quiet and not bother others, but also be soothing and the kind that are likely to allow his brain to calm down and let him sleep too. Punishing him is likely to leave him in a lose-lose situation where he is stressed out because he knows he is supposed to be sleeping but can't and is bored out of his mind because it is dark and he is supposed to be quiet but he is wide awake and can't do anything about it.

Some Ideas on Dealing with his waking of others:

Ideas for a "consequence" for waking the others if that aspect of it continues to be a problem even after all of the above steps:

Perhaps he misses out on something cool (a play-date with a friend for example) so he can to do some chores that other members of the house would normally do to allow his family members to "catch up on sleep" that has been missed because of his loudness and activity at night. Whatever you decide to do in this regard, I suggest making sure it is purely a consequence for having awaken every one else, and not for not sleeping.

If you want to go with a sillier idea, but one that will probably be well remembered into his adulthood, I suggest [Mrs. Piggle Wiggle][1]. Have you tried letting him stay up all night for a night or two? I know it isn't the healthiest thing in the short run, but what if he is allowed to build with legos, read, etc. in the family room - no TV, nothing loud. Then, when everyone else has been allowed to sleep and yet he feels horrible, you can ask him if he knows why he isn't getting along with his friends and brothers anymore. You can ask him if he can figure out why he feels awful and then swoop in as the heroes that really do know what is best for him that create the rules in order to help him stay healthy?

You might even read the Piggle Wiggle books together. Actually, I found a hulu clip that shows the ["Never go to Bedders Cure"][2] on a television show that depicts Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. (I had no idea they'd put this classic on film!!). It doesn't follow the book to a tee, but you'll get the idea anyway. The actual "Never Want to Go to Bedder's Cure is in the first book, "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

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    Those are great suggestions. I will definitely try them. Thank you
    – Alyssa
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 18:02
  • Good Luck and please check back with us and let us know how it worked out! Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 18:04
  • @Alyssa, as I child I often fell asleep listening to audiobooks as a last resort. I listened to The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett I believe (the only audiobook my dad happened to have) over and over and over again. Worked like a charm, especially since I shared a room with my younger sister so this didn't wake her either. Eventually I'd be asleep by the end of a paragraph :) This could be an option for your son in addition to calming music, reading books, etc. Just an idea. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 18:14

Punishing him for not not sleeping is entirely the wrong way to go! If he's not sleeping maybe he's not tired, or he's being woken by something in his environment. Punishing him will a) (if done on the spot at the time he's not sleeping) reinforce the behavior by giving him attention, b) make him feel like something is wrong, making it harder for him to sleep.

I had some sleep problems when I was a child, and I began to be worried there was something wrong with me, and I became nervous about sleeping and upset if I couldn't sleep, which of course made it even harder to sleep. My mother was supportive and told me not to worry, which helped. If she'd punished me it would have made it much worse.

Look at his environment and see what may be waking him and see if you can figure out anything that may be interrupting his sleep. Get him out of the house for some exercise, and make sure there's no caffeine in his diet closer than 8 hours to bed-time. Din't punish him and make him feel bad about it, because if there's one thing kids don't do it is defy their parents by keeping themselves awake. Kids need sleep, and although they may fight bedtime they generally like sleep. Be supportive, but don't dwell on it, and the problem should resolve itself.

  • Of course I agree with the principle here, but I'm not sure where this idea that punishment reinforces behavior by providing attention comes from. Can you help me understand? What references are you thinking of? Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 11:46
  • @ChristineGordon, I didn't phrase it the best so I can see why you are confused. I've edited to add that punishment (or any attention really) at the time is the problem. Any attention whether positive or negative when he's awake at night is positive reinforcement of the behavior.
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 12:58
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    Okay, but I think this is only true if he is otherwise generally neglected. That make him desperate for any attention. I still don't use punishment, but not for that reason. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 15:18
  • I try to avoid it myself when possible, it's too often a way to express anger than show the right way to go, but sometimes unavoidable.
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 15:22
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    +1 for b)make him feel like something is wrong, making it harder for him to sleep. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 18:06

I don't understand the problem? This is not defiance. You can't make him go to sleep any more than you can make yourself go to sleep sometimes. All you can do is request that he stay in his room quietly so as to not bother anyone else or endanger himself. To this day I read agatha christie books when I can't sleep and it helps.

Brainstorm a bed time routine with him that includes brushing teeth, PJ's and a story, plus any other calming rituals you have (lullaby, bath, etc) and then the rest is up to Mother Nature.

If you suspect medical issues, seek a doctor.

He may be experiencing a growth spurt which can interfere with sleep, but will pass.

Alternatively, he may have a lot of information to process from the day and this may be keeping him up. Does he have opportunity to talk about his day with you in a meaningful way? This would probably help if this is the cause.

Since he is 8 I assume he is in school... Is anyone bothering him there enough to keep him up at night? You said it started a few months ago, that would correlate with the beginning of a new school year I think.

By punishing him, especially for something he likely can't control, you are encouraging a power struggle. It wouldn't be a stretch for him to start staying up in defiance to you precisely because you started punishment. When you offer a child a choice between dignity and defiance, lets hope they choose defiance. Instead of punishing, focus on the actual problem and why this is YOUR problem. If he's not bothering anyone, either a night or during the day with crankiness, then it's really not your problem. Be there as guidance and resource when he has problems and you will set up a much healthier dynamic that will hopefully last you through the teen years!

Of course, since you say he is waking up his brothers, do exactly what @balanced mama said and include him in the process. Just telling a child what to do, doesn't actually allow them to practice problem-solving skills or prepare them for independent adulthood.

  • I agree with @ChristineGordon, this isn't defiance. He's not screaming and being disruptive, he just isn't tired or something is keeping him awake.
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 12:59

In addition to the excellent posts all ready given, I wanted to add my own experience:

I was a TERRIBLE sleeper until I was probably 9 or 10 years old. While my problem wasn't necessarily falling asleep, I can tell you that around age 7 or so my sleeping problems began centering around my own imagination.

While scary movies and stories affect all kids, they REALLY affected me. I would go for months after hearing a scary story or catching part of a scary movie on TV unable to fall asleep because I was so scared. And I knew that my parents thought my fears were trivial and ridiculous and I should just get over them and they were getting irritated with my refusal to go to sleep every night and I never wanted to tell my parents why I actually couldn't fall asleep. Add to that the fact that I knew intellectually that the stories and the movies weren't real and I just felt ridiculous that I was so terrified by them.

I can tell you that, to this day, I cannot watch most horror films. After seeing Thirteen Ghosts a few years ago (on TV in the middle of the day) and the subsequent sleepless nights that followed, I swore off of them altogether.

Seeing as we just came off of Halloween and all the fun-filled scary shows and movies and ghost stories and haunted houses that accompany it, is it possible that this could be part of what is bothering him? It might take some work to get him to admit it, but it could be part of the problem.

  • 1
    I'm reading out of your answer to take his fears seriously because they feel too real to him. +1 for that! The asker states it started a few months ago; that puts it before (this year's) Halloween. I'm sure at age 8 he's not seeing horror movies (I empathize with you; I never watch the horror genre) but he might have just heard stories told - even ones that we adults wouldn't find scary. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 16:25
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun: Absolutely. I used to attend a daycamp in the summer and ghost stories ran rampant in the middle of the summer. And, even though they shouldn't be watching them, I can vividly recall hearing pretty much every detail of the plots of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street from other kids in my 3rd grade class! FYI: I have never seen either movie to this day.
    – Meg Coates
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 23:34

I've been an insomniac a long time, and I have a different take on this.

Let him decide when it's time to sleep. Heck, the next time he has a long weekend or vacation, get him to try to stay up late. The human brain is a funny thing, and trying to force yourself to go to sleep earlier than when you're ready can often backfire, ensuring that you're awake even later than you would be if you weren't actively trying to sleep. At the same time, you'll likely need to teach him that staying awake means having respect for those who can sleep. There likely aren't any other kids outside at 10pm, so make sure whatever playing is done is done quietly.

This tidbit of advice has been echoed by more sources than I can count, but here's a good one:



Anyone considered speaking to your gp or school nurse about this? My daughter was about 7-8 yrs old when I stsrted having issues with her not sleeping, she would sing, talk to herself, read books out loudly etc, I finally got her seen by the doctor and sge was referred to a phycologist who ran some tests and we discovered my daughter has severe adhd (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ) and mild asd Autism spectrum disorder).... I am now seeing the same happening with my little boy who's 9 next month only he keeps getting out of bed, wont sleep in his own bed and will only settle down if I lie down beside him... he is now due to be tested.... I fully understand about the keeping siblings awake, the noise, and the fustration it builds up because you think they managed before so why not now... I hope you can find out the cause and get it sorted asap... good luck x

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