Tips for a resistant sleeper

Bedtime for a displeased kidGot a resistant sleeper? You know the one. The one who pulls out every last bedtime stall technique and sweetly calls your name…repetitively at 3am…until you drag yourself into his room for a midnight tuck in and/or cuddle.

If you hadn’t guessed, we do have a resistant sleeper and have been through more than our fair share of sleep tactics that would afford us a solid night of sleep without having to play musical beds.

But as much as he resisted (and still does) sleep, he desperately needs it and so do we. School-aged children need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Without it, they’re prone to meltdowns, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, infections, and the list goes one. Come to think of it, us parents are just as susceptible to these sleep deprivation maladies.

Sleep is important. This much we know. So if you’re dealing with your own self-proclaimed night owl who also gets up at the crack of dawn then I have some tips I’d like to share with you. These have worked for us at one time or another and they just may work for you depending on the age and temperament of your own child.

Keep an open door

When our son was 4 and still calling us into his room at 3am, we finally came up with this solution: we laid out some blankets and a pillow on the floor next to our bed in our room. We told him that if he woke up and could not get back to sleep, he was welcome to come in and sleep there; but to please not wake us up.

It worked. Some mornings I’d find him sleeping right there on the floor or he’d still be sleeping snug in his own bed. Simply having that option put his mind at ease and he was more likely to sleep through the night.

Pillow talk

Be honest with your child. Discuss the importance of sleep and put it in terms they can really grasp on to. They need sleep to grow taller, get smarter, and kick that ball really far. Without it, their bodies and brains don’t feel as good. Not to mention the effect it has on Mommy and Daddy…happy well rested parents are more apt to read that extra bedtime book or stay an extra 20 minutes at the park.

Worry jar

My son had soooo many questions and concerns…of course right at bedtime. Which would inevitably prolong the time to lights out and increase the number of times he got out of bed. We started having him write down his “worries” on pieces of paper and putting them in his own worry jar.

His worries were put to bed…so we could finally put him to bed too.

Bunk up

In another attempt to survive the bedtime routine without succumbing to sleep ourselves, we decided to move Little Sister into Big Brother’s room. That way, they would both have company and not be alone.

There was a bit of transition with Big Brother keeping Little Sister awake (when she’s tired, she’s tired…no resistance here). But soon, they both grew to love the nighttime company and our resistant little sleeper slept a little better.

Bribery Reward chart

Simple and effective. Our kids would get a sticker of their choice the morning after a great night of sleep that didn’t involve unnecessary stall techniques or getting out of bed. After 5-7 stickers, they were awarded a small prize. While this was temporary in nature, it was a great way to get us all back on track and establish good routines and sleep habits without the added fuss.

Flattery will get you everywhere

Praise and more praise after a good night of sleep. Reinforce the happiness everyone feels after a solid night of shut-eye. Look how well rested and happy mom is. See how good you feel and how much you’ve grown.

Timing is everything

If your little one is resisting the whole bedtime routine and takes forever to fall asleep, try moving up bedtime by 3o minutes. It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but children can actually get a little wound up if they’ve passed the the window of opportunity so to speak. Starting earlier may catch your child at his prime sleepy time when he’s more amenable to a calming bedtime routine.

With these tips in mind, I must confess that we cuddle our kids to sleep every night. We used to consider it an unwelcome chore. A time suck that often translated to bedtime for us too since we would inevitably conk out way before they did. But you know what? Now we love it. They’re growing so fast, our days are so busy. It’s such a lovely way to relax and reconnect with them.

They peacefully fall…and stay…asleep.

So, you will either find this encouraging and hopeful or use it as a cautionary tale. Either way, I do hope it was helpful.

If you have your own resistant sleeper, what has helped you in your quest for sleep?

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6 Responses to Tips for a resistant sleeper
  1. Sue Johnston
    January 9, 2013 | 11:29 am

    I totally agree with those ideas. We moved bedtime up as well and it most certainly had an impact on the entire experience (less melt downs at bedtime and slept longer. Toddlers are funny creatures and my guy is text book when it comes to sleep. Most sleep at night means a longer nap as well!

  2. angela
    January 9, 2013 | 6:29 pm

    We’re having sleep issues right now. (Who am I kidding? We’ve always had them.) We were doing well for a while with a sleeping bag next to our bed, but now he’s just waking up a lot during the night. I’m keeping my fingers crossed he’s just going through something for a bit. (He just turned 3, so he’s a little young for things like a worry jar.)

  3. Trinna
    January 10, 2013 | 5:25 am

    Love these tips! We have an early riser and one who used to wake up in the middle of the night and think it was morning. My mom gave her the Tot Clock, which you can find on Amazon. It took her a while to get the hang of it and involved bribery/rewarding, but now she sleeps like a champ! If she wakes up at 3am and her clock is still blue, she goes back to sleep without our help. If she wakes up at 5am and sees it’s still blue, she either goes back to sleep or plays in her bed until it turns yellow at 6am. We are pretty dependent on it…we even travel with it!

    Like you, we have experienced the magic of earlier bedtime. If she hasn’t been sleeping well or has had a few days of short or no napping, we bump up the bedtime and she’ll actually sleep later in the morning and get back on her nap schedule.

    Thanks for all your great advice!

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  6. Jacinda
    January 16, 2013 | 2:51 am

    Glad to learn that someone else cuddles their kids to sleep. Master 2.6 insists on it. If I leave, he climbs out of bed and follows. I know it’s only a short-term thing, a phase he’s going through.

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