Bedtimes with my 3yo last for HOURS! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 16 Old 07-08-2010, 11:51 PM - Thread Starter
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I need help getting my 3yo son to bed within a reasonable timeframe. It seems that no matter what time I try and start the bedtime routine (dinner, pajamas, teeth, stories, bed (ha!)) he doesn't end up falling asleep until at least 10:30 pm. After resisting physical activity all day (he has to be virtually dragged out for a walk), he becomes a bundle of energy in the evenings. Even if he does do things like go for walks and play at the playground, he is still awake and energetic in the evenings. We co-sleep, so I can't just let him hang out in his own bedroom, since he doesn't have one. I've tried putting him in our bed and leaving, but he just gets right on up and refuses to lie down. He doesn't nap either, so he only gets 9-10 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, which doesn't seem like enough for a 3yo. Evenings drag on for so long that he gets hungry again and we end up feeding him at 10 pm. Plus my husband and I never get any alone time. We don't feed him sugary food or allow him any screen time in the evenings. Any suggestions?
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#2 of 16 Old 07-09-2010, 07:40 AM
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It sounds like he is chronically overtired and is getting a second wind at night.

Happy wife to DH superhero.gifand mama to DS signcirc1.gif11/05 and DD energy.gif8/07.
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#3 of 16 Old 07-09-2010, 03:57 PM
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I'm so sorry to hear that My one year old takes an average of 1.5 hours to fall asleep at night...I could already tell I'm likely to have the same difficulties as you in a year or two. I'm sorry I don't have any advice I'm sure you haven't already tried. Hang in there.

AP, stay at home Mama (31) to DS 5 yo, DD 3 yo, DD 1 yo and wonderful DH (31) and my  1/11 who grew wings at 9w 3d 
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#4 of 16 Old 07-09-2010, 04:19 PM
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My son used to get this bundle of energy and we finally realized that it wasn't healthy energy, it was just "manic" (that word we used) which was his way of showing us he was overtired. We ended up having to literally torture oursevles for a week to break him of the habit of staying up until 11.

We got him up early, took him to swimming, to the park, to whatever we needed to do, he was a wreck the first few days and didn't want to go anywhere, but each night he fell asleep earlier and earlier until he was finally sleeping from 7 to 7 (he's now 6 and goes from 8:30 to 7). He was about the same age as your son and like you it was affecting our marriage and I had a new baby on the way that I wanted to give attention to.

Good luck, it is not fun!
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#5 of 16 Old 07-09-2010, 05:04 PM
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Whoo. That's tough. Okay, I'll begin by saying that our bedtimes with our 3 year old have gotten SIGNIFICANTLY better, which is why I'm writing. But FYI, we don't do a family bed, he has his own room with a big boy bed and then comes into our bed if/when he wakes in the night.

We were staying with him so long in his room that it took hours for him to fall asleep. My theory is that you are so much more exciting than sleep for your LO, they will not let you leave. This is what happened to us. So we were very cognitive with our son about the procedure. NOT the pre-bed procedure (dinner, bath, teeth, pjs, book, bed) because it's too long.

When I (or DH) sat down to read the night's book, we had a countdown. "Three books, and then what are you going to do?" We straight up coached him on the answer. "I'm going to go night-night." How will that look? "I'm going to lay down in bed very still with my eyes closed." So we gave him our visual expectation of what bedtime should look like. And we never told him he had to sleep. We can't compel him to sleep, but we can compel him to lay there, very still, with his eyes closed.

So then after the first book, we reviewed AGAIN the whole procedure and what it would look like. Then the last book and AGAIN what it will look like and then he got a series of two choices. "Do you want Mama to put you in bed or do you want to get in bed yourself?" "Do you want me to tuck you in or do you want to do it?" "Do you want to turn off your light or do you want me to?" So then also he's getting a lot of feelings of control over how the night goes, coupled with really clear expectations of what he should do.

Then there was a progression. He wants you to lay down with him. Okay, I'll lay with you for 5 minutes, and then I'm going to sit at the edge of the bed. (I didn't leave right away, because then he'd freak and get up, right?). Okay, so I'm going to sit on the edge of the bed for 5 minutes. Then I would sit by the door for 5 minutes, and then I'm going bye-bye. Recently this whole process became shorter when I put a bean-bag chair next to his bed and we hold hands for 5 minutes and then I go bye-bye.

So getting out of the room... still the hardest part. Here's how it worked for us and it worked out really well. I made a deal with him. "I'm going bye-bye now. Good night and I love you and *kisses* *hugs*" and he wined. "Okay, if you can stay in bed, very still with your eyes closed, like we talked about, then I WILL COME CHECK ON YOU. (this worked wonders). So the deal was as long as he didn't get out of bed and open the door, I would come check on him in 5 minutes, or after I finally got to pee, or whatever. I would tell him what a good job he was doing going to bed, and if he kept doing such a good job, I would check on him again.

So after checking on him two or three times in a half-hour period, you just let the span get so long he falls asleep waiting for you to check on him again. And now, after three months of this, I only check on him sporadically, just so he knows I still will. And I always tell him "I will come check on you again, but you are so tired, you may be asleep when I do." Which is true, because you are "checking" on him when you get in bed with him at the end of YOUR night.

Sorry so long... hope it helps! Bedtimes are wonderful for us now, and I wouldn't change them for the world.

K: high school teacher and mama to DS1 (7/07), loss (10/10) and DS2 (7/12). Married to my best friend and soon to be elementary school teacher!
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#6 of 16 Old 07-13-2010, 12:56 AM
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MovnMama - thank 100 times!
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#7 of 16 Old 07-13-2010, 02:05 PM
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What we do is similar to movnmama and it really does seem to work. We also make sure to mention, some days, how he was fast asleep when I came to check in on him. Sometimes I do some exaggerated snoring or something and he always laughs. He seems relieved to know that we're checking on him, that's for sure.

I also became very aware of when my presence was soothing and when it was stimulating. I still have to do that actually. He recently started having a hard time again and so I started giving him a backrub and then laying down for a few minutes. Many nights he's soothed by my presence, but sometimes he just tries to play with me. That's when I say that I have to go do my chores and I'll check on him when they're done. He's usually out within a couple of minutes.

All the best to you, it's hard work! A great book that helped us a ton is Sleepless in America, but I'm sure you don't have much time for reading with so much energy going towards the bedtime thing!

Married to DH since 2006.  Adoptive mom to DD1 (June 2002), DS (Jan 2006), and bio mom to DD2 (May 2009).

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#8 of 16 Old 07-13-2010, 02:19 PM
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I agree with movnmama, and also you might want to try moving his bedtime up half an hour, and then if that doesn't work moving his bedtime back half an hour. I don't know why, but when we've had sleep problems of any sort with either child, shaking up the bedtime seems to make a huge difference. And we often have to change it the opposite of how we thought we would, like a child who has trouble going to sleep might be a bit overtired at that point and might be better off going to sleep a little earlier rather than a little later, which is why I always try moving it forward a bit first.

Good luck!
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#9 of 16 Old 07-13-2010, 05:03 PM
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My 3yo is doing the same thing. It's making me CRAZY!

Here's some things I've tried: (not that any have actually worked....)

Having and sticking to a routine (walk or bath, put baby to bed, teeth, potty, 5 books, music, prayers, hugs and kisses, bed)
writing a little personlized sleep book detailing the routine and her staying in bed and going to sleep
emphasis on relaxing -- If she could just turn off sleep might come, but she's too busy to let that happen
massage starting with toes and putting each part of her body to sleep "Your feet had so much fun today running and jumping and now they're so tired and need to rest"
staying in the hallway
not staying in the hallway (sometimes I think we're a distraction)
a night-light
reward chart
a couple of tickets that allow her to come out of her room a couple of times
now we're trying a treat of dried cherries she picked out in the morning if she stayed in her room the night before
exposure to early morning sunlight
We even did a drive once, but it backfired...
talking about how sleep keeps you healthy
imagery -- close your eyes and pretend you're the butterfly we saw on our walk or the kitty sleeping.

We asked the ped about it when we were in for other DD's well-baby. She said her son had done the same thing last summer and suggested a lot of the things I already tried... as well as a clock that changed colors based on the time of day (like blue means resting in bed, orange means time to wake up), swimming lessons to wear them out, and melatonin as a last-resort for short-time use. Her take was it was a testing the limits and being nosy about what else is happening type of thing.

Good luck, it's definately awful!
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#10 of 16 Old 07-15-2010, 12:32 PM
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this is just what I need, we are having similar situation w/ ds who is almost 3. Movnmamma, we will definitely try your method, it sounds really good. But, one question, what do you do if your child won't stay in bed and be still when you leave the room??
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#11 of 16 Old 07-15-2010, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by twead View Post
this is just what I need, we are having similar situation w/ ds who is almost 3. Movnmamma, we will definitely try your method, it sounds really good. But, one question, what do you do if your child won't stay in bed and be still when you leave the room??
Leave the door open and put your child back in bed everytime he gets up. When we first started this routine with our daughter there was some crying...but I don't think of it as cio when she can get out of bed and come to us (we started at 2.75 yrs when we realized it took her so long to go to bed because we were stimulating her). The first few times she came out we said, "Time for bed," and put her back. Then we stopped saying anything, just returned her to bed.

I think you can do this in a co-sleeping situation provided the child is going to bed alone (before you do).

I also think a very strict bedtime routine makes a huge difference. Ours is
- Jammies & teeth brushing with Papa
- Three stories with me (two with her sitting on my lap next to the bed, last one in her bed -- I always say, one more story on my lap, then this is our last story, etc).
- Two songs from me while I turn out the light, cover her and put on her ladybug nightlight
- Whole family says good night to the nightlight, my daughter turns it off (it is a big toy one that shines stars on the ceiling)
- Kisses for baby brother, kisses for me, we leave the room and papa stays
- Kisses and one song from papa and he turns her classical music on and leaves the room.

We leave the hall light on so she isn't in total darkness, she comes out and my husband is the one to take her back to bed.

If part of the routine is skipped she is put off. If we need to we shorten it (fewer stories, less verses in songs etc) but don't skip parts.

It wasn't an easy adjustment for her, but it was so necessary. She had never been an easy sleeper. We had to realize that difficulty adjusting didn't mean we were doing something's just who she is--she has a hard time adjusting to change which is why a routine is necessary--but when the routine was new it wasn't easy for her.

I think my daughter used to be a "tension increaser" but as she got older became a "tension releaser" (see Ask Moxie). Sometimes she needs to release the extra pent up energy/tension of the day by crying...I'm the same way!

Momma to my sweet kiddos DD (2.19.07) and DS (9.27.09) and wife to the most amazing man (7.24.04)
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#12 of 16 Old 07-16-2010, 01:13 AM
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Wow, what a helpful post! Thanks for the advice. My 3 yo dd is the same, and it ruins the whole night. She can't stand for us to get up to even walk towards the door, let alone leave the room. I am sure there would be a big freak out over dh or I leaving the room while she is awake. Then again, if we lovingly help her work through her strong emotions, she (and we!) will be better off for it!

Mom to Delia  (5/25/07) and Alex  (4/10/10) and 2 spoiled kitties
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#13 of 16 Old 07-16-2010, 03:24 AM
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Thank you as well. I was just reading about 3 year old sleep regression, because my daughter is suddenly refusing to go to bed also. She was literally doing great with going to sleep in her bed on her own, then coming into our bed later on in the night, which was totally fine. But this past week, she has been super hard to settle down, even after walking, bathtime, and a multitude of books. She is really having a meltdown when I leave the room, even when I tell her I am just in the kitchen, or reading the book, etc, and that I will check up on her in a few minutes. She is also experiencing what I suspect are nighttime terrors--waking up crying numerous times in the middle of the night. My nerves are fried, frankly, and I know I would do a much better job parenting in general if we were all sleeping better.

She is a very sensitive child, always has been, so maybe this is just another developmental phase or growth spurt?
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#14 of 16 Old 07-16-2010, 05:30 AM
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Do you turn on lights in the evening all over? Sometimes dimming the lights helps. And on the flip side make sure lots of sunlight during the day to keep his internal sleep rhythm in order. It sounds like you already have a good steady routine in place. Its pretty much what I had too. It worked for us but try not to have rooms to bright in the evening and be sure there is sunlight during the day or very bright lights.

What time is he waking up? Does it vary? If it varies I would make it a set time it really helps in getting a sleep pattern at any age.

Definitely agree 10-12 would be a lot better than 9-10 hours. My almost 7 year old still need about 12 hours of sleep. She does okay with 10-11 but 12 is best for her mood wise.

Melissa mama to Zoë 7/26/03
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#15 of 16 Old 07-19-2010, 10:47 PM
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YOu might want to read this book. I happened to find it at a little country store and assumed it would be a terrible sleep book. But its great! It has scripts and a CD to read to your child to help him learn to relax and drift off to sleep.
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#16 of 16 Old 07-20-2010, 04:29 AM
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I really needed this too! Thanks!

DD is 38 months and has always been a sleep fighter, but she has not gone to bed before 10pm in the last month or so.

I love all of the suggestions and thank you for reminding me about the suns role is sleep rhythm. It has been 115 degrees here, so I have been keeping all of the blinds and drapes shut around the house to save on energy costs. I don't like it in general, but I never thought about the effect it might have! Duh!

One question tho... what do you do when the 3 year old shares a room with the 2 year old (who goes to sleep promptly at 8pm every night by the way)? I am certain that she would wake up her sister during the process and then I would be tag teamed! I guess I need them to go to sleep in there TOGETHER at 8ish. Ugh. Feels so out of reach!

mama to three amazing girls (05.07, 09.08 and 2.11) expecting #4 in July
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