Why won't my 4 year old sleep?

I really enjoy the company of my eldest daughter. She is funny, clever, loving and creative. She is full of energy and can be so much fun to be around. The exception to this bedtime.

I hate her bedtime. I end up shouting most nights, I frequently leave the room to calm myself down and I silently beg her to go to sleep. Other nights I actually beg her to go to sleep, but just like shouting, bribes and crying it doesn’t work. Those same traits which make her such a strong, independent and fun person all combine at bedtime to make her a horror. 

“Mummy, hug!” she demands whilst doing headstands on the sofa and kicking me in the face. “Mummy, kiss” she says as she jumps on me. “Lie next to me”, I agree, but rather than go to sleep she wiggles her legs, turns upside down, does puppet shows with her arms, sings songs, tries to crawl under my legs or makes a den with the duvet.

Please poke me in the eye instead of going to sleep
They say that the key to getting your children to bed is a good consistent routine. I suspect “they” have very different children to my eldest. Routines rely on the child in question doing what you ask. Bedtimes are now complicated by having a baby, but before she was on the scene I would pick M up from nursery at 6 (as a working mum I had no choice other than picking her up as late). I would then have an hour to get her home, cook and eat dinner, try and spend some quality time and ideally have a bath before aiming to get her to her room by 7.

From 7 o clock onwards I would spend my time trying to get M to wind down and get ready to switch off. Some days she would be asleep soon after 8, bad nights she finally gave in after 9.30. In between I would get her changed, read her stories, attempt to dim the lights (often refused) and attempt to get her to lie in bed next to me, stop talking, close her eyes and be still. I know once she manages to lie there quietly for 5 minutes she will fall asleep, but instead she will jump up and down complaining “I can’t get to sleep”.

Delaying tactics include needing the toilet, being starving hungry (despite refusing to eat any more food less than an hour before), needing a favourite toy, just one more story, wanting a lullaby, needing more water, another hug. I will tell her that I’m going away until she is ready to sleep, but often she will cling on to me and not let me leave. I’ve even tried those child hypnosis sleep video’s on youtube, M is wide awake at the end.

By the time M is asleep I am lucky to get any time with my partner or by myself before I collapse from exhaustion.

Little girl falling asleep holding her mothers hand
A sleeping child, one of the most beautiful sights there is.
Since the baby has arrived bedtimes have become even more fun. Little is comparatively a good sleeper, but evenings are now spent between two bedrooms trying to meet the needs of both of my daughters. Nearly every night M will wake Little up with her loud playing or her tantrums. This means I have to stop spending time with M further pushing back what time she will give in to sleep. 

A major deterioration in M’s bedtimes recently is the introduction of TV. After many evenings where M would come in the room just as I was getting Little to sleep I discovered the most effective way to get the baby to sleep was to allow M to watch TV. This works wonders in keeping her quiet, but has a negative effect once I turn the TV off. It can take anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour to get Little to sleep. That’s a lot of TV just before bed. It often means M isn’t in her room by 7 either, pushing back her ultimate sleep time.

I have discussed M’s sleep challenges with friends as well as a local attachment parenting group. So many people giving advice (none has worked yet), but there are also a number of other mums like me who dread bedtime. Those of us who have tried everything, but still have children who fight sleep for as long as they can. M was like it as a baby and I suspect she will be the same for years to come. I would love to believe those parents who say that she will be better when she starts school, but I struggle to see how school will tire her much more than the long days she spends at nursery.  She has been going 5 days a week for the last 4 years. Even if it does make her more tired, being tired has never equalled going to sleep earlier or easier, it normally equals hyperactivity and more tantrums.

To all you parents who share my pain just know that I am there for you if you ever need to talk, don't feel alone in your battle. And if you ever find a solution which works please let me know. To everyone else you are welcome to come babysit and get M to bed, you can stand by and offer me a beer/ shot of strong drink every time I manage to leave the room, but please don’t offer advice, I’m confident it won’t work and I’ve probably already tried it. 


  1. Sending solidarity, my daughter is a nightmare to get to sleep too. I hear you about the routine, if anything it seems to make things worse as she fights every stage.

    Just one thought, maybe if she's less tired from her school day then she currently is from her nursery days then she'll actually be easier to settle? I'm clutching at straws here I think, trying to give you hope!!

  2. YES re the routine. Instead of one big battle it's a series of them.
    Anything is possible with sleep, straws are what keep me going (and chocolate)

  3. My Ethan can be tricksy and every night one of us has to stay with him until he settles. Sometimes we are lucky, sometimes he can take a couple of hours.

    1. Why, why, why don't they realise how beautiful it is to just lie down and relax?


Thanks for your comment (unless it's spam in which case, why?)