Older Child Sleep Struggles

Older Child Sleep Struggles

Most of the sleep advice out there is aimed at the baby sleep stage and by the time your small has turned 6 months old it's common bed belief sleep *should* be nailed.

 If your child is battling bedtime or doing the night fight you may feel sleep shame or embarrassed because talking about older sleep struggles is kept on the sleep shush. It's a taboo that we brush under the bedroom carpet and stopped talked about for fear of being judged, mocked or told it's your fault because you haven't sleep trained them.

You’re NOT causing the sleep struggle 

You’re NOT getting it all wrong 

There's always sleep science and communication behind their bedtime behaviour

There's always a caring way forward that doesn't involve leaving them to cry it out, it's never too late to make caring changes

Let’s start by looking at what's going on in the life of your  2 - 7 year old:

  • They suddenly grow up overnight and so do our expectations

  • They crave autonomy and independence but it feels scary for them

  • They start nursery/pre-school/school

  • They may move to a new nursery, school, class or child care setting

  • The hours or days they spend at nursery/school may increase

  • A new sibling may arrive

There's also the usual flux of everyday life; illness, travel, holidays and our work/life balance for us all.

Any small change can have big impact on their sleep because they can't anticipate what's going to happen next making them a little unsure and unsettled.

Now we know why they may sleep struggle let’s take a look at how we can help them get a settled nights sleep:


They may scrap their nap anywhere between 19 months and 5 years old

Signs they are ready to drop it are:

  • you put them down and they don't fall asleep

  • the nap gets pushed later and later in the day

Once they can make it to 3pm I always suggest leaving the nap and bringing bedtime earlier. This is because they produce melatonin at 3pm and sleeping past this time uses up their sleep hormone needed for bedtime and sleep

I am a big fan of following their lead and dropping it when they are ready but if they start refusing to go to sleep at bedtime it maybe a clue they need an earlier or shorter nap

When they don't nap it's natural they will get overtired and they may need an earlier bedtime

It may take a bit of time to 💯 scrap the nap and your small may want to nap every other day for a bit 

If bedtime isn't impacted or all is working for you don't feel pressure to give naps the push


Their melatonin (sleep hormone) levels start to rise at 3pm and is at it's peak between 7pm and 7.30pm. 

Ideally we want to get them settled to sleep when their melatonin at's peak and before they get overtired. The older the small the later they can manage before getting overtired. 

If we put them to bed too late they start to produce cortisol which can cause them to battle bedtime and make them appear manic. It can also cause wake ups in the post midnight when their melatonin levels start to naturally decrease again!

The best bed time by age:

2 years: 6.30pm to 7pm

3-4 years: 7pm to 7.30pm

Then for each year you can roughly add 30 minutes to the bedtime before over-tiredness starts to kick in

If your child is begging for bed and is very tearful or unsettled during their bedtime routine, try bring their bedtime slightly earlier

Bedtime routine

Sleep is a period of separation and your bedtime routine is preparation for separation. Doing their routine in the same order every night helps them anticipate what's coming next making them feel settled and secure.

Here are my top suggestions for preparation for separation:

After dinner keep it on the down low and avoid games that whoop them up like tickling, races etc.

If having a bath try to keep this to around 15 minutes as any longer and they can easily get over stimulated!

After bath go straight into their sleep space (where they sleep) for the most important part of the routine

Once they're in their sleep space try to avoid bringing them back out as it can over stimulate them and gives them inconsistent bed boundaries

Have some wind down time together to help separation go smoothly:

Hang out, have stories, drink milk, sing, do some yoga and spend some present time with them

Saying goodnight to 3 or 4 things in the same order every night helps them anticipate that sleep is coming next

Have a big kiss and cuddle for at a couple of minutes before encouraging them to get into bed.

Bedtime resistance

Resisting and battling bed is very common!

“I need a drink”

“I need to find that broken toy I have just remembered but I lost 2 weeks ago”

“My bed is too beddy” (My all-time favourite!)

Having a consistent and calm routine usually puts an end to these bedtime requests because they feel they have had time with you and are ready for sleep separation but some children can be persistent!

If they continue to resist, argue or complains you can use the something called “avoidance”. Responding to their complaints by nagging, fighting or arguing will give them the perception that they have the power to challenge you!  They see a sense of empowerment when you explain things over and over again encouraging them to resist more. Also by fighting they are getting to spend more time with you even if it is negative time. The more we persist, the more they resist! If there are any struggle you can calmly say “we have talked about this” and “this is what is happening”

Support if they wake up:

If coming into your bed isn’t an issue for you than it's nobody else’s bed business 

If you don’t want them to come into your bed the key to moving forward is being consistent; having them sleep in there one night but not another gives them mixed messages.

If they need some support overnight:

Don’t ask why they are awake or have come into your room 

Give them some reassurance then calmly and swiftly guide them back to their bed

Encourage them to get back into bed

Reassure them they are safe but it's sleepy time

Keep conversation to a minimum

Fingers crossed sleep settles for you soon but if you need any further support or advice please drop me a message.   If you would like to find out more about my sleep services please contact me.

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Screen and Sleep

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