My child just won’t go to sleep

Small girl waking her parents early in the morning.This article takes a look at what you can do if your child just won’t go to sleep. It’s taken from our Sleep Guide which is available to download for free.

What should I do when my child just will not go to sleep?

Often settling problems can be caused by a lack of bedtime routine or perhaps the bedroom being associated with activities other than sleep. However, even after establishing a calming bedtime routine, it may be that your child does not want to go to sleep and cries out to you. This may be distressing for you as a parent to hear and your natural reaction may be to go back into your child’s bedroom.

As described in Part One of the Sleep Guide, this may be contributing to the problem, and so the next step for intervention would be to stop reinforcing the settling problem. This may require ‘ignoring’ your child’s cries, which is known as extinction. However, this can be very difficult for parents and children, so graduated extinction is recommended.

Agree a set amount of time (e.g. 2 minutes) that you will allow your child to cry for, before briefly checking on them.

  1. When your child has been crying for the 2 minutes, go in and check them. This checking should only be to reassure yourself that the child is alright and to tell them to go back to bed. When you check on them, do not offer physical interaction, music, or any other aspect of the bedtime routine.
  2. Leave the room and wait the agreed time before repeating the checking procedure.
  3. You may have to repeat this many times before your child eventually falls asleep, so it’s a good idea to start on Friday night or another evening where no one has school or work the next day.
  4. The next night, gradually increase the amount of time you allow before checking on your child (e.g. from 2 minutes to 4 minutes), and continue to keep the checking procedure brief.
  5. Repeat this until the child’s crying at settling reduces.

If the suggested times here are too long, try just waiting for one minute before checking and then gradually increase the time by 30 seconds each night. Eventually your child will learn to settle themselves to sleep without you there

If you’d like some individual advice on introducing this technique please get in touch with our Sleep Team. 

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