How To Cope When a Child Will Not Sleep


10 years ago I gave birth to my first child. Little did I know that as I was busy saying hello to my adorable newborn son, I was also inadvertently saying goodbye to getting a decent night’s sleep. Never again.

It’s been 10 LONG years of shitty sleep. 10 years of late-night monster checking, of early wake-ups, of requests of ‘Mummy, can I sleep in your bed?’

In the past 10 years, I’ve added two more badly-sleeping spawn to the bed. On any given night, at least one of the three kids are awake and annoying me at some god-awful hour.

It’s normally Baby #3, but Child #1 and Child #2 also like to add to nighttime antics with random bouts of “I’m scared,” “I can’t sleep” and “Can you tickle my back for the next THREE HOURS until I fall asleep?”. No. No, I cannot.

Go the F to sleep… or at least leave mummy alone so she can sleep 

Of course, it’s my own damned fault. I am one of those sucker mums who can’t bring herself to sleep train my kids. Once they start crying, I start mega ugly-crying and, let’s just say, it never ends well.

I am also one of those sucker mums who probably spoiled my kids with too many co-sleeping snuggles when they were little. Now they hate sleeping by themselves. As do I.

Another issue is that when I kids do actually sleep, I stay up. Why? Because it’s my only time to actually get things done. Like sitting on the couch and eating a cupcake without anyone asking for a bite or touching me. It’s either sleep or solitude. And, often, I choose solitude.

woman in bed, weekend plans

But, perhaps the main reason all three of my kids have issues sleeping is that they have bedtime anxiety. Yes, this is a thing. I looked it up. And there’s even a study to back it up.

Research from Signify recently revealed that 86% of Aussie children are suffering from bedtime anxiety and sleeping issues, causing a direct impact on mood, sense of happiness, and productivity at school.


The research also shows that the average household is out of pocket up to $2,500 a year due to missing work to be the at-home carer, or health issues as a result of their child’s bad sleeping habits.

If you have kids in this 86%, then allow us to share some insight into bedtime anxiety and what you can do to make it out of this phase alive and without permanent black bags under your eyes.

A real mum’s guide to handling shitty sleeping children

  • Invest in large sunglasses. Wear them often.
  • Also, invest in a good coffee machine that easily can give you a double dose of caffeine.
  • Find games to play with your kids that allow you to lie there. My two faves are ‘doctor’ where I am the ‘comatose patient’ and ‘draw on mummy’s back’ where I get to lie down and let my kids draw pictures on my back.
  • Pretend you’re super sick (and super contagious) so your partner has no other choice but to take the kids off you in the early morning and let you rest.
  • Learn to sleep sitting up. This is especially handy if you have a baby who won’t sleep unless in your arms.  As your baby grows, it may also be handy to teach yourself how to sleep with a toddler sitting on your head and kicking your face.

new mum Earthbound Images

  • Nap with your child. Then wake up in the middle of the day not knowing what time it is and whether you should be eating breakfast or dinner.
  • Remind yourself that one day, you will sleep. Eventually, they will turn into teenagers. My eldest non-sleeper is nearly there at 10, but my youngest is 10 months, so I’ve only got 12 more years left to wait…

Expert tips for reducing bedtime anxiety in kids

Of course, there is another option when it comes to handling non-sleeping kids. You can work to reduce their bedtime anxieties. Clearly, this is something that I’m no good at but Clinical Psychologist and Behavioural specialist Jaimie Bloch is an expert at it.

Children can become anxious when falling asleep. This is partly because lying in bed before sleep we often playback the day as well as have thoughts about upcoming experiences in the future. It is also because we may have had a very active and engaging day, making it hard to switch off,”  Jaimie explains.

Here are a few things she suggests mums do to help children overcome bedtime anxiety and sleep issues:

1. Use gentle lighting

Light filtering into our eyes is what helps set off specific chemicals in our bodies that trigger the sleep-wake cycle, which can be negatively affected by harsh lighting. Gentle lighting is easy on the eyes and a simple change that parents can make in the home to facilitate healthy sleep patterns.

2. Establish a regular sleep routine

Having a regular routine allows your child the comfort and ease of knowing and learning when it’s time to start getting the body and mind into relaxation sleep mode, which reduces bedtime anxiety.

easy baby sleep routines to follow

3. Spend time outside

The sun is a natural cue for our brain and body chemicals and spending time outdoors allows our body a natural chemical release which promotes good sleep. When you look at the sun, for your body it’s like looking at a clock and checking the time – this process is called entrainment, where your body clock synchronises with the local time.

4. Create tech-free zones

The bedroom should be associated only with sleep. A lot of families I meet use their bedroom for schoolwork. Having a zone free of tech, entertainment and work allows the bedroom to become a place of rest and relaxation.

5. Limit screen time

The recommendation is that children should not be using screens 60-90 minutes prior to bedtime. Almost one quarter (22%) of Aussie parents identified excessive screen time as one of the driving factors of their child’s bedtime anxiety.

6. Make sure the bedroom is comfy

Back to basics – a relaxing sleeping environment can help to relax the child and improve sleep. Although trendy furniture can be tempting and aesthetically pleasing, a comfortable environment is much more likely to help your child doze off to sleep.

mum central

What to read next

We have plenty of sleep advice articles for kids for all ages and stages. Here are a few to sink your teeth into, most likely at 2am when you can’t sleep. #becausekids

Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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