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Child can’t wind down at night? Why some kids struggle to go to sleep

By Amanda Morin

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Lots of kids have trouble winding down at night from time to time. But bedtime can be a nightly struggle for some families. Why is it so hard for some kids to relax and drift off to sleep?

Trouble winding down can be related to worry and anxiety. It can also be related to fun stuff. Some kids get so wrapped up in what they’re doing that they have trouble switching gears at bedtime. Others don’t want to miss out on something cool that’s happening after they’re supposed to be asleep. 

Here are other reasons kids may have trouble winding down:

  • Not having the music, stuffed animal, or person they “need” to fall asleep (you may hear this called sleep association)

  • Being afraid of the dark, of having nightmares, or of other nighttime-related things

  • Getting stuck on thoughts and problems

  • Going through big changes at home, like a new baby or the death of a family member 

  • Having high levels of energy, or hyperactivity

Changes in routine can also throw off kids’ sleep schedules. For example, sleeping later in the morning can make it harder to wind down at night.

Dive deeper

Stress, anxiety, and COVID-19

Stress and anxiety make it harder to get settled and fall asleep. Since the coronavirus pandemic started, more kids are having trouble getting to sleep or sleeping well. Heightened awareness of racial injustice can also add to kids’ anxiety and stress.

Over time, kids who struggle with sleep might start to worry well before bedtime that they’re not going to fall asleep. That worry can make them restless, which makes it even harder to wind down.

When kids are anxious, you may notice that they:

  • Lie awake alone 

  • Keep popping out of bed to announce “I’m still awake” 

  • Worry during the day, too, and about life in general

Learn more about signs of anxiety in young kids and tweens and teens .

Hyperactivity and sleep

Hyperactivity is one of the signs of ADHD. Kids with ADHD are often easily distracted, too, which can make it hard to settle down at night. It can take them a while to “shut off their brain” and get to sleep.

Lack of sleep can also make it harder to concentrate the next day. 

Learn more about how ADHD can affect sleep .

How to help kids adjust their sleep schedules

Some kids are night owls. Their bedtime comes before their brains are ready to wind down. They may struggle with what’s called “delayed sleep.” This means they’re often still awake for up to an hour after going to bed. 

Start by meeting them where they are. Set their bedtime for when they’ve been naturally falling asleep. Then help make small changes that slowly push bedtime up earlier.

Learn how to adjust sleep schedules for grade-schoolers and middle- and high-schoolers .

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom