<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=627330131183806&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

What To Do When Your Pre-schooler Won't Sleep

Alex Matthews

Written by Alex Matthews

12 min read

Here’s a scenario that you’re probably very familiar with. You’ve had a long, busy day and have finally put your little one to bed. You’re finishing off your chores, making your dinner or perhaps unwinding with a well-deserved glass of wine on the sofa.

stressed partner looking for comfort

And then… you hear it. The cries of ‘Mummy! I can’t sleep!’ from upstairs, or the padding of little feet down the landing. 

Your little cherub (who perhaps doesn’t seem quite so cherubic right now) can’t sleep, or won’t, and nothing you do - begging, soothing, demanding - will help.

The good news is that every child can have better sleep when parents get to the heart of the issue and try out different approaches - until one or two work. 

Common sleep issues in 3-5 year olds 


It’s worth understanding why sleep troubles happen. Your child is no longer a toddler, and is beginning to learn to assert themselves: what better way to state newfound independence than by refusing to go to sleep? 

At the same time, though, your little one might be unsure of being by themselves, particularly in a dark room where there could be all manner of scary things. Or it could be that, after a day of play and adventures, being in a darkened bedroom alone is just plain boring. 


Developmental milestones can have a big impact on your child's sleep cycle, so before you try to tackle a sleep regression too quickly, wait a few days to see what happens.

At this age, night terrors or nightmares can crop up as life is changing so rapidly and your little one’s brain is rapidly developing. Fighting sleep is a way to take control, but it's also a way to cope with fears that come with the night.

Ten tips for better bedtimes with your child

Dad having a pillow fight with his two toddlers in the bedroom

1. Implement a bedtime routine

Your most valuable tool will be creating a consistent night time routine. A soothing, reliable bedtime schedule will provide a sense of security for your child and will help avoid bedtime tantrums. Stick to the same bedtime daily, and tell your child ten minutes and half an hour before it’s time to go to bed. 

2. Create the foundations for an easy bedtime

Mother giving her child a kiss on her head before bedtime

This means starting your routine an hour before sleep time. It means limiting screen time, including the TV, iPad and smartphones, because the blue light that our electronics emit can affect the production of the sleepy hormone, melatonin.

Some gentle play or simply talking about your day with your little one will start to get them in the right frame of mind for bed.

Taking time to talk about your day can in itself be a great idea, as some children fight bedtime in order to spend more time with mum and dad, particularly if you work long hours.

3. Give your child a warm bath

Laughing child with wet hair in the bath

A warm bath is a good way to signal that bedtime is coming, but it’s also a well-known sleep remedy. Not only is it soothing, but it also helps drop your child’s body, which signals to the body that it’s time to go to sleep.

When your little one is out and dry, it’s time to put pyjamas on, brush teeth and do a final wee. Try to limit the amount of fluid your child has in the hour before bed, to avoid additional trips to the bathroom or accidents.

4. Create a routine your child looks forward to 

Dad and mum shining a torch on a book in bed with their toddler

It’s lovely to end the day with a bedtime story, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for you to bond with your child. Many children love to snuggle and be close to you at bedtime, and this is a great way to incorporate that into your routine.

You can read in a quiet spot or in your child’s bed; if you read a favourite book in a gentle voice, you may well find that your child starts to feel sleepy or even drop off while you read. 

If your child is dropping off after your story, give them a hug and a kiss and say goodnight. If they’re still wide awake, maybe sing a lullaby, then give them a cuddle, tell them you love them and slip out.

Children thrive on routine and if you can have an enjoyable bedtime routine that they are involved in then they will all look forward to bedtime, and so will you. If dinner followed by bath and then books doesn’t work for you - change it up and try a routine you both enjoy.

5. Keep things consistent 

Toddler carrying a teddy bear

Your child should be looking forward to your routine and enjoy this time with you. Include lots of bedtime reading or storytelling as it has a hugely relaxing effect on children.

You could create a pictorial bedtime chart so that your child knows what is coming next in the day. Or you might choose to not mention bedtime and naptime, but simply incorporate it into the peaceful routine you click into. 

If your little one is up and out of bed constantly, gently and without emotion lead them right back to their own room. You have to be consistent at first for this plan to stick. Try to remember that you're teaching your child an important skill, and this is a normal development stage to go through.

6. Create a cosy, peaceful environment

Mum reading a book with her baby on her lap

The right sleeping environment will help your child to feel safe so he can settle down for bedtime. Their bedroom should be dark and quiet, with soft sheets on the bed at a thickness that suits the time of year.

Ideally, pyjamas should be made of soft, breathable cotton. Having a small nightlight and closing the cupboard doors could help dispel any bedtime fears - pre-schoolers often have very active imaginations, which the darkness can feed.

7. Ensure your child is tired

Child with yellow top laying in bed with an orange duvet cover

The amount of sleep that a child needs decreases gradually as they get older. Pre-schoolers need around 11-12 hours of sleep each day - which includes a nap. What times sleep should happen isn’t an exact science.

The more important question is setting up a consistent routine and habits for bedtime. It can be tempting to keep them up late in the hope that they will settle faster or sleep late. Unfortunately, overtired children rarely sleep well!

Lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation during the day are a better way to get your child to feel tired come bedtime. 

8. Problem-solve together

Child wearing pjamas getting into bed

If none of the above is working, then why not ask your child directly why they’re struggling to sleep, and what could help? You might discover that she’s uncomfortable, that she has night fears, that she has separation anxiety, or simply that she’s too hot.

Together you can create solutions - this will also help them to feel that she’s in control and asserting that independence that we discussed earlier. For example, if it’s monsters (a common one) you may be able to banish them with a spray bottle of pretend ‘monster destroyer’ or a magic wand.

Some parents get into the habit of lying down next to their children until they fall asleep. While this may do the trick temporarily, it won't help sleeping patterns in the long run.

Establishing a routine where you have to be there for your child to go to sleep isn’t sustainable for either of you (or your relationship) in the long run.

9. Motivate your child

Of course, you know why your child needs to sleep, and what the benefits are. And, let’s be honest, you know what the benefits are for you too! But your child doesn’t know why she needs to sleep and can’t see any advantage for them. It’s time to get out the stickers!

This is particularly helpful if there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason that she won’t stay in bed. Create a reward chart, and if your little one stays in bed all night, give them a sticker to put on the chart, along with plenty of praise and hugs!

You could promise a reward if they stay in their bed all night for three nights in a row, but keep it simple and tangible (i.e. don’t promise a new toy for seven days straight!). 

10. Stick with it

Toddler carrying a teddy bear

Each child is different, and creating an effective bedtime routine that works for them is an art, not a science. You’ll need to tweak it along the way, but once you’ve got a routine that works, stick with it.

Consistency and predictability will help your child to feel safe and secure, and to stay in bed the whole night long - eventually!

You can easily give your child an incentive by promising to check on them in five minutes and that you’re nearby. The trick is to go back after five, until you are seen to be a trustworthy parent!

Toddler sleeping in bed while holding a teddy bear

Get Lockdown Support With EasyPeasy


Looking for tips, expert advice and playful games to help you through lockdown? We've got you covered with the EasyPeasy parenting app! Created to support the parents of 0 to 5 year olds, EasyPeasy is full of playful tips and ideas to keep your little one developing and busy.

You can expect practical advice, playful games and more to help you connect with your child. There’s content from partners Scouts, LEGO and NCT, and you can share your own tips through the new parent community sharing feature.

Click below to head to to the app store!

Download on the App StoreGoogle Play store link

Updated Email header promoting the new EasyPeasy creating feature