I’m sure you’ve heard of the 8 month sleep regression? One of numerous sleep regressions that happen where your baby, who was sleeping well, decides that closing his eyes as akin to torture and refuses to go to sleep. What you may not have heard of, is the 8 year old sleep regression. This is where your usually good sleeper decides that their bed is full of electric eels and keeps jumping back out of it with yet another reason why they can’t sleep. Sleep regression in an 8 year old is a whole new ball game.
Boy Child had been an excellent sleeper since about 6 months old. While his bedtime routine was long winded and tedious (and at one point involved us acting out a skit about trains every night), once it was done he was down for the night. Since he turned 8 however, he keeps popping back up like a jack in the box. Here’s how we’re dealing with sleep problems in an older child.
Reasons Why my 8 year old Can’t Get to Sleep
The list of reasons that he’s out of bed is endless, some common ones include:
- I can’t remember the capital of France (not sure he ever knew in the first place)
- My water bottle is squeaking
- There’s a lump on my foot (yes dear, that’s your ankle)
- I haven’t done my homework (he has)
- I need you to remind me to draw a picture of the dog I want in the morning. (Reminding him to do things is a bit of a theme)
- There’s a noise inside my head (it’s probably your exhausted brain, begging you for sleep)
- My duvet has fallen off and I can’t pick it up (why the hell not?!)
These however, are all excuses. The truth is he is having trouble falling asleep and so is coming up with ever more inventive reasons to get up. It may look look like bad behaviour, but this is actually how sleep regression in 8 year olds presents itself.
Solutions to the 8 Year Old Sleep Regression
We used a number of different tactics to solve our 8 year old’s sleep problems and together they were pretty successful. Have a look through them and use the ones you feel will be relevant for your child
What is a Good Bedtime for an 8 Year Old?
To try and solve our 8 year old’s sleep problems, the first thing we did was make his bedtime later. Both children have had a 7pm bedtime pretty much since birth. My Mum once asked me if I still expected them to go to bed at 7pm when they were 18 (I told her no, I expected them to have moved out when they were 18). I think we did pretty well keeping it up until they were 6 and 8 but accepted it was probably time to make it a bit later. We now aim at somewhere between 7.30 and 8pm.
The UK sleep council suggest that 8 year olds need 10-11 hours sleep a night.
With his 6.30 awake time, even an 8 o’clock bedtime gives him 10 and a half hours. While it helped a bit, we were still seeing plenty of jack in the box action. We’re loathe to make it any later because on the day he has Cubs, he’s not in bed until 9 and then struggles to get up the next morning. We don’t want to be dragging him out of bed everyday (there will be enough of that when he’s a teenager).
Go Back to Basics with a Good Bedtime Routine
As kids get older, it’s easy to slip into poor bedtime habits so it’s a good idea to review your routine. These are some basics you should stick to:
- No screens within an hour of bedtime, no devices in the bedroom after bedtime
- No sugary foods or drinks too close to bedtime
- No caffeine anywhere near bedtime (I’m guessing this is a given for an 8 year but including it just in case!)
- If they are being disturbed by needing a wee, try cutting out blackcurrant near bedtime as well, it stimulates the bladder
- If they need a nightlight, try a red light, normal white light is bad for sleep, in fact, any colour other than red is
- Have a wind down routine, reading works well, they can read to you, you can read to them or both
- While they might be too old to bath everyday, it can help. The process of your body cooling down after a bath aids sleep
- Make sure noise isn’t an issue, if there are noises that are keeping them awake and those noises cant be avoided, white noise can work just as well for an 8 year old as a baby
Addressing the Emotional Issues That are Causing his Insomnia
One of the most frequent reasons for calling us after bedtime was that something had happened at school or in the family that he was now worrying about. Sometimes these things were clearly exaggerated and being used as an excuse but often they were things I could believe were playing on his mind and stopping him from sleeping.
8 year olds often have a lot going on in their heads, a chance to “debrief” the day can be helpful.
To resolve this we started asking both children at dinner time to tell us about their day. This gives him an opportunity to either talk to us then or to say he wants a chat with one of us privately before bed. Over time, having a private chat before bed has become a regular part of our routine and I really think it’s great for his mental health in general. Plus it has definitely helped with sleep. He enjoys the little chats very much and while we still get some exaggerated problems, I’m fine with that when it happens pre bedtime.
Preempting the Excuses to Get Up
As he looks for any excuse to get up, we try to make sure there are as few as possible. We make sure he’s been to the toilet, that his water bottle is filled up and that teddies are in place.
Body temperature can really effect sleep so have a chat with your child to see if they are hot or cold at night.
He is often hot initially and then cold later on. We make sure there is different bedding is available for whatever his body temperature is doing. We arrange it in such a way that he can pull it up easily so we avoid the “my duvet has fallen off” problem. In the summer, we give him a fan which he turns off once he’s cooled down.
Taking Away the Pressure to Fall Asleep
An important part of our sleep solution has been taking away the pressure to fall asleep. We’ve told him he doesn’t have to go to sleep straight away. There’s nothing worse than laying in bed waiting for sleep that just won’t come. If he doesn’t feel sleepy we encourage him to read or draw in bed. This seems to distract him from thinking of excuses to get up long enough for him to start to feel sleepy.
What if your 8 Year Old Won’t Go to Sleep by Himself?
Separation anxiety can often fear it’s head at bedtime and mean that your 8 year old won’t want to go to sleep without you. If you’re ok with staying until they are asleep then that is absolutely fine, they won’t be asking you to come to university and help them get to sleep, I promise! If you’d rather they learnt to sleep without you there, I have lots of tips in this post on Separation Anxiety at Night.
Coping with 8 year old Sleep Problems as a Parent
I can’t say that I coped very well with the problem initially. Having had kids that happily go to bed at 7pm every night for the last 5 years, the 8 year old sleep regression came as a bit of a shock. I wasn’t very patient and that made things worse, it often ending up with an argument. I’ve since learnt that if he thinks I’m even a bit annoyed with him, there is zero chance of him sleeping. So, each time he calls me back upstairs, I do my best Disney Princess act. Then I vent my frustration when I get back downstairs.
While I wouldn’t say that any of the things we’ve tried have completely solved the problem, they have all helped. As usual, I am left reminding myself, “This Too Shall Pass” (and trying to ignore the fact that Girl Child will probably start her 8 year old sleep regression in less than a year!)
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Kelly Martin says
My 8 yr old daughter has recently started pitching fits at bedtime most nights saying she can’t sleep in her room and has to sleep in ours. Or i need to sleep with her in her room. Both options leave me without a good night’s sleep. She’s always had issue with this but has done better the past year or so. Not sure why all of a sudden we’re going through this so dramatically. I bribed her with a trip to the mall a few days ago and it worked for 2 nights but back to the fight the first night after. I’m so at my wits end.
Just stumbled across this and it sounds quite a bit like my 8 year old. Only difference with mine is she had a bad cough that was waking her up at night and she was having trouble falling asleep. I told her to come to me if she woke up, cuz I wanted to see how much she was really waking up. In hindsight that was probably a stupid move because it encouraged her to have a reason to get out of bed (and get a hug). Last she did it and I told her to go back to bed with no hug. She lost it. She was stomping and crying and thrashing around in bed. I told her it was ok to be awake and she’ll fall back to sleep. She’s fallen back to sleep before and she’ll do it again. But her reaction was completely out of the blue. Does this sound like a sleep regression? Did I just help create a bad habit in her? She doesn’t get into bed with me. She just says she’s up, gets a hug and goes back to sleep.
That does sound like its become a bit of a habit to me. I’d be inclined to try offering a small reward for staying in bed all night for a few nights to see if you can break the habit.
Hi, my problem is my 8 year old daughter is waking through the night and refusing to go back to her bed no matter how stern her father and I are. It has been easier for all to just let her come in my bed and her father leaves but obviously this isn’t ideal for a marriage. We flip flop between just letting her sleep with me and then trying to stop it and having blowouts in the middle of the night. I’m afraid to make a habit of her sleeping with me, do you think this will eventually pass if I let her sleep with me or should we still be trying to get her to go to her own room? She is incredibly stubborn though and will cry and continue to come into our room all night until she gets in the bed not matter what we say, threaten or take away, no approach gentle or stern seems to have any effect.
If you let her sleep in your bed, she will eventually grow out of it (no one starts their first job still sleeping in their parents bed!) but its up to you to decide if you’re ok with that. There are no real rules when it comes to parenting correctly so a lot of decisions have to be based on what is right for your family. The important thing is to make a decision and stick to it, the more you flip flop, the harder it will be to resolve because every time you say no and then give in you’re teaching her that her stubbornness will pay off.
I am having the same issue. As soon as my daughter turned 8. She wakes up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and can’t fall back a sleep so she keeps waking us up every night. Take her at-least an hour or 2 to sleep but it’s several trips back and forth from our room to hers. She falls a sleep fast but then wakes up 3-4 hours later.
Is this normal and what can I do. She sleeps with her lovey and a night light.
My best tip for middle of night wakings is not to look at the clock, either put it out of view or remove it completely. Clack watching when you are struggling to get back to sleep makes it much harder to drop off. My son also had a night light and I suspected it contributed to his sleeping troubles. We had much success changing to a red light bulb which is much better for sleep that white/blue light so may be worth a try.
Margaret James says
Help . My 8 year old girl wants me to stay with her until she falls asleep . She says she can’t get to sleep .
Sam Williams says
I really needed to read this, I thought it was just me…and also my fault. I do struggle to keep calm when she appears at the living room door with the 8th random excuse, but this has given me a new plan of action!! Thank you!!
You’re definitely not alone! Hope it helps.
Going to sleep isn’t the problem it’s waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning, and not going back to sleep, ADHD means no meds at night, and he cannot redirect/calm himself and/or ADHD sister does the same and they wake each other up ..
I have a 10 year old with ADHD. He will use every excuse possible then gets angry & shouts at us when he’s out of excuses. He has to be able to at least touch me with his hand or foot to be happy. This has been going on for years & to be honest I have just got use to our ‘constant sleepover’. I have told him that he getting a little old to do this now but it’s when he feels ready & he will sleep better in his own bed with all the new space! But he seems to be paranoid that I am going to leave him & scared to be on his own at night. It also doesn’t help that our neighbour has 3 American Bulldogs & let’s them run loose up & down the hallway at ridiculous times through the night while he slams his front door shut🤦🏼♀️
Oh my goodness. I thought it was just me going through this…
Danielle Elliott says
I have been absolutely losing my mind for the last few months with my 8 year old and this post is just what I needed to read!! Thanks for the advice and I shall definitely be putting some if these things into practice efective immediately!
Really hope it helps!