I’m sure you’ve heard of the 8 month sleep regression? One of numerous sleep regressions that happen where the 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 (no matter how awesome) 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 sleep habits so it’s a good idea to review your bedtime routine. These are some basics you should stick to:
- No screens within an hour of bedtime, no devices in bedroom after bedtime
- No sugary foods or drinks too close to bedtime
- No caffeine anywhere near bedtime
- If they are being disturbed by needing a wee, try cutting out blackcurrant near bedtime as well
- If they need a nightlight, try a red light, normal white light is bad for sleep
- 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 aids sleep
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 away 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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