My Child Won’t Go To Sleep

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

I have a problem in that my child won’t go to sleep. We have a 15-month-old who suddenly started hating to go to sleep and won’t stay asleep. He wakes up wailing and distraught, throws his soother and zebra blanket, and reaches out of his crib. He then squirms in your arms to get down. When he’s down, he cries more. He rolls, flips, and thrashes constantly when in the crib, unless completely asleep. Even when going up to bed, he starts to cry.

Everything associated with bedtime makes him cry now. He is also not a heavy sleeper at all. We were never quiet around him in the beginning until he started waking up easily. Let me back up a bit. He was always a good sleeper once he started sleeping through the night. We would just lay him in his crib, and he’d fall asleep on his own. Then, around 8 months or so, he started waking up crying from a nap or in the morning. This has continued, and he does it now without fail.

He used to wake up during the night when he was teething, but not like this. In the last 2-3 months, the crying has become worse.

It was to the point last night that I was scared and was going to take him to outpatients because I just didn’t know what was wrong. Now, it could be teething at this point as he has developed a cold, and he usually gets a cold when he’s teething, but I’ve still never seen him as bad as he was last night. He went to bed at 8:30, relatively easy this time, but woke at 11 p.m. howling. He cried for about 20 minutes, then finally got distracted by toys. He was wide awake until 1:30 in the morning. Every time we tried to put him to bed, no matter what we did, he’d cry. Finally, against my better judgment, we brought him into bed with us, and he eventually settled down, but not into a solid sleep, as he still kept waking up and crying periodically all night, until I finally got him up at 8 a.m.

Can you help?


Hi Jodi,

My child won't go to sleep.What’s happening sounds unusual in the respect that your little guy was happily sleeping through the night initially and now isn’t.  That makes me think that it’s not a question of whether he knows how to settle to sleep, as he obviously does.  So it’s a case of either he doesn’t want to or he can’t.  So if we start with the fact he doesn’t want to, that leads us to the question of what could have caused his anxiety about bedtime and his obvious dislike of anything that’s connected with it, including the falling asleep?  I wonder if anything happened recently?  Did he have a fall out of his crib etc?  Did he see something inadvertent on TV that is giving him bad dreams.  Is his bedroom or crib used when he’s been naughty?

My child won’t go to sleep: Try to think through the possible causes.

The trouble with this age is that, as delightful as they are, they can’t tell you the issue, so it really is a matter of guesswork. If there’s nothing causing his anxiety that you can think of, then perhaps it’s a medical problem. You’ve mentioned the teething, and that can certainly make him miserable, but if he’s really howling, he might be in pain. If you haven’t had him seen by a specialist yet, I would.  Consider whether there are any other issues that need to be addressed. How’s his appetite, for instance? Is he active and happy during the day? If he’s a cheery little chap during the day except for the fact that he’s tired, and yet at night he screams, it’s unlikely to be medically related.

My child won’t go to sleep: You may have missed the optimum sleeping moment.

If none of the above apply, you should consider the possibility that he is overtired and unable to settle, akin to being hyper. I notice that he’s going to bed at 8.30 p.m., which is way too late for a child his age. The best time is between 6 and 7 p.m. Combine that with unsettled nights, and you may have one tired little guy.

I don’t want to overwhelm you right off the bat, so that’s all I’m going to say for now. Perhaps the above will at least give you a starting point. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.

All the best for now. Take heart; it will get better.


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