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My 5-Year-Old Fights Sleep Every. Single. Night.

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Dear Heather,

My daughter is such a mess before bed—she's so hard to deal with! She's 5, and her bedtime is 8 p.m., but she fights it every single night. Sometimes doesn't fall asleep until closer to 9 p.m. What should I do?


Dear Frazzled,

If she isn't napping anymore, she might be telling you she's tired earlier than 8 p.m. She has a funny way of communicating it, but so do most little kids—they haven't yet learned the adult habit of winding down, getting calm and curling up when they're tired. Instead, they tend to wind up and look like they're fighting sleep.

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Actually, adults have a second wind before bed too—one last period of alertness, when our bodies are sending us "stay awake" signals to get us through to bedtime. Once we're closer to bedtime itself, those alerting signals are finally withdrawn so we can sleep.

So don't be fooled: It's normal for kids to look very awake in the hour or so before their optimal tuck-in time. At 5 years old, your daughter needs about 11 to 12 hours of sleep, so if she wakes up at 6:30 a.m., her bedtime could be around 7 p.m. If that isn't possible, because of work schedules, set a bedtime as close to 7 p.m. as you can manage on a regular basis.

Eventually, her body will adjust and she'll start sleeping in later.

Put a clock in her bedroom and teach her to stay in bed, in the dark, until 7 a.m. (or at least 11 hours after lights out). Eventually, her body will adjust, and she'll start sleeping in later. Make sure she's getting lots of outside playtime during the day and, of course, not having any very sugary or caffeinated drinks or electronic screens before bed.

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In Chapter 5 of "The Happy Sleeper," we have all kinds of sweet advice for helping preschool and school-age kids hop into bed with smiles on their faces. Sometimes, it's just a matter of getting creative about the last few steps of the bedtime routine so they're alluring. I'd suggest reading that chapter and making sure you're following the Healthy Sleep Habits.

Happy sleeping!


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Do you have a sleep question you want Heather to answer for Sleep Fix? Email her at heatherturgeonmft@gmail.com.

Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her Los Angeles-based sleep consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

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