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Sleep Hassles with 11-year-old


Dear Sir/Madam
I am very concerned about my daughter. She is eleven years old. She finds it very hard to settle down in the evening. She seems to have a lot of energy in the evening and she cannot switch off.

Her routine after school is a small break when she comes in from school, homework, dinner, watch TV for a few hours. She gets ready for bed around 8.30 pm or 9.00pm at the latest.
She goes into her bed and maybe play a game on her DS or watch a DVD or read a book until
she falls asleep.

I have tried to tell her that this is relax and sleep time but she doesn’t seem to grasp this.
I like to chill myself but I cannot relax until she is asleep. With the result that I don't get my rest either. I am loosing it and she doesn’t get to sleep before and she is like a bear in the morning than. This is very frustrating. HELP!!!

Please can you suggest anything that I can do to change this?



Dear Mom,

My name is Jody McVittie and I’m part of the team that answers questions for the PD website.  I’m also a mother of 3 young adults (who had their share of sleep troubles) and a family physician.  You probably already learned (as most parents do) that there are certain things that parents have no control over. You can’t “make” someone go to the pee in the potty, eat, enjoy homework, or go to sleep.  There are lots of reasons kids can’t settle down in the evening… so many that the list will be overwhelming.  Here are some suggestions that may be helpful.

- At a time when you and your daughter are both calm (not late in the evening) ask her if she would be willing to talk about sleep issues with you.  (If she says no, ask for another time that would work for both of you.)   Let her know that it is hard – at age 11 to have a “bed time” and sometimes hard to “switch off” the day…. But your guess is that, given how she is really a kind and generous person, her grumpiness in the morning might be that her body is saying she hasn’t had enough sleep.  Ask for her help in solving the problem.

- Before you go into this discussion, remember to keep a few things in perspective: you will be most effective if you let her “own” this problem - which means you need to own your part.  You can figure out how to go to sleep before she does (taking care of yourself) and how to not take her morning behavior personally – while still asking (respectfully) to be treated well in the morning.  This will probably be your most effective first step.

- When you begin problem solving the two of you might make a long list of things that might be keeping her awake at night and then have her pick ONE OR TWO to work on at a time (for a week or two)… otherwise the list will be too long.  Your list might include things like:

  • Changes in sleep hormones.  Adolescents go through a period where their sleep and wake hormones out of phase with each other. The result of this is that when the first sleepiness peak in the evening is not “used” the wakefulness hormones do make it harder to go to sleep. Establishing a regular sleep schedule – including weekends will help, but this is a challenge for lots of teens.  This means keeping the “wake up time” relatively consistent – within 2 hours on weekends and week days.
  • Reduce caffeine or chocolate consumption.  Some people are relatively sensitive to caffeine and or chocolate and it can interfere with sleep patterns. Sodas are a big culprit.  And not just the ones that you know have caffeine in them.  Look at the labels.
  • Increase exercise. Exercise can help people really experience tiredness. It turns out though that exercise right before bed does not help, so it should be earlier in the day.
  • Decrease evening TV. It may be that the TV is keeping her awake through her regular “most sleepy” time – and after that time it is harder to get to sleep.  Hopefully she doesn’t have a TV in her bedroom. 
  • Limit the after bed time activities passive activities that do not involve electronic media. She will fall asleep much more easily with a book than with a game or watching a DVD.
  • Taking a shower or bath before going to bed.
  • Turning off all of the electronic media at a certain time (eg – machine curfew at 9pm). (That means you have to turn your media machines off too.)

Best wishes to you and your family,


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