Why do children not feel tired

Difficulty sleeping in children

Difficulty falling asleep

Almost all children have trouble falling asleep at some point. Possible causes are a past, exciting day or restlessness (anxiety) with regard to an upcoming experience. But it is also possible that the child is simply not yet tired (then skip the afternoon nap, provide more exercise and fresh air) and therefore cannot be calm either internally or externally. Anticipation also disturbs the willingness to sleep. The sleep of young children is influenced by effects very similar to that of adults. It should not be forgotten that going to bed is always associated with saying goodbye to parents, which causes problems for smaller children. Children think they are missing out when they go to bed. Isn't there an exciting film on TV right now? If the parents “only” read or do handicrafts, for example, this will soon become too boring for the children. In contrast to adults, children only fall asleep when they are overwhelmed by sleep!

Problems falling asleep are more common in the 3rd to 4th year of life. During this period, the child becomes increasingly aware that it represents a very individual personality (separated from mother and father, with whom it previously felt very united). This feeling of separation from parents triggers anxiety. Especially only children feel pushed away in the evening when they are supposed to go to bed.

Help the child

Helpful are: leave a light on in the hallway, leave the door open, stuffed animals in the cot, quiet talking from the parents in the next room that conveys familiarity. A flashlight provided can give children from 4 years of age a feeling of security, because almost all children are afraid of the dark. Having your own night lamp can also be helpful. The past day should be discussed again: Has something happened that burdens the child? Is there anything else it would like to have explained? Physical contact is very helpful in dealing with worries and grief: hugging, caressing. It is advisable to point out the good things about the future day. The temperature in the bedroom should not be too high: 16 ° C maximum! If possible, leave the window open (tilted, otherwise there is a risk of accident). Sleepwear should be made of cotton. The evening meal should not be too large. Carbon dioxide leads to flatulence, which should be taken into account. It is important that there is sufficient humidity in the room: if necessary, help with damp towels on the heater. Otherwise, care must be taken that children get enough exercise during the day - play at least 1 - 2 hours in the fresh air every day.

Going to bed should never be punished, otherwise the child will associate sleeping with something negative! Instead, the bed should be a place where you can look at picture books, listen to music, play games, in order to create a positive attitude. This is also an advantage for the parents: The children are in bed and they have time for themselves. Relaxation can easily be achieved through this playful approach. If, on the other hand, the child is forced to view the bed only as a place to sleep, then there is pressure on the child that it cannot cope with. It is unable to consciously relax! Under time pressure (“sleep now, it's already so late!”) The child cannot find sleep at all.

A certain regularity of bedtime is recommended, in order to avoid haggling over the time of day. Exceptions are permitted on special occasions (e.g. birthday, wedding celebration, vacation, birth of a sibling, etc.). It is no longer a secret that evening bedtime rituals are the best sleep aids. This means that every evening the same things are done in exactly the same order: first bathroom, then story telling, praying, singing a song, covering up, kissing and the like. Incidentally, it is a relief when the father takes the children to bed instead of the mother, especially when there are problems with sleeping. Unfortunately it is still the case that it is mainly mothers who carry out this task. The majority of fathers complain when the mother is not so successful in terms of sleeping the children. It would certainly be appropriate to support the other person, especially in the event of difficulties, instead of throwing additional obstacles in their way. It should be emphasized here that the needs of all family members must be sufficiently appreciated. It is not beneficial to push through a possible solution with which the father, for example, does not agree.

Sleep in the parents' bed

It is now an open secret that many parents take their children with them to their parents' bed. This can be very relieving and promising. The majority of all small children prefer to sleep in their parents' bed. Most parents accept it, but believe that it is not really correct and are a little ashamed of it, which is why it is not popularly discussed. But this can be very relieving and promising. Some parents don't mind if their children sleep in bed with them all night. On the contrary: you enjoy it and find it very cozy. According to all experiences, the children go to their own bed at some point.

Children's sleep times

Most of the time, children's need for sleep is overestimated. The following list is intended to make the average length of sleep for the child clear. However, every child (including every adult) has a very individual need for sleep!

Up to 3 months: 16-18 hours

4-5 months: 14-15 hours

6- 12 months: 13 hours

1-4 years: 12 hours

5-6 years: 11.5 hours

7-9 years: 11 hours

10-11 years: 10.5 hours

12-13 years: 10 hours

14-16 years: 9 hours

Problems with a baby

The first weeks with a baby are very exhausting, sometimes there are also serious problems with 6 months to 1 year. Hardly anything is as difficult for parents to cope with as torture-like sleep deprivation. From the 2nd month onwards, the child gradually develops into a night sleeper. Shortly after the birth, she slept equally during the day and night. At 6 months, the baby is sleeping an average of 11 out of 14 hours a night. The ability to sleep through the night depends on the maturation of the brain in the first six months of life. The genetic information largely determines whether the child needs a lot or less sleep, whether it gets up early or late. A survey by the magazine Eltern and the Freiburg sleep researcher Dr. Ullrich Rabenschlag revealed that 40% of children under 3 years of age have difficulty falling asleep. 55% struggle with sleeping through the night. According to the parents, the reasons for this are physical illnesses: colds, fever, etc. Dreams are often responsible for waking up at night: 35% of the children stated that.

The best way to calm the child is still with even and rhythmic touches or movements: stroking, rocking; suck on the breast or the bottle, on the sheet, etc. But light, sound and warmth do not fail to have their effect. If you play the heartbeat of the mother to very young children, you can observe an extraordinary effect. If you combine the different calming methods, you will achieve a greater effect. Example: sing a song, leave the light on, rock the child. Time should be taken to bring to bed. The child must not be disturbed by too much noise. It is not beneficial if it falls asleep while breastfeeding, as it cannot learn to fall asleep on its own. Later problems are not long in coming.
Waking up at night and having nightmares

Nightmares now and then are common between the ages of 2-5. Children usually wake up from these nightmares screaming. If you wake up very often, this is an alarm signal, as it indicates a psychological disturbance. In dreams everything unpleasant and threatening that was experienced during the day is processed. Current conflicts or a feeling of being overwhelmed (example: starting school) can be the main cause. But really serious things can also be the reason. Example: someone in the family has a serious illness, the parents are thinking about separating, etc. The child cannot switch off in these cases, everything is so unpredictable and terrifying. Nightmares usually occur in the second half of the night. The child's play can show one why the child is struggling with sleep problems. It would also be advisable to let the child draw what they are doing or what is worrying them.

Sedatives should only be given as prescribed by the pediatrician. However, drugs are the last resort of choice!

Nightmares mainly occur in preschool age. Witches, devils, monsters etc. hunt the child in dreams at night. Only towards the end of kindergarten does the child gradually understand that nightmares are not realistic, that other people do not notice them and that dreams are similar to thoughts. You help the child if you talk to him about dreams. It is very easy to determine how the child classifies dreams (whether they see them as reality or fantasy, for example).

Sometimes there can be a real nocturnal attack of anxiety (pavor nocturnus): Here the children are startled, scream or cry, are hardly responsive. The morning after, they don't know anything. This anxiety attack almost always occurs before midnight. The pavor nocturnus is evidence of a developmental immaturity of the brain, which is why it is mainly found in young children. ¼ of the under 6 year olds suffer from this phenomenon, of the older only 8%. The child does not notice anything about it because it is in the deep sleep phase. The child should not be woken up or told about it later.

Sleep disturbances also have an effect on how they feel the next day: mood swings, annoyance, motor restlessness and concentration disorders often occur in children who have to do with sleep problems. Sleep researchers believe that sleep problems can affect psychological and physical development for months or even years.
It can be said with a high degree of probability that almost all people almost or correctly wake up more often every night. Normally you fall asleep again immediately, only if you are excited, anxious, or upset by strange noises, this is not the case. Of course, physical discomfort or pain also prevent you from continuing to sleep. Basically, waking up is quite normal for a child too. A problem only arises when he or she does not fall asleep again, i.e. when parents need help. Waking up usually happens during the light sleep phase, which is characterized by increased body movements and rapid eye movements. This is also the phase of dreams and nightmares.

One study suggested that children who wake up more often at night react more sensitively to stimuli, i.e. have an overall lower stimulus threshold. This includes external stimuli such as noise and light, as well as internal stimuli such as hunger, flatulence, etc. Others argue that these children are simply slower to develop their sleep patterns. It is very important to emphasize in the child the difference between activities during the day and rest at night. Studies have shown that children with sleep problems are more often overall more active.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that consistent behavior is also necessary here. Why should there also be a difference between day and night? Example: A child loves to eat sweets. The father answers the first question about sweets with “no”, after all sweets are unhealthy, damage the teeth, etc. If the child continues to drill, a guilty conscience may creep in the fourth time (the father thinks: “ Is it worth it? Should I be that tough? Can't I allow the kid the candy bar? ”). It won't be long before the child will get what they want. From this it learns: If I am persistent enough, I will get everything. The pattern would now like to use it in the evening or at night. Motto: If I come out of my room 5 times, I gain time and then fall asleep much later than my parents would like. Or: If the child receives a lot of attention every night, as soon as they answer only a little - why should they then start not to answer any more? After all, is it nice to see, hear, smell the mother at night? The child will then think that it is part of seeing the mother at night!


  • Douglas / Richman: My child doesn't want to sleep, 2nd edition, Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, 1993.
  • Parents - the right upbringing, VEMAG, Cologne
  • Our children, Federal Center for Health Education, Cologne, 1995.

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook


Beate Weymann
Employed by the state of Lower Saxony
Diplomatic socialpedhogogic
37586 Dassel

Link to further information from the Federal Center for Health Education (BzgA):

Child health: sleeping

Created on July 25, 2001, last changed on March 8, 2010