Can I Force My Child To Go To Sleep?

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My toddler recently decided that she doesn’t need sleep. The most obnoxious part about this is that she’s not totally wrong. Apparently, my little girl is one of those rare children who can function just fine with a couple hours a night. Bedtime became a battle, with her kicking and screaming that she didn’t want to lie down. My husband and I tried all those awesome sleep tricks, sticking to our routine, putting her back in bed without speaking to her at all. It was a catastrophe.

Finally, my husband sat down and told our little girl, “You don’t have to close your eyes and go to sleep. You can play while you’re in bed, but only if you go to bed without throwing a fit.” The thought of taking a toy into bed to play with caused more excitement in my daughter than I could believe. The idea of sitting around in bed and playing while she’s supposed to be sleeping was hysterical and fun. Sure enough, she went straight into her room at 8:30pm without a single complaint. She sat in that bed and she proceeded to play until 11:30. Or at least that’s the time that I gave up listening and went to sleep.

The next day, I expected her to be a bear. I was sure that she would get in trouble at daycare for unruly behavior after staying up all night long. And sure, she might have been a little slower to wake up, when I crept into her room at 6:00am, but it didn’t take her long to adjust. Maybe she knew that the future of her bedtime toy use was at stake, because she had a perfect day at the babysitter’s. I swear, as she got her piece of go-home-candy for having a good day, the only appropriate word to describe her attitude was “smug.”

But sleep is important! Study after study shows that children need to be sleeping. Sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely to smoke, drink and fight. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are four times more likely to face problems with obesity. If children get less than nine hours, their capacity to learn can be impaired. I’m sure we all get the picture that sleep is important! So how can I make my child get some? Without the use the Benadryl, preferably.

After a long, frustrated talk with my doctor at our last check-up, we’ve finally come to terms with the fact that we can’t force our daughter to go to bed. We can make her settle down. We can build a routine that helps establish a sleep schedule. We can follow every tip and trick that’s out there. But we can’t actually close her eyes and drift off to dream land. Believe me, this was not an easy issue to acquiesce on. I might still be searching for cure-alls on the internet every night when I hear her singing to her baby dolls at 10:45pm. But until I find a miracle hidden in old WebMD articles, I’m going to continue to sit around, listening to my daughter play in bed until I’m too tired to stay awake.

Now, I’m on the look-out for a lack of concentration, a sudden gain in weight or a change in behavior that might indicate that her lack of sleep is hurting her. If any of those happens, I’ll probably end up back at the doctor’s office, trying to figure out how to help my little girl get some zzz’s. Until then, if you’re lying awake in the middle of the night, mind still spinning, just know that somewhere in Indiana, there’s a three year old going through the same thing. Can I force my daughter to sleep? No, but I sure would like to.