Children’s Sleep Project

Because we all need a good night’s rest.

Why Won’t My Child Sleep?

A Starting-Point Questionnaire*

Please note: The following questionnaire should not be taken as medical or other advice. It is to be used for informational purposes only.

There are lots of reasons kids sleep poorly, not enough or not at all. The questionnaire below pulls from popular literature on children’s sleep (including many of the books here) as well as lesser-known research studies, some of which are or will be listed here.

The questionnaire is broken down into categories to help you analyze your situation with a more analytical, less stressed-out, perspective.

How will this questionnaire help?

  • Sometimes simply knowing the problem can lead to a quick and straightforward solution.
  • Sometimes the solutions are more involved, but addressing obvious problems – such as thirst or temperature – can ease the burden a bit and give everyone energy to focus on the core issue.
  • Sometimes a problem may be staring you in the face but you’re entirely unaware of it, and a list like this can trigger a realization that you hadn’t had before.

Run through the list below and click on the items that might be keeping your child from optimal sleep. (Please note: A future edition is planned that includes links to further information on many of the items. Bookmark this page and check back for further details!)

Note: If you want, print out this questionnaire and refer to it whenever your child is having trouble sleeping. You might begin to see a pattern that will help you identify the problem. Also, having the list nearby will help you focus on one thing at a time when you are feeling anxious, upset or frustrated about the sleep problem.

a. The child’s physical state isn’t conducive to sleep.
___ The child is hungry or thirsty.
___ The child is too cold or too hot.
___ The child is sick, in pain or allergic to something.
___ The child’s clothes or bedding are uncomfortable.
___ The child has a wet or dirty diaper, or has wet the bed.
___ The child has a physical condition that makes sleep difficult.

b. The child’s mental/emotional state isn’t conducive to sleep.
___ The child is scared.
___ The child is unhappy.
___ The child is angry.
___ The child is worried.
___ The child is excited.
___ The child’s mind is racing.
___ The child is preoccupied with or ruminating about something.
___ The child is relatively more introverted than other children.
___ A ruptured attachment has not been repaired.

c. The child’s environment isn’t conducive to sleep.
___ The space is too loud or too quiet.
___ The space is too light or too dark.
___ The music or other noise is distracting or stimulating.
___ There is an unpleasant odor in the space.
___ The colors or patterns in the room are too stimulating.
___ The texture of the child’s clothes or blankets is unpleasant.

d. The child’s developmental state isn’t conducive to sleep.
___ The child is not yet old enough to stay asleep for long periods of time.
___ The child has not yet learned how to fall asleep on his/her own.
___ The child has not yet mastered self-soothing.
___ The child is experiencing separation anxiety.
___ The child is trying to master, or wants to practice, a new skill.

e. The child’s daily schedule and activities aren’t conducive to sleep.
___ The child spends little time outdoors.
___ The child gets little physical exercise.
___ The child gets a lot of “screen time” (watching TV, using the computer or playing video games), especially within an hour of bedtime.
___ The child engages in highly stimulating activity within an hour of bedtime.
___ The child eats too soon before going to bed.
___ The child’s bedtime and wake time are not consistent.
___ The bedtime routine is not consistent.
___ The child gets little “face time” with important people (parents, siblings, other close family members).

f. The child’s life situation has created obstacles to healthy sleep.
___ The child has recently undergone a life change.
___ There is stress, anxiety, anger or abuse present in the home. (If there is abuse in the home, please get help immediately by calling 1-800-4-A-CHILD.)
___ The home/family schedule is inconsistent or unpredictable.
___ The child has experienced trauma or crisis.

After you fill out the questionnaire, you may want to address the quick and easy items first and see if they help your child sleep better soon. In addition, be sure to get help immediately for any medical, mental health or abuse issues that might be occurring.

If these remedies don’t help your child sleep better, it might help to fill out the questionnaire several nights in a row, then ask yourself:

  • Is there a problem that keeps coming up? If so, those are areas that need to be addressed. (For example, does your child always seem hungry, or over-stimulated, or fearful of separation, right at bedtime?)
  • Is there a theme that runs through several checked items? If so, you may need to be more aware or get more information about a particular set of issues.

Be aware that, depending on the child’s age and personality and other factors, not every checked item will have the same solution for every child.

We hope this questionnaire will serve as a good starting point for identifying the source of your child’s sleep problems – and a springboard from which to develop solid and sensible sleep solutions for your child and family.

There are many books you can choose from that provide different approaches and systems that work for different children and families. In addition, sleep research might help you identify reasons not often covered in the literature and devise solutions that work for your situation.

* Please note this questionnaire is currently in beta (testing) mode. If you use it, we would appreciate feedback as to its helpfulness and how we can make it better. If you are a professional in a related field, we would appreciate your feedback as well.


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