What a great question, I would see parents in my clinic every week with this exact question. The fact that she is refusing to go to bed any earlier is to me is a DEFINATE signal that she NEEDS to go to bed earlier. I learnt many years ago with kids and sleep that if they refuse, are difficult, or tantrum about going to bed, then go with your initial instinct which was telling you that ‘yes, they are definitely tired I should be getting them into bed’. Unfortanately when they then protest or show lots more energy you then doubt yourself and your initial instincts and waver in the ‘maybe they are not really tired, well they are pretty energetic’ line of thoughts. Don’t be fooled by this behaviour, the more energetic after 7pm they are then the more tired they are. What then happens is that children then go for another hour or two and your daughter then falls asleep out of sheer exhaustion rather than good sleep habits like the right time, being relaxed and learned skill of falling to sleep.
The fact that you then struggle to wake her in the morning is another sign that she is too tired, she should wake naturally and about 12 hours after going to bed. All children before school age need this amount of sleep, biologically, no exceptions. There are many systems and functions that their body does that requires this amount of sleep, brain function, immune system, mood, behaviour, ability to play (not scatter toys) concentration, learning, speech etc.
The secret to solving this problem is very simple – put her to bed earlier. The earlier you put her to bed the less protest and fighting. If you are still fighting, it’s not early enough. They only argue, protest and fight when they are too tired. You need to find her window of opportunity, every child has one and based on my experience with parents and children, for her age it will be between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. It will never be past 7.30pm, in fact go past 7.30pm and it interferes with her sleep cycle for the rest of the whole of the night.
Perhaps be guided on what time you need her to be up in the morning, if she needs to be up at 6.30am, then go for 6.30pm. I know it seems ridiculous compared to what you are doing now but it will work wonderfully and you will be amazed at the changes in your daughter within days. If there is the ‘in and outs’ then once again it is too late, the in’s and out’s happen again when they are too tired. If you need help to solve this problem, do not hesitate to seek an appointment as sleep is just too precious.