My son is almost 2.5 and he has always been a poor sleeper. He goes to sleep (for naps and at night) just fine, but he often wakes in the middle of the night and can't fall back asleep. It often takes him 1-3 hours before he can fall back to sleep. It is not like he wants to get up and play--he will try to fall back asleep, tossing and turning, but it seems to be very difficult for him. I limit his naps to no more than 2 hours and his bed/nap/awake times are very consistent. He has no caffeine in his diet besides the occasional piece of chocolate. I talked to his pediatrician about this problem and she is stumped. The only advice she could give me is to give him Benadryl when he woke up so he could fall back asleep quicker. I'm not comfortable with this idea! We have tried co-sleeping, moving to a big bed, nursing (when he was younger) rocking, ignoring him etc all with no success. I should also add that this is nothing new! The day he came home from the hospital he was awake from 1 a.m.-4 a.m. And it has never gotten better. I can't help thinking that he has some kind of sleep disorder, but I don't know where to turn.
Most young kids will return to sleep well if rocked, or cuddled, or fallen asleep with (of course, whether or not you want to do this is another issue).
Sometimes adjustments in bedtime or napping can make a difference.
But when kids don’t sleep well in the most conducive setting, I like to have them seen at a sleep center. Thankfully sleep is beginning to get the attention it deserves, and sleep centers are springing up in many places.
Occasionally sleep specialists recommend medicines after other options have been explored. I am in favor of this (though I am not a fan of the benadryl class, at least as either a medium or long term solution). Sleep is so valuable for health (his and yours) that in some situations the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.