How to Help Your Child Become a Great Sleeper
Kids and how well they sleep (or, more often, how poorly) is a common topic of conversation for parents everywhere. Sleep problems in children are incredibly common but they are also easy to improve with the right guidance.
Once people at gatherings find out that I’m a Pediatric Sleep Psychologist who specializes in helping parents teach their kids to be great sleepers, I’m one of the most popular people in the room. I’d like to share some of my best tips with you in this article.
1. Have a consistent bedtime routine
It goes without saying that parents should design a consistent, multi-step bedtime routine for their children and should use the steps in this routine in the same order every night.
For example, the routine could be having a bedtime snack, washing up, brushing teeth, taking a final potty break and then reading books in bed for a few minutes. If parents use these steps consistently, the routine will eventually help kids become calm and drowsy at the desired bedtime.
However, children are experts at bedtime refusal and stalling, so it’s also important to make sure that the bedtime plan has a clear endpoint.
For example, it’s always a great idea to conclude the routine with reading time. However, parents often make the mistake of granting their child’s request for “just one more” book (and then “just one more…and just one more…” after that). Instead, parents can choose a set number of books to read, or can set a timer to mark the end of reading time.
These kinds of strategies at bedtime can help keep stalling to a minimum, which will allow kids to get the sleep they need to be healthy and happy the next day.
2. Give your child time to self-soothe
Next, if you don’t want to hear the patter of little feet heading towards your room in the middle of the night, make sure your child falls asleep at bedtime after you’ve left the room. The only way most children can sleep through the night is if they’ve learned to “self-soothe” at bedtime rather than learning to fall asleep only if a parent is nearby.
Teaching your child to self-soothe can be as easy as allowing them to play with a small toy or to read independently in bed with a book light after you’ve left the room until he or she is drowsy enough to drop off to sleep.
3. No electronics at bedtime
Finally, it’s important to make sure electronics are not part of your child’s bedtime routine. There are a couple of very important reasons for this:
- First, the blue light these devices emit can delay the onset of drowsiness by making your child’s brain think that it is still daytime (and, by extension, playtime!).
- Second, if a child uses a device at bedtime until drowsy enough to fall asleep, they may want to use this device again after any night waking, too. No parent wants a child to seek out a smartphone or tablet in the middle of the night.
A study suggests, even exposure to room light before bed can interfere with your child’s (and your own) sleep pattern. Blue light blocking glasses will be a perfect step in your bedtime routine for your child, even your own. How wonderful that you don’t have to resort to medication for a good night’s sleep. Plus, you can choose from a selection of colorful styles that appeal to a younger audience, as well as for those that don’t want to look like they’re going for a swim.
Sleep is important for kids for so many reasons, and here are just a few:
- Great sleep improves learning, development, memory, concentration, mood, health and performance.
- Poor sleep can increase nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking and bedwetting.
- Insufficient sleep is linked to a greater risk of becoming overweight and obese.
- Poor sleep can lead to an ADHD misdiagnosis when all the child might need is more quality sleep (remember that undiagnosed sleep apnea in children can “look like” ADHD).
A few simple changes like the ones I explained above can ensure that your children get the quality sleep they need every single night.
Lynelle Schneeberg is the author of many sleep books aimed at parents of babies and toddlers but her new book, Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach: The Bedtime Doctor’s 5-Step Guide, Ages 3-10, was written for the parents of school-age children.
Her 5-step guide was developed from years of experience working with families and from her training in sleep medicine, so it is both evidence-based and experience-based. She enjoys helping parents teach their kids to become great sleepers and wrote the book to share her secrets with a wider audience.
Want to prevent blue light exposure at night from messing with your child’s sleep cycle?
Yes, please! My child’s health is my first priority.