6 Tips to Help Your Child Sleep Better
Your child’s sleep patterns are impactful—especially when it comes to their performance at school, their behavior at home, and yes, even their emotional intelligence.
When your child sleeps, how long they sleep, and the quality of their sleep matters.
Whether your child has slept long and well since birth, or they’ve struggled to sleep since the beginning, here are a few tips to help them get their best night’s sleep yet. And we promise, you’ll notice a difference.
1. Set an (Early) Bedtime
This may seem obvious, but the importance of a regular bedtime can’t be overstated. A consistent bedtime and consistent wake-up time will help prepare your little one’s body for optimal sleep.
In fact, because inconsistent bedtimes often lead to poor sleep quality and duration, irregular bedtimes have been linked to low academic performance, depressive symptoms, and risk-taking behaviors.
Specifically in infants and toddlers, later bedtimes were connected with social-emotional issues and anxious and withdrawn behaviors.
Yes, it makes that much of a difference.
Of course there will be pushback from your child when they don’t want to go to bed, and there will be times when sticking to the scheduled bedtime is inconvenient for you, but hold to it. The consistency and structure of a regular bedtime is proven to lead to a better night’s sleep.
2. Create a Bedtime Routine
Routines matter. They help kids develop healthy habits, manage their time, and give them a sense of stability.
Did you know that kids who have bedtime routines fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night, and sleep longer?
Create a bedtime routine that your kids can follow every evening. This will make bedtime a smoother and relatively easier process, because your children will know what to expect and when to expect it.
Choose things they can do on their own that help them prepare and relax. They can set out their clothes for the next day, brush their teeth and bathe, write in a journal, or read a book.
Studies show that children who read at bedtime sleep longer!
Try to create a calm and soothing atmosphere that you and your children can benefit from as you prepare for sleep, and try to make it something to look forward to. Ask your kids what they would like their bedtime routine to look like. What helps them relax and prepare for bed? Incorporate their suggestions and start tonight.
3. Watch the Sugar and Caffeine
You’ve heard this advice for yourself, and it applies to your little ones, too. Eating and drinking before bed affects your sleep (especially items high in caffeine or sugar).
One study looked at caffeine intake throughout the entire day—not just before bedtime. The results showed that high caffeine consumption was associated with significantly less sleep and more frequent night wakings—two things that leave anyone exhausted and impaired.
Giving your child apple juice before bed? Check the sugar content, because it’s higher than you think.
Look at ingredients and nutritional information and be aware of what your kids are consuming. Have dinner early, and if they complain of hunger before bed, give them something conducive to sleep like a banana or half of a turkey sandwich. Not only will this awareness improve your child’s sleep, but it will likely improve their diet as well.
4. No Electronics Before Bed
Your phone is typically the last thing you put down at night and the first thing you pick up in the morning. But whether you use your phone or tablet for entertainment or for checking a few more things off your to-do list, using electronics before bed is a research-proven no-no.
The negative effects of nightly electronic use have even been found in toddlers.
Using any kind of device before bed almost guarantees an inadequate night’s sleep. Help your kids nix the habit now by prohibiting the use of devices in their bedrooms, or by shutting devices off an hour before bedtime. Have teenagers? All the more reason to instate the rule.
To get quality Zs, sleep should receive our uninterrupted and undivided “attention.”
Encourage your kids to turn off the TV or computer and set the phone down long before they turn in for the night. You’ll help improve their sleep, and you’ll also teach them the important lesson of creating and maintaining boundaries around technology.
5. Let Them Self-Soothe
How often does your child come into your room in the middle of the night? Whether it’s because “I had a bad dream” or “I can’t sleep,” our kids are quick to come to us for reassurance and comfort. While it’s great that they feel safe to turn to you for comfort, you walk a fine line between enabling and empowering your kids.
So what can you do when they ask, “Can I sleep with you?” or “Can you come sleep with me?”
For many kids (and even adults), the darkness and stillness of night makes them feel vulnerable. For some, it can be terrifying. There are times when your presence and comfort—even though disruptive to your own sleep—is important for your child. They need reassurance that you are there, and they need you to teach them how to cope with stress and discomfort.
However, if your child’s bids for comfort become habitual, it’s time to try a different approach.
Try giving your child space to self-soothe instead of jumping in. Children who learn to self-soothe sleep better. If they can fall asleep without your help (your presence), they will fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and wake up less throughout the night.
When they come to you in the middle of the night, offer comfort by giving them a hug or tucking them back in. Explain that you need to go back to bed too and that they can fall asleep on their own. This may be difficult for your child to understand at first, especially if you’re in the habit of staying in the room until they drift off to sleep.
If screaming and crying ensues, do your best to bear it; they won’t learn to self-soothe unless given the opportunity to practice.
Teach your child methods to self-soothe—sing songs, take deep breaths, etc. The specific ways you encourage your child to self-soothe will depend on their age, so if you have questions about when and how to approach this, be sure to talk with your pediatrician.
6. Explain the Importance of Sleep
Even though your kids won’t fully understand why you parent the way you do, it’s still important to explain the “why” behind the choices you make as their parent. Kids will be upset and confused if you set new boundaries and expectations without an explanation.
On the other hand, if they have some understanding of why certain rules exist, they will be much more likely to follow these rules—and follow on their own accord.
Your child may not be able to understand the deep science behind healthy sleep. But if you at least make an effort to explain the importance of good sleep, they’ll see that you’re not trying to run your household like a dictatorship. Rather, they’ll see that you care about their well-being. And it’s proven that if kids’ sleep patterns are healthy and consistent, every aspect of their development and performance will benefit.
Remember: your children’s behaviors will, over time, form into lifelong habits.
Do what you can to ensure that these habits contribute to your child’s growth and development. A child who eats three bowls of fruit loops right before bed will probably drink a few cans of soda before bed in the future. If your child doesn’t have a bedtime when they’re young, they probably won’t get regular sleep in college.
We understand that bedtime is often a challenge (one-third of children and infants have problems sleeping), and all of this advice is easier said than done. But we believe—and research shows—that any small effort you make is worth it. Take the steps today to implement new expectations; or, if you’re already doing it, keep going. Your child’s health stands to benefit in numerous ways.
Hall, Wendy A., and Elizabeth Nethery. “What Does Sleep Hygiene Have to Offer Children’s Sleep Problems?” Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, vol. 31, 2019, pp. 64–74., doi:10.1016/j.prrv.2018.10.005.
Perfect, Michelle M., et al. “The Contribution Of Sleep Problems To Academic And Psychosocial Functioning.” Psychology in the Schools, vol. 51, no. 3, 2014, pp. 273–295., doi:10.1002/pits.21746.