Kids and sleep – one of parenting’s greatest mysteries. For some children, long, full nights of restful sleep come naturally. For (far more numerous) others, falling and staying asleep are constant battles which seem to require ever-changing tactics. If your family is among those still struggling for consistent sleep, we know your search for solutions won’t end until you’ve found relief. We hope that these tips will point you in the right direction or inspire a change that allows your whole family to sleep soundly.
Set a Bedtime
Believe it or not, a remarkable number of kids don’t have an established bedtime. Some parents take it for granted, while others don’t believe it’s realistic given their busy schedules. It’s vital to start with a consistent goal, so identify a time that will be understood by every member of the family as “bedtime,” and life can fall into place around that time.
Stick to the Routine
To the best of your ability, put your child to sleep at the same time every night and wake them up at the same time every morning. That includes weekends and holidays. Reinforcing this sleep/wake routine is especially important in the days leading up to the end of summer vacation, and at other times when regular routines are more likely to be disrupted. No routine can rule out exceptions, of course. When life happens and schedules get messed up, your repetitive bedtime activities become especially important.
The Role of Rituals
As a parent, you’re sure to have seen the magical result of a routine or two. You’ve definitely witnessed the consequences a lack of routine can unleash. When you combine a reliable rhythm with recurring activities, those daily rituals can build subtle cues into your children’s schedules. Associating easily recognized rituals with bedtime helps train young brains to wind down automatically and to produce melatonin at the right time. If you want your kids to be complicit in falling asleep, rituals will help you get there.
Establish a Pattern
Getting kids primed for healthy sleep goes beyond sticking to a set bedtime. The great thing about routines and rituals is that you get to decide what works for your family. Healthy habits can include taking a bath, washing faces, brushing teeth, hearing a story, or singing a song. The more creative you get, the more fun and potentially memory-making the buildup to bed will be. Planning simple but meaningful moments can be an opportunity to strengthen your bond by engaging one-on-one with little ones.
Healthy Sleep Hygiene
Some milestones related to bedtime can happen much earlier in the day. Keep kids away from anything containing caffeine after 3 pm. That includes soda, chocolate, and the often-overlooked chocolate milk. Reduce sugar intake after 3 pm, too. If dessert after dinner is important, think about serving natural or low-sugar options. For kids that have difficulty settling down, a warm (low-sugar, caffeine-free) beverage right before bed can really help. If this helps your little one, build it into your routine.
Make Bed a Snuggly Sleep Space
Just like adults need to keep electronics out of the bedroom, kids need to establish a clear connection between bed and sleeping. Tablets and toys should stay out of the actual bed – with an exception for the ever-important comfort item. Be sure that overnight temperatures are not too warm and not too cold, and that bed is a pleasant place to be. When kids start having growth spurts or waking up achy, it may be time to do a bedding upgrade. When you do replace your child’s mattress, be sure to keep in mind what his or her growing body will need over the next ten years or so -- there’s a time when a bigger bed is better!
Need vs. Want
Kids will always want one more thing – especially when it’s time to settle down. If you notice your child requesting the same thing time and time again, find a way to incorporate that request into the routine. And if your little one shows signs of sleep deprivation during the day, rule out or remedy sleep disorders with your doctor. While you’re working on setting your evening routine, remember that some experimentation is natural, there are no hard-and-fast rules for bedtime, and every child is different. What's important is to build a routine that works for your family -- and to stick with it.