Young children are notorious for fighting sleep — and that’s understandable. There’s just so much to learn and do during the daytime that many kids hate to miss even a minute of it, especially doing something as boring as sleep. It can also be scary to go to bed, separated from your family and all alone in the pitch dark.
Yet children need sleep more than adults, and they need more of it. Getting enough ZZZs is absolutely essential for the development of both the brain and body, as well as being vital from a mental and emotional health standpoint. Our brains use these hours of rest to process and make sense of the day’s events.
Of course, children’s sleep also has a direct effect on parents’ sanity!
For all these reasons and more, it’s important to help your child develop good sleep hygiene. Here are our best tips for dealing with young insomniacs.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
Having a pre-slumber routine that stays the same, night after night, is one of the best ways to stave off sleep problems. Start implementing that routine when your child is still a small baby. It will change as your child grows older — a last trip to the bathroom will replace a nighttime diaper, for example, and at some point your little one will transition from an evening bath to a morning shower — but introducing the idea of a routine early will help set a good foundation for bedtimes to come.
Begin the getting-ready-for-bed process at the same hour each evening, and set a firm time for “lights out” as well. Consistency is key for your child’s sake and for yours.
Younger children’s routines should include a bath, brushing and flossing of teeth, getting into PJs, and listening to a parent or caretaker read a bedtime story or sing a lullaby. Some parents incorporate prayers or a sequence of goodnight wishes for family members and friends, whether they are shouted out Waltons-style or just quietly whispered to oneself.
Taken all together, these actions will signal that day is done and sleep is nigh, making it easier for the child to slow his or her thoughts and drift off.
In addition, an older child’s routine could include a bedtime snack, tucking in his or her dolls or stuffed animals, and perhaps a discussion of the day that is ending or reminders of what plans tomorrow will bring. A few full-body stretches or even a short session of gentle yoga or mindful meditation will clear her head and help her relax before bed, as well.
Create a Relaxing Environment
Call on the child’s senses to create an environment that will be conducive to their getting good shut-eye. Close the blinds or curtains to block out ambient light from street lamps, neighbor’s porch lights, and car headlights. It’s a good idea to use a nightlight, however. A pitch-black room can be terrifying to young children or those with vivid imaginations, and a nightlight will also help prevent stubbed toes during late-night potty breaks.
Another way to signal that it’s time to slow down and fall asleep is by using essential oils in a diffuser. Try soporific scents like lavender, bergamot, or clary sage. Many aromatherapy diffusers do double-duty as soft, color-changing nightlights, so you can kill two sensory birds with one stone.
Soft music or white noise might help some children turn off their racing thoughts and tune out. If you have a spare tablet computer, check out apps and sites like Noisli, which allow you to customize the white noises that work best. Afraid your young gamer will be tempted to use the tablet for Animal Crossing? Purchase a white-noise machine or even simply run a fan.
Choose Comfortable Beds and Bedding
Naturally, you’ve made sure that your kids have plenty of warm blankets available to them, but if your school-age child complains of a lumpy mattress or thin, flat pillow, spend some time and money finding replacements. After all, it’s hard for you to sleep in a strange bed or without your special memory foam pillow; why should it be any different for a kid?
Visit a Purple mattress showroom together, try out different types of pillows, and find out whether your peanut prefers one extra-warm down comforter or layers of thinner blankets so they can customize their temperature comfort level. Having a bed that’s inviting, with bedding that they picked out themselves, can be a surprisingly effective safeguard against sleeplessness.
Set Firm Rules Around Bedtime
Few people are more resourceful than a child who doesn’t want to go to sleep. Your youngster will request endless glasses of water, repeated tuck-ins, and additional goodnight kisses for Teddy, Barbie, Sydney the stuffed snake, Thomas the Tank Engine, or any other favored toy that shares his bed. He will concoct urgent questions, homework that has to be checked, and of course fantastical monsters that must be shooed out from underneath the bed.
Let your child know what the rules are when it comes to getting out of bed. Whether she’s trying to delay bedtime to begin with or engage your attention after you’ve said goodnight and shut the door, the best response is a firm, consistent “no.” Make it known that one glass of water or one trip to the living room “to say goodnight to Mittens” will be tolerated, but no more. If in a weak moment, you give an inch, your kid will invariably try to take a mile.
Helping a child get to bed on time and sleep soundly can certainly be easier said than done. However, maintaining a routine, holding firm against stalling tactics, and gentle reassurance will all go a long way toward instilling good sleep habits that will serve your child for years to come.
Does your little one have any unusual bedtime routines? How have you convinced an anxious preschooler to stay in bed and wait for sleep? Let us know in the comments section!
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