Every evening, a similar routine plays out in many households: Parents try to get their children off to bed, and this starts a complex back and forth of demands, pleading, extra snacks, trips to the bathroom, and a stressful end to the day. You may occasionally give in and let your child stream another video or stay up late reading, but ensuring your child consistently gets enough sleep is crucial to their mental and physical health.
Children who are chronically sleep-deprived are more likely to suffer problems such as obesity or frequent illness, and they may be at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. They’re also more likely to experience behavioral health problems, such as:
- Feeling stressed, anxious or in a rotten mood, which may lead to depression.
- Becoming argumentative with friends or family members.
- Having trouble concentrating, which may negatively affect schoolwork.
Kids get better-quality sleep when their parents help them consistently practice good sleep hygiene. This means a child’s bedtime routine could involve taking a warm bath or shower, unwinding with a book instead of a screen, keeping the bedroom cool and dark, and always honoring a similar bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.
To encourage a smooth transition to bedtime every night, combine typical sleep hygiene strategies with additional techniques. Here are five ways to help your child to get a good night’s sleep and reduce those stressful bedtimes.
Follow sleep-friendly daytime guidelines. Get your child to spend time outside during the morning, because early exposure to daylight helps set their internal clock, so they’re tired at bedtime. Be sure that your child gets plenty of daily exercise so that they’re physically tired in the evening. Limit their intake of caffeine and sugar, especially later in the day. And once your child outgrows naps, discourage sleeping in the middle of the day, which may prevent them from being tired at bedtime.
Keep pre-bedtime activities calm. The hour before bed, choose soothing activities to help your child unwind. Read, listen to music or have quality family time. Don’t have arguments, tell scary stories or do stimulating activities that will energize your child when they should start to feel sleepy.
Designate their bed for sleep. Some children study, watch TV or play games in their beds. During the pandemic, some even attended virtual school there. But using a bed as an activity space confuses the brain and can make it harder for children to fall asleep. They may be tempted by toys, televisions or other distractions. Encourage your child to play and study in other parts of your home and definitely not in their bed. Keep screens out of the bedroom if at all possible. That may mean charging a cell phone downstairs overnight.
Try soothing sounds. Some research suggests listening to music at bedtime may help improve sleep quality in children. Consider playing calming songs as quiet background noise while your child rests.
Calculate bedtime by counting backward. Figure out what time to put your child to bed by counting backwards from the time they wake up for school to ensure they get enough rest. Children need a certain amount of sleep to function at their best:
- 3 to 5 year olds should get 10 to 13 hours.
- 6 to 12 year olds should get 9 to 12 hours.
- Teenagers should get 8 to 10 hours.
The mission of On Our Sleeves is to provide every community in America access to free, evidence-informed educational resources necessary for breaking stigmas about child mental health, and educating families and advocates. Join On Our Sleeves to get more tips and resources like this by visiting childrensdayton.org/onoursleeves.