The Science of Sleep

As someone who deals with occasional bouts of insomnia, I’ve read a lot of the literature (by literature, of course, I mean “message boards on Google”) about how to promote a good night’s sleep.

When adults are giving tips to other adults on how to achieve a good night’s sleep, they typically sound something like this:

  1. Stay active during the day and exercise a lot
  2. Limit caffeine intake, especially later in the day
  3. Stop using screens two hours before going to bed
  4. Try to sleep and wake at consistent times
  5. Take a melatonin supplement
  6. Make your bedroom a restful, peaceful space
  7. Drink an herbal tea meant to support sleep

They’re all good tips, definitely the sort that adults give to other adults.

But one of the issues these lists fail to address is that there is another cause for my difficulty sleeping. She’s about 39” tall, has bright red hair, and has lately taken to declaring to anyone who will listen that she’s “not really into sleeping.”

My daughter has struggled to sleep — and therefore, so has everyone in our house — since she was born. I can’t help but think that if she were a sleep doctor (or at least, someone on the Internet giving sleep advice), her sleep recommendations would read a little differently.

A Four-Year-Old’s Advice for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep:

  1. Bathtime screaming. Scream about having to take a before-bed bath for 20 minutes longer than the bath actually takes. All the screaming will wear you out and prepare you for slumber.
  2. Diet. Pre-bedtime snacking is crucial. And remember: The ideal time for snacking is immediately after brushing your teeth. If you don’t have a cold quesadilla RIGHT NOW, at 8:03pm, when are you going to have it? Back at dinnertime when you were supposed to?
  3. Relax. Drink a nice herbal tea meant to support sleep. By “herbal tea,” we mean “juicebox full of sugar.”
  4. Talk. Save all of your deep, existential questions for right as your parents are trying to deposit you in bed. If they don’t take the bait, try asking them one last simple question, like, “Who made the world?” or “Can I get a puppy?” or “Do you truly love me?” (We, the children of the world, defy any parent to ignore any of these questions.)
  5. Exercise. Has your mom seen your latest silly dance? Mid-pajamas is the ideal time to show her the moves that you definitely aren’t just making up, right there on the spot, as a way to delay the inevitable.
  6. Cut yourself off. Stop using logic, or self-control, at least two hours before bedtime.


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