Sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, have become increasingly common, but many people struggle with sleep even without a disorder—and that includes children.
When children refuse to sleep, it can really take its toll on parents. But there’s hope! There are simple practices you can put into place that will help get your child to sleep, and sleep through the night. You may not see the results automatically, but adopting these practices can significantly help your child’s sleep pattern in the long run, and help yours in return.
1. Set a Sleep Schedule. It’s good to set a bedtime and a wake-up time for your child to ensure they get the sleep they need. Making them abide by this consistently can significantly help them sleep. It may be difficult to maintain this sleep schedule on the weekends when you want to allow them to sleep longer, but changing sleep schedules between weekdays and the weekend can actually hinder their ability to get a good night’s sleep.
A key part of setting their sleep schedule is determining how much sleep they need. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children’s sleep requirements break down like this:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours per day
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours per day
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours per day
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10 – 13 hours per day
- School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours per day
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours per day
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours per day
Younger children’s hours should be broken up throughout the day.
For further information about sleep requirements and when you and your child should be sleeping, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website.
2. No Television Two Hours Prior to Bedtime. Studies have been done on the effect of watching television before bed. The results show that the light from the television—or any tablet, phone or computer—interferes with your body’s melatonin production, which helps you sleep. To help your child sleep better, do not allow them to watch television or play on their computer or tablet two hours prior to their bedtime.
3. Pay Attention to Mealtimes. If you’re having a big meal for dinner, make sure it’s prepared and your kids eat it several hours before they go to bed. It takes a while for food to fully digest, and a big meal right before bed can hinder your child’s ability to sleep. Additionally, don’t give your child caffeine less than six hours before they go to bed because it will be a battle getting them to go to sleep.
4. Cultivate a Stress-Free Environment for Your Child. Stress increases your cortisol levels, which prevents your body from shutting down and going to sleep. Children can experience this, as well as adults. To overcome this obstacle, cultivate a stress-free environment in your household, particularly at night. Keep those bedtime activities calm, dim the lights and keep the house quiet. This can help reduce you and your child’s cortisol levels and remind the body it’s time to go to bed.
For more advice on reducing stress, see our suggested natural remedies for anxiety and stress.
5. Develop a Bedtime Routine and Stick with It. Establishing routines is helpful for kids. They understand what’s expected of them and they’re able to get into a rhythm. Once established and practiced consistently, a bedtime routine will help them wind down and get ready to go to sleep. Their bedtime routine should last between 20 and 30 minutes. It can include: taking a bath, brushing their teeth, you reading them a bedtime story, etc. However, avoid singing or rocking them to sleep. Done too often, your child could become dependent upon your singing and rocking to get them to sleep. This routine could eventually lead to sleep-onset association disorder. If you’ve already been doing this, and your child wakes up in the middle of the night and won’t go back to sleep, try phasing it out gradually.
6. Change Your Focus When It Comes to Bedtime. Most children have developed an aversion to the word sleep. Instead of focusing on the phrases, “It’s time to go to sleep” or “It’s time to go to bed,” focus more on the idea of relaxation and calming down. Help them to de-stress like we talked about earlier, and set the mood for sleep—a calming, relaxing environment.
7. Make Sure Their Room Is Sleep Ready. Making their room sleep ready includes cleaning up toys that may be sprawled about the room and setting a comfortable temperature that your child can ease to sleep in. (The room shouldn’t be too warm or too cold; it should be just right). Also make sure there aren’t clothes or a lot of blankets on their bed that can restrict movement when they sleep.
8. Establish Midnight Disciplines. As hard as it may be to let your child wait to be heard when he cries out in the middle of the night, it will do him more good than harm in the long run. When you hear your child cry out, give him a few minutes before you respond. The silence can help remind him that he should be sleeping and will give him the opportunity to fall back asleep himself.
If he leaves his bedroom in the middle of the night to come to your room, walk him back to his bed and kindly remind him that it’s time for bed.
9. Equip Your Child with Tools to Overcome Fears. Many children develop fears of their bedroom and the late-night hours because of the darkness. To help your child overcome those fears, equip them with tools that will be somewhat of a safety blanket for them. This could be a flashlight they can use to shine under the bed when they’re scared, a spray bottle that is full of “monster spray,” a blanket to protect them or a large stuffed animal to also serve as protection.
Even with equipping your child with these “tools,” you still want to reassure them that there’s nothing to be afraid of in a calming and encouraging tone. Simply writing off their fears without showing them the proper care won’t be encouraging to them.
10. Identify if Your Child Has Sleep Apnea or Another Sleep Disorder. There comes a point in time when you have to examine if your child is just being stubborn when it comes to going to sleep or if they’re suffering from a sleep disorder.
There are a few common signs of sleep disorders, which include: snoring, long pauses in breathing, a significant amount of tossing and turning in bed, chronic mouth breathing while sleeping and night sweats. While these don’t always mean your child has a sleep disorder, if it’s combined with them not getting enough sleep it’s a good indicator that there’s something wrong.
According to sleepapnea.org, it’s estimated that 1 to 4 percent of all children suffer from sleep apnea—the most common ages being between 2 and 8 years old. If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, visit a pediatric specialist with your child.
Whether your child suffers from a sleep disorder or just has trouble going to sleep, trying out these methods is the first step in helping them get a better night’s sleep. Their bodies need to rest, and you need to rest too, so tackling these problems early on can be a great help to them and the whole family.
What methods have you tried that have successfully gotten your child to sleep through the night?