There’s perhaps nothing as frustrating as having a child that doesn’t sleep. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the body, increasing stress levels, disrupting hormones, and diminishing productivity. For parents who are juggling numerous responsibilities, a sleepless child can seem like an endless battle.
There are many factors that impact how a child sleeps. With a combination of building habits, removing triggers, and setting expectations, you can help your child develop good sleeping habits. Here’s how.
Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
The first step in creating good sleep habits is to create an ideal sleeping environment for your child. They should feel comfortable and safe in their surroundings. Keep the temperature moderate, use white noise, and install blackout curtains to help create a calming atmosphere. Ensure your child has the bed they need to offer ample support for their growing bodies. See Best mattress for kids | She Knows review guide for more.
Creating a sleep-friendly environment helps support the psychological and physiological needs for deep sleep. By having this foundation in place, you’ll help your child go to sleep and stay asleep.
Develop a Sleep Routine
Kids respond well to routines. While it’s challenging to break old habits and develop new ones, with time and dedication, you can create a sleep routine that works.
When developing a sleep routine, consider all the things that need to be done before bed to avoid the pitter-patter of little feet. Your routine could include a bedtime snack, a bath, a drink of water, tooth brushing, a trip to the bathroom, getting dressed for bed, storytime, etc. Ideally, you’ll follow the same order and timeline each night.
Following a routine helps trigger a response in your child’s body and mind that it’s time to calm down. The sameness of the routine creates comfort and indicates that everything will be ok. This exercise is also an opportunity to spend some quality time together.
Cut Screen Time
The blue lights of tablets and phones disrupt our biological sleep cycle. While handing an iPad to a child is a great way to keep them distracted while you make supper or tidy up, it can cause disruptions in their sleep patterns over time.
Ensure that screen time ends at least an hour before bedtime to prevent sleep disruptions. Consider turning on automatic lockdowns and time limits to ensure everyone sticks to the rules.
Set Clear Expectations
Let your child know what’s happening and what to expect when working through your sleep routine. Saying things like “first we brush our teeth, then it’s lights out and sleep time” can help your child process what’s expected of them and prepare for the inevitable. It’s also wise to clarify that after bedtime, there will be no more snacks, water, or casual conversations about the meaning of life.
While you should be firm in your approach, it’s important to stay as positive as possible. Changing sleep patterns and putting new protocols in place can be stressful. However, yelling and fighting will just make it worse. Try to step away and collect yourself when frustrations get high.
Use a Reward Program
Rather than focusing on punishments for getting out of bed (which often leads to arguments and chaos), consider implementing a reward system. Use a simple sticker chart to outline the nightly routine and let your child check things off as you go.
Start by offering a daily reward for staying in bed each night. This reward could be anything from a small treat to 15 extra minutes of tech time. Then, scale the reward system as needed.
Be Mindful of Eating Habits
Food consumption and digestion are common triggers for sleep disruptions. Eating too close to bedtime can trigger digestion and spike energy levels, making falling asleep a challenge. Conversely, not eating enough before bed can cause arguments and hunger pangs— especially during growth spurts.
Consider incorporating a light, healthy bedtime snack into your evening routine. Avoid foods with sugar or caffeine that could keep them awake for longer.
Finally, the most important part of creating healthy sleep habits is for parents to stay consistent. Try to stick to similar sleep and waking times, even on the weekends. Avoid relenting and breaking protocol, even if times get tough.
Creating healthy sleep habits with your child may be a challenge, but it’s worth the promise of a quick bedtime and sleeping through the night.