Turning Bedtime into the Best Time
By GetParentingTips.com Staff
Read time: 9 minutes
It’s a fact: kids need sleep, and lots of it! It’s important for parents to know why sleep—along with a good bedtime routine—is so essential for their kids’ health. Here are more facts about kids and sleep:
- Common sleep disorders affect about 50% of kids and 40% of teens.
- Toddlers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep each day (including naps).
- Kids ages 5–11 years need 9 to 11 hours of bedtime sleep.
- Teens ages 12–18 years need 8 to 10 hours of bedtime sleep.
Every child is different, and that’s true for their sleep habits too. Some children fall asleep fast, while others may take 20 minutes or so. If your child takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep you might try a later bedtime or set a consistent nightly routine to help her (or him) get to sleep faster.
Sleep Plays a Key Role in a Child’s Health and Development
Getting good sleep consistently is essential for a child’s mental and physical development. Well-rested children are more alert, which helps their memory development, ability to concentrate at school, and other cognitive skills. Plenty of sleep also gives kids something obvious—lots of energy to take on their day!
A tired child may be irritable, whiny, or moody. She may not be able to concentrate or follow directions. You may find that your child falls asleep during the day, asks to take a nap, or is hard to wake up in the morning. Hyperactivity could also be a sign that your child isn’t getting enough sleep.
Don’t be too worried if your child’s normal sleep routine suddenly changes. Sleep regression happens when a child who’s been sleeping well suddenly has problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping deeply. This can happen when they move from infancy into toddlerhood, or as puberty begins. Sleep disruptions can happen when a child is struggling with a major event, like a move or starting a new school. Change can be stressful, causing them to worry. Like adults, children sometimes can’t turn off their brains and sleep like they usually would. Your child can also experience sleep regression if she has been sick. She may have a hard time getting back to her bedtime routine. Be patient and supportive of your child and things should even out in a few days or a week. If the problem lasts longer than that, or gets worse, talk to your pediatrician.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
How can you help your children get the quality sleep they need? Here are ways to tackle bedtime challenges and create a nightly routine.
Don’t make bedtime a battleground.
Have a consistent bedtime routine.
Many parents have a nightly routine with infants and toddlers, but it becomes more challenging as kids get older. Having more extracurricular activities can make it harder to stick to a nightly routine. For younger kids, a nightly routine can be a structured time to wind down that includes three or four tasks done in the same order each night such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, getting tucked in, and reading their favorite book. Teens’ bedtime routine will likely be less structured. A good nightly routine could consist of taking a shower, brushing teeth, and spending quiet time alone in their room until their regularly scheduled time to turn off all electronics and lights.
Be consistent with a sleep schedule.
Set times for your child getting up and going to bed. If possible, stick to this bedtime schedule on weekends, too.
Be clear and consistent with expectations and consequences around nightly routines.
Don’t fall for stall tactics like your child getting out of bed to grab one more drink of water or finding toys or books in their room to distract them from turning out the lights. For teens, be clear on rules for turning off their phone or computer at a certain time each night. If they break the rule or you catch them sneaking one last look on their phone, limiting their screen time the next day or taking away their phone will show them you’re serious about bedtime rules.
To help create a relaxing environment, start winding down your household by turning off some lights, TVs, and other entertainment devices while kids start their bedtime activities.
Help your child stay in bed.
If your kid consistently leaves her bed or calls for you, first make sure he’s okay, then try these tips:
- Once your child goes to bed, sit outside the bedroom door so you can immediately address the issue if he tries to get back up. Remind your child that it’s time to sleep and not wander around the house. Repeat this process several times to reinforce the behavior you want. It may take several tries but remaining consistent and calm will help you win the bedtime tug-of-war.
- The next morning, praise your child when she has stayed in bed. Let him know she’s doing a great job and that you’re proud of her.
Deal with nighttime fears.
If your child is afraid of the dark, reassure her by checking closets and looking under the bed at bedtime. If she’s afraid of something specific like a monster, you can get creative and have “monster spray” on hand—a spray water bottle that you mist around the room to “ward off” monsters. Try keeping the moment lighthearted, praise your child for being brave, and reassure her there’s nothing to fear.
You can also ease bedtime fears by spending quality time while she’s tucked in bed. Asking about her day, reading a favorite book, or telling a funny story are all great ways to relax your child and take her mind off anything scary.
Practice good habits to help everyone fall—and stay—asleep.
Avoid caffeine or sugar in the late afternoon or evening.
Make sure you keep healthy snacks on hand to limit sugar and caffeine, especially late in the day. This may be harder as your kids get older and have more independence. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under age 12 should not eat or drink any caffeine-containing foods or drinks.
Have early dinner.
Eating too late can cause kids to be more alert and have difficulty falling asleep.
Give kids outside playtime!
Daily activity and sunlight help kids’ bodies produce melatonin, which is a natural sleep aid. If the weather is nice, encourage your kids to play outside until it’s time for dinner instead of playing video games inside the house.
Make sure your child’s bedroom is quiet.
Some kids may enjoy a soothing noise to listen to at bedtime. Sound machines can be a great option to help some children fall and stay asleep—and maybe even a way to help keep monsters away!
Turn off electronics an hour before bedtime.
Blue light—which is the light on most phone and computer screens—tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime, making it harder to fall asleep. Teens are even more sensitive to blue lights than adults.
How To Stop Bedtime Battles
More Serious Sleep Issues
While a restless night of sleep might happen once in a while, there are more serious sleep conditions that children may experience. If you suspect your child may have a bedtime issue that can’t be resolved with a simple nightly routine, talk to your child’s pediatrician about possible solutions.
If your child is between the ages of 5 and 7 and still wetting the bed it could be that her bladder is still developing nighttime control. Stressful events are often another reason a child may wet the bed. Though wet sheets and pajamas can be embarrassing, the issue usually goes away on its own. Make sure your child knows you are not mad or disappointed in her. Below are a few tips to help with this bedtime challenge:
- Limit fluids in the evening. Make sure your child gets plenty of water throughout the day but no liquids in the last two hours before bedtime.
- Eliminate foods and drinks with caffeine, such as chocolate milk and cocoa, and artificial dyes or sweeteners, which can irritate a child’s bladder.
- Encourage a bathroom break at the beginning of your child’s nightly routine and once more before you tuck her into bed.
If your child is older than 7 and still bedwetting, talk to your child’s pediatrician. There may be an underlying health issue that needs medical care.
Nightmares can happen at any age, but they usually start when kids are 3 to 6 years old. It’s normal for a child to have a nightmare after watching a scary movie or reading a book with a frightening character or monster. Nightmares may also be related to challenges your child is facing at home or school. If your child has the occasional nightmare, here are some tips to help:
- Talk about their nightmare during the day. Ask what happened and why it was scary. Try to find out whether there are stressful things going on that might be triggering the nightmare.
- Keep a night light on if being in the dark is part of the issue.
- Open the bedroom door so your child doesn’t feel alone. Reassure her that you’re just down the hall if she needs you.
- Encourage her to sleep with a favorite doll, blanket, or stuffed toy to help her feel more secure.
Night terrors are different from nightmares. With nightmares, the child will wake up and may remember parts of it. With night terrors, the dreamer remains asleep and usually doesn’t remember the dream. During a night terror, they might scream, kick, sit up in bed and appear awake—even sleepwalk. This can be scary to watch but it’s something children usually grow out of. However, if your child’s night terrors are frequent, are a risk to her safety, or he is sleep-deprived because of them, discuss the issue with your pediatrician.
Night terrors are generally caused by stress, fever, sleep disruptions, or extreme tiredness. If sleep disruptions seem to be the issue, make sure your child has a regular a bedtime routine—the consistency may help stop them. If it’s stress, talk to your child about things that might be upsetting her, then make sure her nightly routine is calming and soothing—play soft music or a sound machine, or put a night light in the room to help with fear of the dark.
Sleepwalking is when a child gets up in the middle of the night while still asleep. Kids tend to sleepwalk within an hour or two of falling asleep and may walk around for just a few seconds up to 30 minutes. Sleepwalking in children usually happens when they are sleep deprived, stressed, running a fever, or having disruptions to their sleep schedule. It is often hard to wake up children who are sleepwalking, and can be very frightening when they do. It’s best to try to ease them back to bed.
Make your house safe for a sleepwalking child.
Lock all the doors and windows and make sure there are no objects she can trip over. Put a safety gate in front of stairs or doors. Make sure anything that could harm her is out of reach, including medicine and sharp objects. Never ever try to restrain your child or tie her to the bed; this can be extremely dangerous.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
Fatigue and stress are two common reasons for sleepwalking, so make sure your child’s nightly routine is full of soothing, quiet activities. Reading a book, taking a warm bath, and dimming bedroom lights early may help.
If a child sleepwalks, it typically begins at about age 4 and stops when she reaches her teens. Children who have one or both parents with a history of sleepwalking may have a higher chance of sleepwalking. If your child’s sleepwalking occurs often, includes dangerous behavior, or leads to injuries, be sure to talk to your pediatrician. Tests and treatment may be needed to determine why it’s ongoing and to help rule out a more serious issue like sleep apnea.
Pediatric sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a child’s breathing is partly or entirely blocked repeatedly while she sleeps. The most common cause is enlarged adenoids or tonsils. Some signs your child might have sleep apnea are snoring, mouth breathing, snorting or choking, pauses in breathing, and restless sleep. Sleep apnea may also cause a child to have behavioral problems or trouble learning and paying attention. Sleep apnea can lead to serious complications that can impact growth or lead to heart issues. If you suspect your child might have sleep apnea or a similar issue, talk to her pediatrician immediately.
Teeth grinding is when kids repeatedly grind or clench their teeth in their sleep. It’s a common sleep disorder. While it’s not dangerous, it can lead to jaw pain or tooth damage over time. Stress and anxiety are the most common reasons, but teeth grinding does occur more often in kids with ADHD and migraines.
If you suspect your child might be grinding her teeth, check for tooth damage, tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods, jaw pain, or headaches. If you think stress is the cause, talk to your child about how she’s feeling. Maybe she’s having a hard time in school or with friends. Helping her deal with the challenges she’s facing and allowing her a safe place to express her feelings may help her feel less stressed. If it’s an ongoing issue, talk to your child’s dentist about possible solutions such as a nightguard or mouth splint.
Quality Sleep is Key
A good night’s sleep is so important for your child’s overall health and happiness. Creating a consistent nightly routine is the first step to ensuring your child gets the right amount of sleep. If you feel your child isn’t getting the sleep she needs, talk to her doctor. A well-rested child will do better in school and at home, and be ready to take on the world!