The human body requires sleep to survive. Why, then, can it be so hard for children to sleep through the night? Whether it’s separation anxiety or lack of self-soothing abilities, there are ways to help your children get the rest they (and you) need. Your child’s sleep patterns are highly responsive to his schedule and behaviour, which gives you the ability to affect your child’s sleep cycle with sleep-promoting habits. So get ready to set a bedtime and turn night wakings into the most boring time of day.
Take a Good Look at the Bedroom
The right sleep environment can make a big difference in sleep success. Outside factors like light and sound can be disruptive, especially to young children. Ask yourself a few key questions—Is it clean? Is it comfortable? Is it quiet? Is it dark?
Toys and clutter can be distracting and tempting when everything is easily within reach, so give the room a quick clean up before bed. As your child starts to fall asleep, his body temperature drops. A cool room helps maintain that lower body temperature.
When it comes to light, dark is best. Light, both natural and artificial, suppress sleep hormones so block out as much as possible. Motion-activated nightlights work well for children who are afraid of the dark or who need some light to find their way to the bathroom.
Finally, take a good look at the mattress. Children need a comfortable mattress just like adults. Make sure there aren’t any tags, stickers, lumps, or valleys that make sleep difficult.
Build a Solid Bedtime and Bedtime Routine
A bedtime and bedtime routine are a powerful combination. Bedtime routines are the appetizers to sleep’s entree. It preps their body for what’s to come. Bedtime routines can be tailored to your child’s specific needs.
For example, you can start with something active like picking up toys, then put on pyjamas, brushing teeth, and reading a story. A bath, singing, or quiet conversation are other ways you can help your child mentally and physically prepare for sleep. The trick is to make sure you do everything at the same time and in the same order to trigger the start of the sleep cycle.
Consistency in bedtime and bedtime routine create a recognizable pattern that the brain can fully embrace and support with a predictable release of sleep hormones.
Screentime can be a problem for two reasons 1) light and 2) content. Bright light can suppress sleep hormones, which means your child won’t be feeling sleepy for an hour or two after turning off the screen. Turn off screens early and definitely remove them from the bedroom.
Second, the content on the screen can activate your child’s brain, again, making it difficult to fall asleep. Funny, scary, or sad—images on the screen can lead to nightmares or other emotions that get in the way.
Night Wakings Aren’t Playtime
Night wakings can be frustrating for everyone involved. Your first step is to make sure things are quiet and dim while your child is awake. You want their body to stay in a sleep-ready state. Take him back to bed, get him situated, and leave the room. If he gets up again, repeat the process.
For children who have attachment or separation issues, you may want to sit in a chair in the doorway until your child falls asleep again. Sometimes simply knowing that you’re there will be enough to trigger sleep.
Sleeping through the night is a milestone that parents can’t wait to achieve. However, if your child has trouble falling and staying asleep, all is not lost. Consistent sleep-supportive habits can train the brain to release sleep hormones. As you stick to your schedule, your child will learn habits that allow him to fully respond to those hormones and get better sleep.
Samantha Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face