How to Get Your Child to Sleep

Everyone needs healthy sleep, and for children, it’s especially important. Children rely on good sleep to learn, develop, and grow. But healthy sleep is often easier said than done, especially when children struggle with sleeping. In childhood, we develop sleep habits that can stick for life. But when children don’t get enough sleep, they can be affected by weight gain, bad moods, poor decisions, difficulty with memory, even become more accident prone. Sleep deprivation can even lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trouble in school. Drowsy driving accidents are a particular concern for children of driving age.

Getting enough sleep should be a priority for children, but sleep struggles are common. Kids may be too excited to sleep, crave more attention before bed, or even feel too scared to sleep. And daytime activities can make it difficult to wind down and get to bed, too. Some children even suffer from sleep disorders, which can be serious. These may include insomnia, sleep walking, night terrors, nightmares, and sleep apnea.

Helping Children Sleep Healthy

Though sleep can be a challenge for some children, there are ways for parents to help support healthy sleep. Knowing how much sleep children need, offering consistent schedules and routines, and avoiding sleep pitfalls are key. The first step in supporting healthy sleep is knowing how much sleep your child actually needs. Babies need about 14 to 17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, while toddlers and preschoolers need 11 to 14. School age children need about 10 to 12, and teens need about eight to 10 hours of sleep each night.

Discussing sleep needs and making sleep a priority can be helpful. Do the math together on how much sleep your child needs, counting backwards from when they need to wake up to figure out a reasonable bedtime.

If activities or commitments interfere with sleep, consider cutting back. Consistency is another important area for healthy sleep, both in sleep schedules and routines. Children feel more comfortable with a consistent routine and schedule, as it helps them better predict and prepare for what happens next.

With a regular sleep schedule, you can help children train themselves to start feeling sleepy around the same time each night. Though it can be tough, it’s best to stay consistent even on weekends, vacations, and holidays so kids don’t miss out on healthy sleep.

A regular bedtime routine is helpful as well, as it can offer a time to wind down and signal that it’s almost time to sleep. When you start the bedtime routine, it can help them associate the activities with beginning to feel sleepy, which can help them slow down and prepare for rest. Don’t drag out bedtime. A short, simple routine is best, such as story time, hugs, and lights out.

Where your child sleeps can also influence the quality of their sleep. Children who aren’t comfortable in their sleep environment may not get adequate rest, so it’s important to consider how well their bedroom supports sleep. Their room should be quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable, with a mattress that meets their needs.

Limiting activities that can interfere with sleep is a good strategy, as electronics, exercise, even food can keep children up at night. It’s best to avoid caffeine (including chocolate) after 3 p.m. Although exercise is generally good for sleep, it’s not helpful at night, as it can leave children feeling too amped up to rest. And the blue wave light and stimulation from electronics can keep children up, too. It’s a good idea to cut off screen time at least one hour before bed.

But child sleep isn’t always simple, and even good sleep habits may not be enough for some families to achieve sleep success. If your child struggles with sleep even with healthy sleep support, talk to their doctor about your concerns. They may have a sleep disorder that requires diagnosis and treatment to help them sleep better and feel more refreshed every day.

Jackie Kepler is a sleep professional. She enjoys sleeping with cats, but sleeps on a king size bed because she needs her space, too.