*This is a collaborative guest post
At every stage of your child’s life, there are adjustments that need to be made. From the food our kids eat to the clothes they wear, parents are constantly having to adjust to their child’s needs. Issues related to their sleep habits are no different. Children will experience different sleep problems at various stages, and, as their parents, we have to know how to help them.
Additionally, many of these sleep issues can keep parents up at night. In fact, a new survey done by Sleep Junkie found that parents spent an average of 5 hours and 25 minutes a night helping their children fall asleep during the first year of parenthood. Although sleep loss will lessen as children mature, parents still spend a significant amount of time putting their kids to bed.
Fortunately, there are practical adjustments you can make to ease this burden. Below we have compiled a list of 10 tips that can help the whole family find a better night’s sleep.
1 – Know Your Child’s Needs
The first thing you will want to take note of is the amount of sleep your child needs. This number includes nighttime sleeping and any naps they take throughout the day. Understanding their specific requirements will help you establish a schedule for bedtimes, nap times, and wake-up times. Refer to the list below to find out what your child’s requirements are.
- Infants – 1 to 4 weeks old: 12-16 hours
- Toddlers – 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers – 10-13 years old: 9-12 hours
- Grade Schoolers – 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours
- Teens – 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours
2 – Create A Schedule
After determining how much sleep your child needs each day, you can establish a schedule with a set bedtime and wake-up time for both you and your child. Being consistent with this schedule will reinforce your body’s natural circadian rhythm and cause you to feel drowsy around the same time each night. Before long, your child will be climbing into bed without any trouble.
3 – Make Bed Time A Family Event
At times, children may resist bedtime if they feel they are being left out. If parents or older siblings are still awake and enjoying themselves, children may become combative when they are forced to go to bed. If the whole family prepares for bed together, this can help them feel less anxious.
4 – Create a Routine
Your child will be more mentally and physically prepared for sleep if they have a set bedtime routine. Over time, the routine will automatically signal your child to relax and prepare for sleep. Consider working with your child to create a bedtime routine that works for them. Below we have included a list of activities that help promote relaxation.
- Brushing their teeth
- Taking a relaxing bath
- Putting on comfy pajamas
- Reading them a book
- Tucking them in
- Talking about their day
5 – Create a Soothing Environment
Having a comfortable environment to retire to each night is vital to getting adequate sleep. This space should be stress-free and encourage relaxation. Consider keeping bedrooms cool, quiet, free of clutter, and with as little light as possible during the night. A nightlight is fine if this comforts your child, however, be sure to remove any electronic light from their sleep space. Having a comfortable and supportive mattress can also improve sleep quality.
6 – Reduce Stress Before Bed
As children get older, the amount of stress they deal with will increase. Teens often have stress related to friends, school, and extracurricular activities. However, high levels of stress can create an overproduction of cortisol in your child’s body. Since cortisol has been known to delay sleep, try to encourage relaxing activities before bed, such as reading, journaling, or taking a warm bath or shower. Keep nighttime activities stress-free by reducing noise, dimming lights, talking softly, remaining calm, and avoid discussion of stressful topics.
7 – Reduce Screen Time
Teens are often prone to unhealthy technology habits. To help them find better sleep, it will be important to monitor their exposure to electronic light from phones, television, computers, and video games. This light can interfere with the natural production of melatonin in our bodies. Melatonin is the body’s key to feeling sleepy and ready for bed. Research shows that even a half-hour of television in the 2 hours before bed can disrupt our sleep. To avoid this disruption, consider reducing screen time at least 2 hours before bed.
8 – Avoid Large Meals Before Bed
When our body is working to digest food, it can be difficult to relax. To help your child get to sleep on time, encourage your child to avoid eating big meals at least 3 hours before bed. If you allow your child to drink caffeinated sodas during the day, consider limiting the consumption of these beverages at least 3 hours before bed.
9 – Encourage Regular Exercise
Most kids, regardless of age, can benefit from regular physical exercise. When your child gets the exercise they need, they are more likely to feel sleepy quickly. The Mayo Clinic suggests that children 6 years or older get at least 1 hour of moderate exercise a day. To avoid overstimulation, be sure exercise takes place at least 3 hours prior to bedtime.
10 – Guard Against Fears
Children between the ages of 1 and 5 may experience nighttime fears. These fears are often irrational, but dismissing them can do more harm than good. Consider addressing the fear with your child. Together you can create a plan to secure their sleep space against these fears. This may mean looking under beds or closing closets, but these simple tasks can go a long way in helping your child feel safe. When they feel secure in their space, you can both find the sleep you need.
Although bedtime can be stressful, most of these stages don’t last long. In the meantime, these simple tips can help the whole family find a bit more shuteye. If your child continues to struggle with sleep, or you think the problem may be related to a medical issue, be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician.