Ah, sleep. It can be an elusive mistress when you’re a parent, which seems strange because once your child is old enough, they are sleeping more than you, so you should be getting it too. The time change back to Daylight Saving tends to trigger sleeping issues in children, which makes it even harder (although it’s possible our time change is now permanent, yay!). Without sleep, I am grumpy and irritable, so I have gone a little crazy with my environment…I have shades on all my bedroom windows plus drapes pulled over those and even a white noise machine (please tell me I’m not alone in my need to vanquish all light and noise at night!).
I even travel with my pillow. In my household, sleeping was and still is serious business. 😉 There are three types of people in regards to sleep: those who don’t need more than 7 hours and can function normally, those who do need more than that to feel rested but don’t need it regularly, and then those who need 8 to 9 hours on a regular basis to feel human (the latter is the group Rob and I fall into), so when John had momentary lapses in good sleeping judgment, we tackled it like a child being set loose to find hidden easter eggs (or for my scifi brethren, Gollum and his Precious).
Sleep is SO important for our children, an essential function that allows the body and mind to recharge, leaving us refreshed and alert when we wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly either (which we all know from the early days of having a newborn).
Here are 10 tips to get your child to get to sleep and stay asleep all night. May it help YOU to get more sleep as well. =)
Tip #1: Make bedtime a routine of rituals
Children need a set routine that starts at the same time, with the same events in the same order, that last a certain amount of time. In our house, beginning at 7PM, John’s routine began: Rob would walk upstairs with him, John would put his clothes in the hamper, then take a bath and brush his teeth, then get in his bed where I would read him three stories he would pick out. Three exactly.
He knew that he would get three stories and there would not be a fourth. Then we would sing two songs with the lights out, I would lay next to him for a minute, and finally leave. He had some control over the events, like which bath toys he could play with, what pajamas he would wear and which stories I would read, but he knew our routine never varied. If he got out of bed, we had a consequence, like taking his stuffed animal away for one minute.
As you can imagine, this was upsetting to him, but you only likely have to do it for a night or two for your child to stop. You have to think in advance of what you’re going to do if your child gets out of bed after the routine. And then have back up plans to your back up plans.
Tip #2: Don’t sign up as your child’s Designated Sleep Aide
If you rock a baby or lay next to your toddler until they fall asleep every night, they can’t learn to fall asleep on their own. Crack their door if you need to, but don’t stay to guard their sleeping success. Help your child become a “self-soother” who learns to fall asleep by themselves (which means leaving them when they are still awake).
Tip #3: Set up a successful environment
Your child’s bedroom should be free of distractions. We did not have toys stored in John’s room, for example. There was a night light, but it was very dim. During the summer, we made sure the ceiling fan was on so that he didn’t get overheated. We also didn’t make loud noises while he was going to sleep and left his door open just a few inches with no bright light in the hallway.
Tip #4: Get the energy out during the day and eat right
If your child is not getting enough exercise or not eating enough at dinner, those will definitely play into their body having a hard time going to sleep, but don’t allow exciting activities or dessert just before bedtime. Think about how hard that would be for you. It’s the same for children.
Tip #5: Get your child checked out by a doctor if there are physical signs of something that isn’t going away
Is your child sleeping with their mouth open or snoring? That’s only caused by a few things and enlarged tonsils is the most common. Snoring on occasion is normal. Every night is not. Is your child coughing? Your child could have allergies that require Allegra or allergy shots (John would cough every night when he laid down to go to bed and at night, which we discovered was asthma due to major hayfever allergies, so he started allergy shots at 3 years old).
Trust your mommy instincts. If your child is experiencing something physical that isn’t going away, get them checked out. (For those new to Texas, allergies to grass, tree pollen and mold are a thing out here.)
Tip #6: Reduce your child’s anxiety… don’t do anything exciting before or after you put your child to bed
Rob and I waited until John was asleep before watching TV. If your child thinks you are doing something fun, they will want to join you. Be as boring as possible. Sometimes, Rob and I pretended to go to bed ourselves, then sneak out to watch our a TV show after we confirmed he was out. Washing dishes after dinner was the most exciting thing we did before bedtime.
Take the stimulation out of the evening. (This includes tablets!) If your child is scared to go asleep alone, clear any clutter from under their beds and open their closet doors so that they don’t worry about night time monsters.
If your child is older, give them a flashlight. Ask them if they want the night light on or off, their door open a little or closed. Make them feel in control of their environment so they are comfortable. Here is a great article I found of questions you can ask your child to find out what scares them! Can’t fix it if you don’t know what it is.
Tip #7: Is your child getting up too early?
We had this problem. We bought John a digital clock and covered the minutes portion with duct tape. We told him that until the number 6 was on his clock, he was not allowed to get out of bed. (This was a tip my older sister, Heidi, used and it worked like a charm!) You can also buy a “trainer” clock that uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up.
Tip #8: Is your child going to bed early enough?
Children who go to bed later than they should get overtired and then fight it. Children need a LOT of sleep, 11 to 14 hours a day including naps, so put them to bed early. And try not to alter your schedule on weekends. When John was 1 year old, he went to bed at 6PM, then we upped it to 7PM when he was 2 years old, and then to 8PM when he was potty trained, so obviously you need to update your routine with your child’s development. To pick the right time your child goes to sleep for your family, just consider this…preschool children need the opportunity to sleep at least 10 hours a night.
Tip #9: Is your child going to bed fine but waking up?
First, waking up a few times per night is normal. Tell your child about how you wake up, too, and then you turn over and go back to sleep. If your child is getting into your bed or waking you up and you’ve tried all the tips here, you can tell your child that they are not allowed to come into your room but can camp out on the floor next to your bedroom door. After a few nights or weeks, your child’s own soft mattress may seem more appealing. I remember doing this myself when I was around 6 years old. After awhile, that green avocado shag and my thin blanket got old. It’s a phase that will pass, but only if you are giving your child an option that’s less appealing than their own bed.
Tip #10: Develop a new routine and stick to it
Make it clear to your child that sleeping is important and that there are boundaries that will not be crossed because their body needs it to grow and be healthy. You can offer an incentive of some kind in the morning if they stay in bed and go to sleep, like which cereal they want Daddy to eat for breakfast or which shoes Mommy will wear to the park, but do not give in. All humans need boundaries to feel safe, your child most of all!, so keep firm on the rules. If you give in once, it will be ten times harder the next night. When we started our new sleeping routine, we felt like Sleep Drill Sergeants. The routine was rigid and we followed the clock to know when the next phase of our bed routine was set to begin. You may not realize it yet, but children really do love routines. Ask them, for example, what comes next after taking a bath. They love being involved and earning your praise for a correct answer!
John used to get anxious when we finished stories and left him, pleading for us to stay, sometimes getting up ten minutes after we put him to bed. Every time he upped the ante, we upped it, too. Rob and I knew that not only did John need his sleep, if we didn’t get enough sleep, we couldn’t be the best version of ourselves…parent, spouse, employee, friend, coworker…and we wanted that for John, too. John’s phases of fighting our routine never lasted more than 2 – 3 nights because we stuck to our guns. So sit down and think about how you want YOUR routine to go at night, when it starts, how long each part is, plan out EVERY detail, share it with those in your house and prepare for every contingency. Once your child realizes you mean business, sleep will come. Just visualize the zzzz’s in your near future…aren’t they wonderful? =) Sweet dreams!