There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a common method of torture. When forced to stay awake, we may experience disorientation, hallucinations, and lethargy. If pushed too far, we suffer physical and mental breakdowns. What more, for little people like our children? It’s strange to think why, despite needing more sleep than adults, children tend to fight naps and bedtime so fiercely. Every parent, at some point, has struggled with getting their kid to sleep, especially with firstborns as the experience is still new. So, here are nine foolproof tips and tricks to help make sleeping easier for your kids.
Blackout blinds and curtains are great for darkening the room. Darkness activates the release of melatonin–the body’s “sleep hormone”–while light suppresses it. While it’s natural for younger kids to be scared of total darkness, a dim lamp should do the trick. I have an essential oil diffuser in our room that also works as a nightlight as it’s always on candle flicker mode. It’s hypnotizing to watch.
Our core body temperature has to dip in order for us to fall asleep. I notice my toddler will always kick off the comforter even when I feel cold because of the A/C. Don’t overdress your kids–a light shirt and breathable pajamas should be enough for our tropical weather.
An ideal sleep environment is free from distracting noise, but not necessarily completely quiet. White noise is a backdrop of ambient sound, similar to the noises we hear in the womb that soothe and comfort us, regardless of age. There are many available white noise machines online or free apps that you can connect to existing electronics. Just make sure they don’t emanate any distracting screen light when in use.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF), along with a multi-disciplinary expert panel, issued its new recommendations for appropriate sleep durations. That means one bedtime/wake-up time for all your kids may not necessarily be applicable. Knowing these could help you schedule what works for your family. Remember that these aren’t set in stone, so don’t stress if you miss a beat or two in following your own schedule. Stress and anxiety can keep everyone wide awake.
Scientific evidence indicates that exercise can be an effective natural therapy for insomnia or other sleep disorders. For children who are naturally gifted with boundless energy, exercising helps to improve sleep quality and increase sleep amounts. Ensure your kids have a lot of physical activity throughout the day. My daughter and I run around the park every chance we get. It’s good for her and it’s exercise for me, too.
Digestion–especially of foods containing caffeine or sugar–can keep your child up. If they simply must snack before bedtime then offer warm milk, bananas, or cherries. Potassium and magnesium are natural muscle relaxants, and bananas are a good source of both. According to agricultural research studies, cherries are one of the only natural food sources of melatonin, the chemical that controls the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep.
Remove television, ipads, desktop computers, smartphones, games, or other electronic gadgets from the bedroom. These devices promote wakefulness through both stimulating content as well as the light emitting from them which mimics daylight, tricking the brain into thinking it needs to stay awake. The same rule applies to adults, which is why sleeping with your phone is never a good idea.
Kids thrive on routine for the simple fact that it gives them a sense of security and control. One study found that a consistent nighttime routine improved sleep in children who had mild to moderate sleep problems. A simple, relaxing ritual that you stick to every night is a way to train your brain to start winding down. What works well for young children consists of bath time, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading books or singing songs, giving hugs and kisses, then going to sleep. It’s up to you what you want your routine to consist of but the important thing is consistency–to do it at the same time, in the same order, each night.
If you’ve tried everything on this list and you still couldn’t get your child to sleep, consider the possibility of sleep disorders. Keep a close eye on both your child’s nighttime sleeping patterns as well as how they function during the day. Sleep disorders don’t only result in tired and cranky children, but all kinds of behavioral problems at home, in school, and in their social lives. If you think your child may have a sleep disorder, the first step is to alert your child’s pediatrician or schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist to be sure.