How Parents Can Help Ensure Sleep for Kids and Teens
If your child needs sleep help, the good news is that parent interventions are almost always effective. Here are some tried-and-true methods to ease the way to sleep for kids.
- Power down. "Make sure kids are in sleep mode and prepared for bed at the proper time," says Ronald Becker, MD, a pediatrician at the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston. Turn off electronics at least one hour before bedtime, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your child has a TV in her bedroom, seriously consider moving it out. Research shows that kids who have a television in their bedrooms tend to sleep less.
- Create a calming nighttime routine. Winding down each night with the same calm routine -- bath, book, tooth brushing -- signals that it's time for sleep, especially for younger children and kids who have more than one home.
- Be consistent with bedtime and rising. Don't relax sleep rules on weekends or for homework. "If kids are permitted to fight off sleep once, it's going to increase their interest in doing so again," Becker says.
Children's circadian rhythms -- the light-sensitive body clock that tells people when to sleep and wake -- can shift easily. "If there's a big difference in timing and routine, it can make sleep more difficult on school nights," Becker tells WebMD. This includes a change in a child's wake time, which can then influence his bedtime the same night.
For example, letting a teen sleep until noon on Sunday will make it that much more difficult for him to go to sleep that night at a reasonable hour. Use blackout shades, if needed, to darken rooms and get kids on track during the back-to-school season or time shifts.
It's also good for parents to keep the same sleep routines, so you'll benefit too.
- Enforce naps in younger children. Keeping a nap routine, without allowing sleep too late in the day, can help keep night sleep on track.
- Promote physical activity and exercise. Kids who are more physically active during the day take less time to fall asleep, sleep longer, and seem to have a deeper sleep. In addition to exercise helping kids sleep better, sleep can decrease the risk of being overweight.
- Watch for cues. An extra-busy day can make your child feel ready for bed earlier. Watch for that and go with the flow, keeping in mind that signals of drowsiness vary, especially among children. "Tiredness in children doesn't look like it does in an adult,” Felt says. “It can look like irritability and hyperactivity, especially in the evening.”
- Put sleep first. "Parents have priorities for providing their children educational experiences, sports experiences, and family time," Developmental-behavioral pediatrician Barbara Felt, MD says. "Yet one fewer activity to allow an added 15 to 30 minutes of sleep might really be a long-term benefit, not only for learning and social and emotional status but also for their weight and cardiovascular health," says Felt, who sees children with a variety of physiological or behavioral sleep problems at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
- Don't give up. If sleeping problems persist, consult your pediatrician or a sleep specialist to check for potential underlying physiological problems such as sleep-related breathing disorders or iron deficiency. Even sleepers with the toughest problems can learn good habits.