Getting a child to sleep consistently and through the night can seem like a Herculean effort. Most children are too willing to whine, protest, and delay the inevitable in favor of a few more precious moments playing. If you find yourself at bedtime needing to count to ten, make several trips to the bathroom, and give extra hugs and drinks, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your overall bedtime strategy.
A great place to start is your child’s sleep environment. Both the physical space and the emotion surrounding it create an atmosphere for your child that they are either drawn to or are resistant to. The more you can create a safe haven for them and promote this space as such will help to influence their readiness to settle down both mind and body for a restful night of sleep.
The following strategies are designed to help you create an optimal sleep environment for your child using what you currently have. There is no need to break the bank, remodel the house, or purchase a white noise machine that costs hundreds of dollars to make nighttime magic; follow these tips for blissful and restful sleep:
Your child’s sleeping environment should be clean and free from clutter and other debris. Signs of messiness and disorganization actually are stressors to the body. It triggers an excitable response, which is counterproductive to providing a transition into relaxation and rest. Encourage your child–with your assistance to get in the habit of cleaning up their room before bed and restoring it to order once more, and you’ll see shuteye come about a lot sooner than you expected.
2. Find an ideal temperature
While the ideal temperature may be different for everyone, studies suggest that turning the thermostat down to around 68 degrees helps to promote restful, deep sleep. An individual’s internal body temperature dips slightly at night as well, and if the room they are sleeping in is too warm or too cool, it can interfere with natural wake/sleep cycles.
Choose comfortable, comforting bedding
Nothing is more uncomfortable than sheets that bunch or a blanket with rough edges; these things alone can drive you bonkers when you are trying to get to sleep. Have your children choose bedding with you that is clean, comfortable, and adequate for both heating and cooling–depending on the type of fabric they like against their skin, you’ll find several options for bedding that will help to promote restful sleep. Make sure that bedding and sheets are cleaned regularly and free from debris, as this may interfere with their ability to get rest as well.
Dark is best!
While most children like to have light in their bedrooms at night, too much light is counterproductive to the natural circadian rhythms of the body that regulate sleep. When darkness descends, the pineal gland in the brain releases a chemical called melatonin, which triggers sleepiness. For this reason, children should not be exposed to electronic devices or televisions in the hour preceding bedtime. The blue light produced by these devices prohibits the natural release of melatonin; this can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythms. Doing a quiet activity in near darkness or candlelight is best for promoting healthful sleep.
Practice calm and relaxation
The act of going to bed should be calming and relaxing for children. Develop positive associations with bedtime, bedrooms, and sleep. Build-in calming and relaxing activities like reading books, coloring, listening to music, or doing meditation and yoga. Taking some time to practice gratitude for what life has given you right now is also a wonderful practice for going to bed on a positive note. Ensure children that they are safe and accounted for, and that the conditions are ideal for their destination to dreamland.
Maintain a consistent bedtime
The more you can set up a consistent routine for your child including the time that you retire each evening the less resistant they will be when this time rolls around each day. Let children know that 8 p.m., for example, is their bedtime, and that you will maintain this schedule 80-90 percent of the time, giving allowances for special occasions and holidays that may disrupt your schedule. They will take this healthy habit with them well into adulthood, and they’ll be setting themselves up for healthy sleep as grown adults too.
Provide security items for bedtime
Some children prefer a special blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal that calms them down at bedtime. Don’t deny them these simple comforts if it means the difference between fitfully tossing and turning and drifting peacefully off to sleep, pick your battles, parents! This simple item may cost you your sleep as well; there will be plenty of time to wean them from stuffed animals and other needs as they get older; when they are well-rested, they can rationalize being able to sleep without them.
Focusing on your child’s environment, modeling healthy habits when turning in, and making bedtime a special time of connection and winding down will set your child up for success at night and by day. Sweet dreams!