I happy to offer a guest post today from the team at Tuck Sleep. They have been researching the science behind sleep, and have some great information on how much sleep kids need and what to do if they’re not getting it. Since I have toddles who love to fight bedtime myself I thought these tips could be helpful.
Everyone has heard of the terrible twos, but you may not have known that it applied to bedtime. Toddler bedtime battles can take on epic proportions that cause both parents and child to become frustrated and overtired. But, getting enough rest is essential for your child’s growth, development, and health as well as your overall well being.
Many children experience difficulty falling and staying asleep. Nearly one in ten children have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome that keeps them awake. However, the vast majority of childhood sleep problems stem from poor sleep habits and anxiety around going to bed.
You can help de-escalate bedtime battles by forming a stable bedtime plan and sticking to it. It might take some time, but you can help train your child to calm and soothe himself so that he can get the rest he needs.
1. The Right Bedroom Conditions
Like adults, children need bedroom conditions conducive to getting good sleep. That means a comfortable mattress without lumps or sagging. Check for tags on the mattress or sheets to make sure something isn’t waking your child during the night. When it’s time for bed, the room should be kept dark, quiet, and cool with the temperature somewhere between 60 to 68 degrees. Try to keep the bedroom free from distractions. If you store your child’s toys in his room, be sure they are picked up and put away, so he isn’t tempted to start playing.
2. Establish a Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine is one of the best things you can do to help your child get ready for bed. Your child’s sleep-wake cycle relies upon a regular 24-hour schedule. Establishing a bedtime routine helps solidify your child’s sleep cycle so that his brain will start releasing sleep hormones at the same time every day.
3. Create a Bedtime Routine
A good bedtime routine helps your child physically and mentally prepare himself for bed. Calming activities like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or rocking while singing quiet songs with you are all good ways to help bring down his activity level before bed. The routine should be performed in the same order every day so that way his brain starts to recognize the daily pattern. Like a regular bedtime, the bedtime routine should begin at the same time each night.
4. Turn Off the Screens
It might be tempting to let your child watch a cartoon before going to bed. But, the bright blue light from televisions, laptops, iPads, and smartphones can suppress the release of the melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Rather than helping your child calm down, it can keep him awake even longer. Turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime.
5. Do Not Reward Wakefulness
Help your child learn to soothe himself. If your child calls for you soon after going to bed, some experts recommend that you do not immediately return to his room. They say to wait a few seconds before you reply. If he continues to call for you, give it a few seconds longer each time to give him a chance to fall asleep on his own. Of course, you want your child to feel safe so you can always reassure him that you are there. If your child is anxious, you may have to adjust your approach and reassure your child more often. Another method is to reward quiet, battle-free bedtimes with stickers or verbal praise.
6. Stick to It
It takes time for a child to learn how to put himself to sleep. It may take several weeks for your child to respond to a bedtime routine and regular bedtime. Love and consistency will help your child fall and stay asleep. As you stick to the plan, you’ll eventually find that both you and your child may get better rest.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.