1. Set a bedtime
School-age children need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep. There’s a lot of variability in sleep needs and patterns and most kids have patterns that don’t change much, no matter what you do. Early risers will still rise early even if you put them to bed later, and night owls won’t fall asleep until their ready. That’s why it’s important for parents to work with their children in setting a responsible bedtime that allows them to get plenty of sleep and awake on time.
2. Set a wake-up time
Set a wake-up time based on how much sleep your child needs and what time they go to bed. Create a wake-up routine as early as the preschool years to help prevent stress for parents down the road. Be consistent with the schedule. Allowing your child to sleep later on weekends is generous but could backfire in the long run.
3. Create a consistent bedtime routine
Routines are especially important for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. After dinner, the remainder of the evening should include light playtime, bath, brushing teeth, a bedtime story, and then bed. Aim for a routine that is comforting and relaxing, setting the ideal bedtime atmosphere. Your child’s body may automatically start to become sleepy at the beginning of the routine.
4. Turn off the screens at least two hours before bedtime
Melatonin is an important piece of sleep-wake cycles. When melatonin levels are at their highest, most people are sleepy and ready for bed. Blue light from a television screen, phone, or computer monitor can interfere with the production of the hormone melatonin. Watching TV, playing video games, or scrolling web pages on a phone or computer right before bed keep your child up an extra 30 to 60 minutes. Make the bedroom a screen-free zone or at least make sure all screens are dark at bedtime. And keep your phone on silent when you’re in your child’s room or don’t carry it in there at all.
5. Reduce stress before bedtime
Another hormone that plays a role in sleep is cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” When cortisol levels are high, your child’s body won’t be able to shut down and go to sleep. Keep pre-bedtime activities calm. This can help avoid excess amounts of cortisol in your child’s system.
6. Create a sleep-inducing environment
Soft sheets, room darkening shades, and relative quiet can help your child differentiate between day and night, making it easier to fall asleep. Creating a sleep-inducing environment is important because it sets the stage for sleep by reducing distractions.
7. Keep it cool
Your child’s sleep cycle isn’t just dependent on light (or the lack thereof). It’s also sensitive to temperature. Melatonin levels help to regulate the drop of internal body temperature needed to sleep. However, you can help regulate the external temperature. Don’t bundle your child up too much or set the heat too high.
8. Help alleviate fears
Ghosts and other scary creatures may not actually roam around at night, but instead of dismissing bedtime fears, address them with your child. If simple reassurance doesn’t work, try using a special toy to stand guard at night or spray the room with “monster spray” before bed. Schedule time during the day to address any fears and avoiding using bedtime to address the concerns.
9. Reduce the focus on sleep
Kids can have trouble shutting their brains off for the night. So, instead of increasing that anxiety by insisting that it’s time to go to bed (“now!”), consider focusing more on relaxation and keeping your child calm. Try teaching your child a deep breathing technique to calm their body.