Whether it’s a toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed or a teenager who’s up all night texting, bedtime wars can be draining on the whole family.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10 to 13 hours of sleep for preschoolers and nine to 12 hours of sleep for school-age children.
This might sound like an unrealistic goal that’s impossible for your family to attain, but there’s hope yet! Here are some tips to minimize bedtime drama so everyone can get a good night’s sleep.
You may already be putting your child to bed too late, and an overtired kid may be paradoxically harder to put to bed.
“Sleep begets sleep” is a common phrase shared by pediatricians and sleep experts alike, with the thinking being that a child who is overtired has trouble winding down. They may get a second wind, or they may get so cranky and exhausted they melt down.
It’s the same for adults—you’ve had a marathon day, but as soon as you hit the hay, your mind is racing and you can’t settle down. Kids who don’t have a set bedtime schedule may feel the same way.
In order to make sure your child is getting enough sleep, do some calculations. You may need to set and stick to an earlier bedtime to ensure they’re getting enough sleep—including naps.
If your child doesn’t nap, that’s fine, but be aware you may need to shift their bedtime so they’re still getting the full ten to thirteen hours of sleep a night.
Even screen time an hour or two before bed can disrupt sleep. Stick to screen-free activities in the hours leading up to bed.
Roughhousing or playing on the playground in the evening can also make it tough for kids to fall asleep—the same way you might have a tough time falling asleep right after you’ve hit the treadmill.
Pinpointing what seems to rile your child up, then avoiding that behavior, is key for an easy bedtime.
Bath, book, bed. Whatever the routine is, keep it constant across babysitters, at grandma’s house, and even on vacations. This can help your child learn consistency as well as bedtime “cues” that may make him or her sleepy.
You may have heard of the “OK to Wake!” clock, a preschool-friendly gadget that turns green at a set time, alerting your child it’s okay to get out of bed.
But you can DIY your own by buying your child an inexpensive alarm clock. Tape a sticky note over the minutes, then draw a 6. Tell your child when the number on the right matches the 6, then it’s okay to get out of bed.
Children as young as two will be able to recognize the number, even if they can’t tell time.
Some kids need stuffed animals. Other kids may not be able to sleep unless they’re wrapped in mom or dad’s arms.
If your child is the latter, figure out what you could substitute. For some, a white-noise app tuned to the sound of a heartbeat could help. Others may need a full-body pillow to snuggle with, while other children may want a stuffed animal with long hair that they can twirl around their fingers.
Determine the sleep props they need and keep them consistent.
Every kid can become a good sleeper, but the shift isn’t likely to happen overnight.
Be patient and celebrate modest wins.
If your child needs you in their bed to fall asleep, try sitting next to their bed for two weeks, then sit at the other side of the room for the next two weeks. After that, sit in the hallway with the door open.
You can shift duration as needed, but the more realistic you are about what can and will change, the happier both of you will be.
If you have older kids, they may be learning their bad sleep habits from you.
Do you fall asleep as you scroll through Instagram or watch TV? It may be a good time to make a commitment to a family change.
Have a designated spot on the kitchen counter where all phones go to “bed” at a certain hour and explain to your child that the entire family is trying to sleep more, and all the reasons why sleep is so essential—so all of you can be more energized, stronger, and smarter at work and school.
It may take some work, some tears, and some shuffling around of the family calendar, but the payoff—sweet dreams for everyone—is worth it. 🌙
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Anna Davies is a writer specializing in personal finance who’s written for Refinery29, Cosmo, Elle, Glamour, the New York Post, Conde Nast Traveler and others. When she’s not working, she loves going on adventures and traveling with her 2-year-old daughter.
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