You’ve heard of children who go to sleep without a fuss or fight. Yes, you’ve heard of them, but you also suspect they’re myths, fibs told by wishful parents. So far, your fussy darling won’t comply, but with persistence, patience, and some extra help, you may be able to change that. Here are five tips to get fussy kids to sleep faster.
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Stick to Schedules and Routines
Going to bed can be a complicated affair. As one early-childhood training program points out, schedules and routines are two different things: Schedules are the main activities to be completed daily, while routines are the steps necessary to complete the schedule.
Going to bed may be the final item on a child’s schedule, but an entire routine comes with it. Allow time for a consistent, soothing bedtime ritual: bathing, using the bathroom, putting on pajamas, picking out clothes for the next day, checking monster-concealing doors and drawers, getting situated in bed, reading a bedtime story, saying goodnight and turning out the lights.
Tire Them Out
While children need considerably more hours of sleep than adults do, they won’t sleep at night if they aren’t tired. Including naps, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:
- 14 to 17 hours of sleep for babies up to 3 months old.
- 12 to 16 hours for babies 4 to 12 months old.
- 11 to 14 hours for 1- to 2-year-olds.
- 10 to 13 hours for 3- to 5-year-olds.
- 9 to 12 hours for 6- to 12-year-olds.
That said, schedule sleep so your child has plenty of time to burn off physical energy and exercise their brain as well. Those active hours are vital. A good state of tired brings the best rest.
Wind the Day Down
No one wants to go to bed if they think they’re going to miss out on something, but overstimulation is the enemy. For some children, going past tired can result in a seemingly inexhaustible second wind. For others, sensory overload can yield a total meltdown. Children are much more likely to be willing to go to sleep if they know that:
- Everyone else is preparing to go to bed.
- Nothing exciting will happen while they’re asleep.
- Bedtime is a calm time.
Rough-housing, physical play, or intense interactions can overstimulate an already tired child’s senses and make sleep elusive. Be aware of warning signs like tantrums, irritability, crying, withdrawal, impulsive behaviors or heightened activity, and counter them with calm downtime.
Keep Snacks Sleep-Friendly
As one study points out, “some caffeine-containing beverages are specifically marketed to children as young as four.” Caffeine sources often accessible to children include:
- Chocolate, cocoa, candy bars and cookies.
- Some ice cream and yogurt flavors.
- Soft drinks.
- Tea, iced or hot.
- Some protein, granola, and health bars.
- Energy foods.
- Some over-the-counter medications.
Meanwhile the human body absorbs caffeine via the stomach and small intestine. For adults, effects kick in within 15 minutes—often sooner—and eliminating just half of the chemical can take 6 hours. Make sure your snacks before bed won’t cause excess energy for kids.
Avoid Electronics Before Bed
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and even energy-efficient LED light bulbs emit blue light. While blue light is fine—even good—during daylight hours, its wavelength stimulates attention. More importantly, researchers have discovered that the rays can suppress melatonin levels, skew our circadian rhythms and affect our inner clocks. Researchers recommend:
- Avoiding bright screens at least two hours before bed.
- Using warm-colored bulbs for lamps and reddish ones for nightlights.
- Applying filters to electronic devices. Several apps as well as physical filters are available.
Despite our best efforts, some children remain highly sensitive night owls. For the chronically fussy, a visit to the pediatrician can rule out health issues and alert you to factors you might otherwise never consider. Just about any detail can stimulate a small child—a new fabric softener scent, food additives, or undiagnosed allergies. According to Integrity Support, new electronic health records (EHRs) can let clinicians and care providers track the details and solve the mystery. With patience and care, sleep is an attainable state—for you and your child.
Bedtime doesn’t have to be a hassle, use these tips to help get your kids ready and prepared for sleep.