by Cara Batema
Getting adequate sleep and waking up feeling well-rested sounds simple, right? Falling asleep fast isn’t so easy, and it’s often a source of frustration and anxiety for both parents and children. Children who are anxious might get wound up right before sleep, or they might have increased stress and worry that causes bedtime to be a battle instead of a time to reset and recharge. Through some trial and error, you can find ways to tailor to your child’s bedtime routine to her needs.
1. Set an Individualized Bedtime
According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-age kids need nine to 11 hours of sleep; however, seven to eight hours — or 12 — might be more appropriate for your child. You might find your child is more of a night owl, so putting him to bed early will just cause him to lie awake, staring at the clock and possibly becoming more frustrated and anxious. Alternatively, if your child rises with the sun, putting him to bed earlier might ensure he gets adequate sleep. Find what works for your child and his particular sleeping pattern and stick to a precise bedtime.
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2. Keep Wake-Up Time Consistent
It’s important not only to maintain a regular bedtime but also a regular wake-up time. It can be tempting to let your child sleep in on the weekends or holidays, but what feels like mercy or a treat actually causes symptoms similar to jet lag. You can still have leisurely mornings on the weekends, but make sure your child wakes up around the same time as she does during the week.
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3. Create a Bedtime Ritual
Establishing a routine is the juicy part of the whole bedtime and wake-up experience. This ritual can last about 20 to 30 minutes and can include reading stories (nothing scary), listening to music, handing your child a stuffed animal, covering him with a weighted blanket or some other relaxing activity. The cool thing about a bedtime ritual is that it’s unique to you and your child — a special time you share together. Ask your child what he wants to do before bedtime, so he is a part of the planning of your ritual.
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4. Reduce Screen Time and Excitement
Avoid roughhousing, watching TV or playing games right before bed Those sorts of activities are stimulating and not conducive to falling asleep fast. Healthline suggests turning off the television or other screens at least two hours before bedtime. The light from the TV screens or monitors can disrupt melatonin, a hormone that plays an important role in sleep-wake cycles. Any kind of excitement or stress from your child’s environment can prevent her from falling asleep. Don’t engage in a fast physical activity and don’t play loud music. Doing so can increase cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” which affects your child’s ability to calm down and sleep. Rather, keep the lights dim after dinner, play soft instrumental or favorite music or try diffusing essential oils like lavender to promote calm.
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5. Use Comfort Strategies
Children who are anxious are especially prone to sleep problems. Their minds might race at night and they might worry about something bad happening to them or their loved ones. Trouble at school today can make them nervous about tomorrow and unable to sleep. They could be afraid of the dark. For a comforting experience, read a calming script or listen to a pre-recorded one. Read books about being afraid of the dark so your child realizes he’s not the only one who gets scared at night. Try progressive muscle relaxation, during which you tense and relax muscles throughout your whole body. Let your child pick out his own special nightlight to make the bedroom an anxiety-free space. Use an app or pre-recorded soothing sounds, such as ocean waves. Give your child a transitional object — something that will provide comfort even when you’re not by his side. This item could be a stuffed animal, one of your sweaters or a special stone or crystal.
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6. Start an Exercise Routine
Not all of the ways to fall asleep involve what you do right before bedtime. Make sure your child gets physical activity during the day — at least three hours before bedtime. Exercise helps dissipate restlessness or hyperactivity. In addition to exercise, ensure your child drinks enough water during the day so that she doesn’t drink or eat too much in the hours before bedtime, which can cause a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Instead, we recommend having your child take Brillia at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Your own calmness as you search for ways to help your child fall asleep could prove beneficial for him as well as you. Once you establish a routine that works, stick to it.
Cara Batema is a musician, teacher, and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs, and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science, and health.