Resource Center How to Improve Your Child’s Sleep

It’s important for children to get consistent and quality sleep, but as most parents know, that can be easier said than done—especially if your child has night terrors. The good news is that there are simple actions you can take to improve your child’s sleep and reduce the risk of night terrors, too. Read on for a few quick tips for better bedtimes.

Establish a Regular Pattern of Wake and Bedtimes

Having consistent wake and bedtimes is an important part of having good “sleep hygiene,” a.k.a the routine practices that promote normal and healthy sleep. Children need a lot of sleep (this chart from the National Sleep Foundation will tell you just how much), but it needs to be sleep that’s based on a steady schedule.

One way to achieve this: Keep wake and bedtimes within 30-minute windows. So, if you want your child to be awake at 7am, keep the wake time between 6:45-7:15 am on a daily basis.

Create a Relaxing Bedroom Environment

There’s a reason why some people find it impossible to sleep on airplanes or with the lights on—if a body isn’t comfortable, it won’t sleep comfortably. Take a look at your child’s bedroom and put environmental factors like temperature, noise and light on your radar. The goal is to create a relaxing environment that makes it easy for your child to drift off to sleep and stay asleep.

One way to achieve this: Play with your thermostat, STAT. Believe it or not, the recommended room temperature for children is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also try repositioning fans or investing in blackout curtains for the ultimate sleep environment.

Consider Naptime Carefully

Establishing a pattern of wake and bedtimes is good for any child’s sleep routine—but for toddlers or preschoolers, you should also consider the timing of naps so nighttime sleep cycles aren’t thrown out of sync.

One way to achieve this: Depending on the timing of naps, moving bedtime slightly earlier or slightly later may be helpful. (Keep in mind that this is dependent on things like your child’s age, the timing of naps, and his/her unique sleep needs. A sleep consultant can help with how or when to adjust your child’s schedule.)

Start Soothing Pre-Bedtime Habits

Children don’t come with on/off bedtime switches (no matter how much you might wish for it), but there are certain habits you can establish to help them wind down and feel physically and mentally relaxed. An activity that makes your child feel happy, cozy, and secure will also make for a smoother bedtime routine.  

One way to achieve this: Skip stimulating TV shows, videogames, or computer games before bedtime in favor of more calming activities. This could mean altering your pre-bedtime routine to include reading books, cuddling, soaking in a warm bath, listening to soothing music, talking about the best part of the day, or even kid-friendly meditation exercises.

Don’t Overlook Diet

You probably know that caffeine is pretty much a bad word when it comes to children and a good night’s sleep. Other things to stay away from? High-fat foods, big meals, and a lot of sugar, which can all disrupt sleep cycles. You should also watch the liquid intake before bedtime—the scary-urgent need for a bathroom break can not only shake up your child’s sleep, it can trigger night terrors, too.

One way to achieve this: Cutting out caffeine, high-fat foods and large meals before bedtime are all good moves to make, but it doesn’t have to be all about what you subtract from your child’s diet. Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring substance that promotes sleep when eaten with another starchy food (for example, a bit of turkey and bread or small cup of hot chocolate).

Encourage Exercise

You’ve probably watched your child run around during the day and thought “he’ll definitely sleep well tonight.” Turns out, that’s more than parenting instinct—it’s backed by science, too. The CDC recommends that children ages 6-18 get an hour of exercise a day. The result is good for children’s bodies and minds, meaning better moods, better brain function, and better quality sleep.

One way to achieve this: Adding more exercise to your child’s daily activities doesn’t have to mean Olympics-level activity. A family walk, a bike ride, or a game of frisbee will all work as a workout.   

While these suggestions seem simple on paper, we know they can be tricky to execute in real life. Siblings, soccer practices, school projects, colds, and many more things can get in the way of achieving perfect sleep hygiene and a perfect sleep environment. If these changes haven’t helped your child’s night terror situation, don’t feel bad! There are other options that can still help.

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