If your kid's tired during the day, it's time to re-evaluate what's happening at bedtime to help them get more sleep all night long. We asked the experts how parents can help their kids sleep longer and more soundly.
We sleep best in a dark and comfortably cool environment, says Shelly Weiss, a neurologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Blackout curtains can help keep the room dark in the evening or early morning. If your child uses a night light, make sure the bulb is dim, and consider weaning them off it if they are having difficulty sleeping. Some kids sleep better with a gentle noise machine that blocks out sounds from inside or outside the home.
Consuming balanced meals at consistent times helps our bodies develop biological rhythms. For example, eating breakfast at the same time every day will prime your body to wake up to eat. A family dinner in the evening will signal to the body that bedtime is near. Avoid giving kids caffeinated foods and beverages like chocolate and pop.
Encourage your kid to fall asleep on their own. This doesn’t mean you can’t be there for the bedtime routine, but your kid should go from the state of being awake to drowsy to asleep without you cuddling, rocking, singing or even lying next to them. This way, when they are at a light sleep stage, they won’t need that cue to drift back into a deep sleep.
Your kid should have regular bedtimes and wake times, and a consistent routine every night—even on weekends. This can be as simple as a bath, brushing their teeth and reading a book. A routine helps signal the body to release melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep.
The hour before bed should be calming. This means no vigorous exercise, no screen use and no stimulating conversations that might keep your kid thinking while trying to fall asleep.
Don’t make sleep an afterthought. “Look at your kids’ evening activities and their exposure to electronics, and figure out how you’re going to implement better sleep habits,” says Weiss. While some elements of a child’s day might be unavoidable, like having a 6 p.m. daycare pickup or homework that’s due the next day, one area where parents do have wiggle room is extracurricular activities. “Is it more important for your child to go to gymnastics four times a week and get home late or to get proper sleep?” asks Weiss.
If your child has healthy sleep habits but is still tired all the time, sleep apnea may be to blame. With sleep apnea, a child actually stops breathing for small amounts of time during the night. If your kid snores and gets a full night’s sleep, but they don’t seem to be rested in the morning, bring up their sleepiness with their doctor.