Determine how much sleep your child needs. While every child is different, and while every child will go through occasional periods where they need more or less sleep, there are general guidelines for how much sleep your child needs depending upon his/her age. Once you figure out the number of hours you should be aiming for, work backwards from the time they have to wake up so that you can pinpoint their ideal bedtime.
Toddlers (1-3) typically need 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, some of which may be taken up with naps.
Preschoolers (3-5) may be phasing out naps, but still usually need a good 11 to 13 hours of sleep each night.
Grade-schoolers (5-12) will function best with 10 to 11 hours of sleep.
Teenagers (13 and up) still need quite a lot of sleep, and should try to get at least 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep each night.
Create a bedtime schedule. Consistency and predictability is key for children of all ages, so you'll want to be sure to create a clear time-table that your child knows you will stick to in the evening.
Decide when homework will be completed, when your child will bathe, by what time they need to be pajamas, and when your bedtime routine (stories, songs, etc.) will start.
Work with your child to create the evening schedule. Your child may adapt better and be more willing to go to bed if he/she feels that some degree of control over the evening activities.
Sit down with him/her to create the calendar together, and have fun creating a poster or chart which outlines the schedule. Then be sure to put the poster in a prominent place (ideally near a clock) where you can together consult it throughout the evening.
Be willing to adjust the schedule as your child grows. If your older child or teenager is having sleep issues, it may be because his/her internal clocks are shifting. he/she may want to stay up later, and may even be unable to fall asleep at an early time. Even so, if he/she has to be up early for school, he/she needs his/her sleep to be able to function and learn.
Check in regularly with your older child so that you can together adjust his/her schedule as much as possible so that his/her sleep is kept a priority.
Schedule disliked activities for as early as possible. If there's a necessary part of your evening routine that your child hates, consider getting it over with as early as possible so that it doesn't become negatively associated with bedtime.
For example, while taking a warm bath is a relaxing part of many children's nightly routine, your child may hate baths (or showers) with a passion. If so, consider scheduling bath-time right after dinner and before quiet play time, so that your child doesn't have to endure it right before bed.
Give your child a heads-up as bedtime approaches. Your child will probably be less likely to throw a tantrum over bedtime if you give them adequate warning. This way, they can prepare to switch gears from one activity to the next.
For example, give your child a five minute warning before bath-time, and then another five minute warning before you need to head to the bedroom for story-time.
Give your child choices. The appearance of choice can be important to kids of all ages, so even though your schedule is firm, you can still find ways to let your child exert some independence.
For example, after your child has bathed and changed into pajamas, you can ask: “Now what do you want to do? Do you want to pick out your story or your bedtime buddies?”
Include rituals in your bedtime routine. Along with your child, come up with a nightly ritual that you can look forward to, and that as you go through it, will signal to your child that sleepytime is around the corner.
For example, perhaps you'll begin by reading two stories while cuddled up, will then sing your favorite lullaby or say your prayers, say your “I-love-you's”, have your good-night kiss, and then lights out.
Prepare your child's room for sleep. As part of your nightly routine, you may want to consider “fixing” your child's room for sleep. For example, you can help arrange all of his/her stuffed animals around the bed, or sprinkle “good dream dust” around the room.
Use your imaginations, and try to find a way to make your child's room and bed feel like a warm, inviting, magical place for sleep.
Chase away the monsters. If your child is scared of the dark or fears that there may be monsters hiding under his/her bed, you may be able to alleviate his/her worries by concocting a special “monster spray” that you can ritualistically spray around his/her bedroom before lights out.
Little will he/she know that this magical formula is just water in a spray-bottle!
Plan your child's dreams. You may be able to help your child get excited for sleep if you talk together and “plan” out what he/she will dream about: What adventures will he/she go on tonight? Will he/she travel with his/her stuffed animals or friends to Neverland, just like Peter Pan in the story you just read?
Be sure to ask your child about their dreams when he/she wakes up. You may even want to help him/her keep a dream journal that you can write and illustrate together. He/she may be more eager to fall asleep at night if he/she knows he/she will be able to make an entry in his/her journal in the morning.
Avoid staying with your child while he/she goes to sleep. While your child may want you to stay with him/her until he/she drifts off, and while you might be tempted to grab a few more quiet cuddles, you could be setting yourself up for trouble if your child becomes dependent upon you in order to be able to fall asleep.
If your child needs you to cuddle, rock, or sing him/her to sleep, he/she won't be able to fall back asleep on their own during the night should then wake up. This is what is sometimes referred to as “sleep-onset association disorder”.
Provide your child with transitional objects. Giving your child with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket can be an effective substitute for your presence.
Tuck both your child and his/her buddy, toy, or blanket into bed, and then reassure him/her that the toy will help him/her fall asleep.
Design a special sleep pillow for your child. Your child may look forward to sleep if you together design a special sleep pillow (or blanket): decorate it with happy, safe thoughts, pictures, or poems.
You can then place a magical “spell” on the pillow that will guarantee your child will have good, fun dreams and restful sleep.
Stay (mostly) consistent on the weekends. Overall, it's important to try to stick to as close of a regular sleeping schedule as possible. As a family, you may be tempted move away from your regular bedtime schedule and to sleep in on the weekends.
While your child may need an extra hour or so of sleep on the weekend, letting them sleep in much longer than that could make Sunday night (why won't he/she fall asleep?!) and Monday morning (why won't he/she wake up?!) unbearable.
Create white noise. Some parents report being amazed at the seemingly instant improvement they see in their child's sleep after adding a source of white noise to the room. This can drown out any distractions from the rest of the household or mask any random “scary” noises your child may focus upon when trying to fall asleep, such as the house settling or pipes clanking.
You can purchase white noise machines, download free or cheap white noise apps for a tablet, or even just plug in a simple fan.
Play soothing music for your child. If your child isn't relaxed by the noise of a fan or of oceans waves from a white noise machine, he/she may nonetheless respond well to having soft music played. Search for cd's or music apps that play calming, slow music or lullabies.
Classical, instrumental music is a good choice, but be aware that some longer pieces have louder, more “stressful” movements that could wake your child up.
Spray lavender on your child's pillow. Lavender oil has a calming effect and is known to help some sufferers of insomnia. If your child likes the scent, then consider spritzing his/her pillow a lavender mist.
You could also consider putting drops of lavender oil into your child's “monster spray” if you're using that trick, as well.
Keep the room dark. In general, it's best for our rooms to be dark when we sleep, and it's especially important to reduce the “blue-light” from electronic devices such as alarm clocks, computers, and phones, which can interrupt natural circadian rhythms.
Even so, your child may be uncomfortable sleeping in a completely darkened room. If so, you may want to select a nightlight together.
You can also search for nightlights which turn off after a short period (usually 30-60 minutes). These often project scenes onto the ceiling (stars or favorite cartoon characters). You can place it next to your child's bed so that if he/she wakes up in the night, he/she can easily turn it back on.
Find the ideal temperature. The quality of our sleep is directly affected by the temperature at which we're sleeping. If we're too hot or too cold, our REM sleep (the period during which we're dreaming) can be interrupted.
There's no one ideal temperature for all people: some people rest more easily with the temperature turned low, while others prefer it to be slightly toastier.
Experiment with turning the temperature up or down depending upon how your child reports feeling, and make sure that your child's pajamas are comfortable as well.
Keep track of Fido. Your child may have an easier time falling asleep if you allow the family pet to curl up in (or near) your child's bed. So long as you don't think that Fido's presence is interfering with your child's sleep, this shouldn't be a problem.
You may have to get firm, though, and remove the pet if it looks like it is keeping or waking your child up. Switch out the real pet for a fluffy stuffed-animal substitute, and you should be fine.
Control the noise in the rest of the house. If your child is a light sleeper or can't stand going to bed before older siblings, he/she may be on the alert for noises coming from outside his/her bedroom. Do your best to turn down the volume on televisions, radios, and gaming systems, and if possible, make sure they aren't set up immediately outside your child's bedroom door.
If you have dogs that are prone to barking, try to keep them as far from your child's bedroom as possible, or give them a chew toy or treat to distract them at least until your child is more deeply asleep.
Having a source of white noise or soft music in your child's bedroom can also help block noises from outside his/her room.
Help your child develop self-soothing skills. At various stages in your child's life, he/she may need you more, particularly if he/she struggling with anxiety or nightmares. Even so, he/she will need to learn to soothe and calm himself/herself when you can't be there—for example, on sleepovers.
Work with your child to practice meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, or even singing to himself/herself so that he/she can learn to relax on his/her own, and hopefully fall asleep by himself/herself.
While it's a good idea to practice these soothing techniques regularly (and during the daytime), practice with his/her before bedtime, and remind his/her to try them out if he/she wakes up during the night.
Wait before responding to your child's calls. If your child wakes up during the night—or calls out to you shortly after you've put him/her down—avoid running into the room immediately.
It's possible that if you wait a few moments, your child will drift back to sleep by himself/herself.
Keep your return visits brief. If your child doesn't fall back to sleep, you needn't feel as though you must ignore his/her calls for you. Return to his/her room, tuck him/her back in while reminding him that it's time for sleep, give him/her a quick hug and kiss, and then leave.
Offer to check in on your child. Your child may be reassured if you promise to check in after a few minutes—perhaps 5 or ten. That's only a short time he/she will have to be alone, and if he/she can trust that you'll return, he/she may relax enough to fall back asleep.
Be sure to actually follow through and check in. If he/she is asleep—great! Be sure to let him/her know in the morning that you came back to give him/her another good night kiss, but that he/she was asleep already.
Gently guide your child back to bed if he/she comes out of his room. If your child makes a sudden appearance after having been put to bed, gently but firmly guide him/her back to bed, and repeat the tucking in and saying good night routine.
Stay firm (but loving) and consistent. You may have to repeat this several times, but your child will soon learn that he/she can't buy extra awake time by sneaking out of bed.
Create a reward system. Your child may respond well to a reward system where you offer him/her stars or stickers for nights that he/she fell asleep on his/her own, stayed in bed, or went to bed without a fuss. After he/she has won a certain number of stars or stickers (for example three), he/she will win a prize like a new book.
If this is a new reward system, be sure to offer prizes after only a fairly short amount of time. If you make his/her work for a month before he/she will win his/her treat, he/she may lose focus and motivation.
Remain flexible. While it's important to stay consistent, understand that there's no one strategy that will work for all or that should be used by all. You need to know your kid, and know when to break the rules:
When is he/she clearly troubled? When is his/her sleep issue a symptom of a bigger problem? When would he/she benefit from a longer cuddle or even a night in bed with you?
Consult your pediatrician. Make sure that part of your regular conversation with your pediatrician during your child's check-ups is devoted to discussing your child's sleep habits. It's possible that any new problems could be because of developmental or hormonal changes, or even an illness.
Feed your child a healthy snack before bed. Little ones are sometimes unable to sleep because their tummies are rumbling, or they wake up too early in need of breakfast. You may be able to see a big difference in your child's sleep patterns if you prepare them a carbohydrate-rich snack half an hour before bed.
Good options are bananas, cereal, or a small peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread, which has the added benefit of protein, which can also keep your child's tummy full longer.
Try the tried-and-true warm milk “potion”. Many parents swear by the almost magical effects of a soothing cup of warm milk to help their child relax and drift off to sleep.
The milk is a nice combination of carbohydrates and protein, which can help settle your child's stomach and squash any hunger pangs. Also, serving the warm beverage in a favorite mug is comforting and soothing, which can also help explain why so many children respond well to this remedy.
To make the drink more appealing, you may want to add a teaspoon or so of honey to the heated milk, or try adding a few drops of vanilla extract.
Cut out the caffeine. It should probably go without saying that your child shouldn't be drinking soda (or coffee!) in the evening. However, if your child is struggling to fall and stay asleep, one of the underlying reasons could be because he/she is stimulated from the caffeine he/she has consumed earlier in the day.
In order to promote a healthier sleeping schedule, carefully examine your child's diet and cut out any sources of caffeine. Pay attention to the labels of all of their beverages and snacks: caffeine is sometimes found in surprising items, such as what you thought were “un-caffeinated” root beers, juices, or energy waters.
Caffeine can also be found in some candy, ice cream, and cocoa drinks, so you many want to limit these treats.
Control your child's sugar intake. Even if your child isn't hopped up on caffeine, their energy levels could be pumped up because of too much sugar. Take care to control your child's intake of sugar, particularly after dinner.
Provide your child with a complete, balanced diet. Whether you are looking for bedtime snack ideas for your child or looking for ways to improve your child's overall diet, the food choices you offer can have an impact on his/her sleep.
Make sure that your child has a well-rounded diet, and be sure to check in with your child's pediatrician before making any major changes.
Consider adding some healthy sleep-promoting foods to your child's diet. While none of these foods will magically make your child drift off to sleep, they are all healthy options that may promote better sleep. Try adding any of these to your child's plate:
Cherries: these are a good source of melatonin, which is the chemical that helps us regulate our sleep patterns.
Jasmine rice: this rates highly on the glycemic index (how long it takes your body to digest the glucose (sugar) in the food. A higher score is better, meaning the glucose is released slowly into the bloodstream, making us less vulnerable to blood sugar crashes.
Fortified cereals made with whole grains: search for cereals and grains which are a good source of complex carbohydrates. Quinoa, oatmeal, and barley are also good options. (good complex carbs)
Bananas and sweet potatoes: besides being a good source of healthy carbohydrates, both of these contain good levels of magnesium and potassium, which can help relax muscles.
Limit beverages before bed. You may begin to see an improvement in sleep patterns if you limit the amount that your child drinks before going to bed. Thus, make sure that your child isn't drinking all throughout the evening after dinner.
If your child needs to get up to use the bathroom shortly after being put to bed, he/she will have to start the falling-asleep process all over again. If he/she had managed to get a few winks of sleep in before waking up, then it could be all the much harder for his/her to go back to sleep after this “power nap”.
Keep drinks small. While drinking a mug of warm milk may be part of a good bedtime routine, and while you don't want your child to become dehydrated, you don't want to overfill his/her bladder. Otherwise, he/she will be waking up during the night or getting up way too early.
Offer your child just a small 2 to 4 ounce mug of milk, for example, or give him/her small sips of water.
Visit the bathroom before bed. You should also be sure to have your child go to the bathroom as one of the last steps of his/her bedtime routine.
This will help cut down on accidents and hopefully allow your child to stay asleep longer without a full bladder.
Get exercise in earlier in the day. Making sure that your child gets sufficient exercise is important for his/her overall health, and it will also help him/her sleep better to have burned off energy throughout the day. Even so, you may find that allowing your child to jump and run around in the hours before bedtime could get him/her too wound up for sleep.
Some research has indicated that exercising at a moderate intensity for at least thirty minutes early in the day (preferably in the morning) can positively impact the length and quality of a person's sleep.
Avoid rough-housing before bed. Similarly, while it's great fun to allow your children to wrestle together—or to join in with them yourself—you want to avoid encouraging any behavior which will get them overly excited as bedtime approaches.
Consider doing a family session of yoga before bed. Yoga isn't a practice just for young, limber 20-somethings! While you want to avoid any strenuous exercise in the evening, your child may benefit from the calming effects of a yoga routine. This can help him/her relax both his/her mind and his/her body as he/she unwinds from a busy day.
Recent studies have indicated that yoga practice can lead to improved sleep.
Finish homework well before bed. One reason an older child may have trouble falling or staying asleep is if he/she is worried about completing all of his/her schoolwork. If his/her projects aren't finished before he/she goes to bed, he/she may be worried about needing to finish it at breakfast or on the bus, and this nagging worry could be interfering with his/her ability to “shut off” his/her mind and get sleep.
Help your child establish a clear homework schedule and create an organizing system to help him/her keep track of his/her homework and due dates. If he/she has a designated time and place to do him/her homework in the afternoon or evening, he/she will be less likely to go to bed with it unfinished.
Limit electronics in the hours before bed. Research consistently shows that it is much harder for us to fall asleep immediately after “screen time”.
Blue-light emitting devices, such as game consoles, computer screens, tablets, and smartphones are all “blue-light emitting devices,” and exposure to them is thought to interrupt our natural circadian rhythms (our natural sleep cycles). Teenagers seem to be particularly sensitive to the sleep-disrupting effects of these devices.
Make sure, then, that your child “unplugs” at least an hour before bedtime.
Address any anxiety triggers. Your child may also be suffering from poor sleep because of problems with anxiety or stress. Particularly if this sleep issue is new, take the time to talk with your child about what is going on in his/her life: is he/she worried, nervous, or scared about something? Is he/she having problems with his/her teachers or friends?
Once you've identified any underlying problems, be sure to work with your child to come up with coping strategies, meet with his/her teachers if necessary, and if the problem is severe, be sure to meet with your child's pediatrician to get a referral for counselor.
Schedule favorite family activities for earlier in the day. Sometimes younger children have trouble going to bed when they feel they're missing out on fun activities with older family members after their bedtime. To reduce this fear of missing out, consider planning activities your younger child likes earlier in the day so they can participate.
If older family members do take part in activities a younger child enjoys after their bedtime, they should avoid talking about it and making the younger child feel left out.
If your child persuades you to let him/her stay up later than usual one night, and you do activities he/she finds boring, he/she won't be as tempted to stay up late another night.