Whether your child has just started having difficulty going to sleep, or has been a night owl since birth, there are some strategies that can help him, and you, to have more restful nights from now on. The main areas to address are your child’s diet, comfort, and bedtime routine.
A healthy, well-nourished child will always have better sleep cycles than a child whose diet is less adequate. Make sure your child is getting foods from all the food groups with sugary and fatty foods being limited to occasional snacks. Some specific diet tips for a good night’s sleep are to avoid caffeine foods and sweets after 4:00 pm. A small dessert with dinner is fine, but you don’t want ice cream and cola for a bedtime snack. Make sure your child includes a protein food in dinner or evening snack. Have your child stop eating at least an hour before bedtime.
Physical comfort is important to a good night’s sleep for anyone, but especially for children. Children should be reasonably clean before bed. A bath may not be necessary every night, but make sure your child’s teeth, face, hands and bottom are clean. Whether your child wears superhero jammies or one of dad’s old t-shirts, make sure it is soft and comfortable. You don’t need a high priced mattress on your child’s bed to ensure comfort. Just make sure that the bedding is reasonably smooth with the appropriate amount of covers for the weather. Children generally sleep better with small pillows if they use one at all. Remember if you have an infant younger than six months there should be no pillows or bulky bedding in the crib to reduce risk of SIDS.
If you want restful sleep to be the norm for your child, and not the exception, routine is key. Limit all kinds of excitement after dinner whenever possible. This includes exciting television programs. Create a bedtime ritual with your child. About 30 minutes before bedtime, have your child get into nightclothes, brush teeth, get a drink of water, etc. This ritual will also include any stories, songs, goodnight kisses, and other comfort activities. Once the child is in bed, you don’t want distractions. Set a reasonable bedtime. Most children need from 9 to 11 hours of sleep at night. Children under five generally need an afternoon nap as well. You know your child is getting enough sleep if she regularly wakes up on her own at about the same time each day.
An important fact to remember about children’s bedtimes is that you can’t go from anything goes to strict bedtime rules all at once if your children are older than two. Introduces changes gradually, and make sure that all adult caregivers are on the same page regarding kids’ bedtimes. You may also need to gradually change some adult behaviors as well. If you normally take the children to the grocery after dinner, you may need to re-think your needs.
No matter how carefully you introduce changes to the bedtime routine there will still be children who protest at bedtime. If that occurs in your home, don’t despair. First, only enforce staying “on bed”. Allow the child to have a quiet toy or book on the bed at first. If your child wishes, turn on a dim light, such as from a nightlight, closet or hall light. Once the bedtime routine is completed, do not stay on or in the bed with your child. Tell your child you will be right back and leave the room. Check back in one minute and praise the child for staying on the bed. Continue leaving and checking back until your child falls asleep. You can start with less than one minute if your child needs it. Gradually increase the amount of time you are away from the child. Increase it in small increments of a minute or less at first. It may take several nights for your child to stay in bed but it will be worth the effort in the end.