Sleep is a huge topic for any parent, but it's not just about making sure you're not exhausted everyday. It's also incredibly important to make sure you're doing everything you can at night to help your child get a good night's sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep directly impacts your child's mental and physical development and by age 2, your child has spent 40 percent of their childhood sleeping.
No matter how old your child is, you're probably struggled at some point to not only make sure they fall asleep, but that they stay asleep. The National Sleep Foundation noted that missing your child's required amount of sleep by even 30 minutes to an hour can have an impact on them and their day-to-day activities. Children who are sleepy don't always look like they're ready to crawl into bed. Instead, they wind back up, becoming hyper, energized, and bouncing off the walls. If you've ever noticed that you're ready to crawl into your own bed and your child looks like they're ready to party, it's because they are in fact tired.
So to make sure your little ones are getting enough sleep, try out these 11 things to do at night. They don't require a lot of extra work or products, and you can do them all in the hour or so leading up to bedtime. They will help your children fall asleep, stay asleep, and make sure they're getting enough rest so they can continue to grow, develop, and wear you out all day long.
1. Phase Out Any Sleep Associations
You've probably heard about sleep associations before, especially if you have a baby. According to What to Expect, if you have to perform any kind of ritual to get your baby to sleep, whether it's rocking them until they fall asleep in your arms or having to stay in their room until they pass out, you're perpetuating a bad night of sleep. Your little one has to be able to self-soothe, and this is necessary for toddlers and school-age kids, too. Although it's OK for them to need a lovey to sleep with or a certain book to be read every night, you want to make sure that they are still able to fall asleep if you aren't there. Not only does it help with bedtime, but it can also ease any middle-of-the-night wake up calls — if they can put themselves to sleep, they won't need you to come put them back to sleep in the middle of the night.
2. Acknowledge Their Fears
If the fear of monsters under the bed or general nighttime anxiety is what's causing your little one to have a rough night's sleep, it can be incredibly frustrating. But instead of making your children go back to bed over and over, take the time to acknowledge their fears. Dr. Marilyn Segal told Parents that telling your child there's nothing to be afraid of doesn't make them feel brave, it simply tells them that you don't believe their fears and that they can't tell you about them. If your child is afraid of monsters, the dark, or being alone in their bedroom, talk to them about their fears and figure out how you can help. Maybe they need a spray bottle of "monster repellant" or their toys lined up in front of the window so they can see them and know that they aren't alone. Get creative so you can give your child the tools to sleep, despite their fears.
3. Read Them A Bedtime Story
It's most likely a part of your bedtime routine, but books are good for more than just snuggling. Clinical psychologist Michael Gradisar told Parents that reading a book has been proven to be the most relaxing of all activities, which can help your child wind down and head off to dreamland. There are even books designed to put your baby to sleep by emphasizing certain words, yawning between passages, and reading in a relaxing voice and pattern.
4. Keep Any Bedtime Activities Calm & Relaxing
No matter what type of bedtime activities you like to do with your child, keep them calm and relaxing. No rough-housing, no wrestling on the couch, no trampolines or playing monsters. Instead, try quiet activities before bedtime like coloring, reading, playing with blocks, or taking a short walk.
5. Turn Off Unnecessary Lights
If your child has to have a nightlight or the hall light on to sleep, that's one thing, but some unnecessary lights may be keeping them awake. According to The Washington Post, blue lights, like those found in electronics, can prevent your child's body from releasing melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep. Televisions, iPads, even the illuminated face of an alarm clock can all affect your child's sleep and should be turned off.
6. Talk To Them About Any Of Their Worries & Stressors
Like adults, children also worry, stress, and feel anxiety over things. Maybe their first t-ball game is the next day or they are nervous about school. It's a vicious cycle — their anxiety keeps them awake, but lack of sleep can lead to even more anxiety, notes The Huffington Post. According to Harvard Medical School, stress is actually a stimulus that fights against the hormones aiding your child in falling asleep. Find out what it is your child is so nervous about and talk through it before bed. This can bring them a sense of comfort, reduce their stress levels, and help them fall asleep when they aren't quite so anxious.
7. Take Note Of When They Begin To Get Sleepy At Night
Many parents want to wait until their child is on the verge of passing out in the floor before they implement bedtime, hoping it will make it an easier transition. On the flip side, it can actually make bedtime even harder. The University of Michigan Health System suggested paying attention to your child's sleepy cues and enforcing bedtime before they become physically sleepy. If you wait too long, your child can get a second wind and become more energized. Try to put them to bed when they are drowsy and their body is beginning to wind down, rather than the moment they are completely exhausted and liable to wake back up.
8. Have Healthy Snacks Available
Whether your child ate dinner or not, there's a huge possibility that they are going to ask for a snack before bedtime. It's fairly obvious to refrain from giving them sugary snacks or drinks like cookies and juice, but What to Expect suggests focusing on carbohydrates and protein snack combinations. Crackers and cheese are a great snack and are sure to keep them full and satisfied without any sugary additives.
9. Dim Lights Leading Up To Bedtime
It's pretty amazing how biology works in terms of sleep, especially when your body is realizing it's bedtime. The same thing happens with your toddler and you can use it to your advantage with lights. The University of Michigan Health System suggests dimming the lights in your home around bedtime to send your child's body the signal that it's time to enter the sleep cycle. Try soft lights instead of harsh overheads and add light-blocking curtains to their room to keep the sunlight out.
10. Turn Off The TV
I know, you're hoping an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse will keep your kid from bouncing off the walls and chill them out before bedtime. The opposite is true according to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers found that the more television before bedtime a child watches, the less they sleep at night, pushing their bedtime back even further. Find other quiet, relaxing activities like coloring, paper dolls, or reading to keep your child occupied before bedtime.
11. Keep A Bedtime Routine
The most important thing you can do to help your child get a good night's sleep? Enforce a bedtime routine and remain consistent with it. According to NPR, experts believe that an inconsistent bedtime can actually affect children the same way jet lag does. A routine not only promotes consistency, which is a must for any child, but it also gets them ready for bed by putting them in the sleep mood and signals that sleep is approaching notes Parents. Everyone's bedtime routine looks different, but make sure to do it around the same time each night, within 15 minutes of your child's scheduled bedtime. Keep activities calm, incorporate a bath, story time, or soft music, but always keep it short and sweet. The longer you drag it out, the more your child will resist bedtime.