10 Tips for Raising Great SleepersNov 15, 2023
Raising good sleepers has always been a priority for me. Let me tell you a quick story: When my daughter was in TK (which is an early, transitional kindergarten program we have in California), I met an amazing group of mom friends and started hosting a regular Mom’s Night Out at my house. At the time, I had a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and was pregnant with our fourth child. At the first Mom’s Night, the ladies arrived at 7:30 pm and asked if my husband was out with the kids. I said he was just reading back in our bedroom while we socialize and the kids have all been put to bed already. Many of them were awestruck. If you’re having the same reaction hearing this, please know that this is very doable. You can absolutely prioritize sleep in your family and establish an early bedtime for your children.
Over the past few months, I’ve written a 4-part blog series on Sleep Hygiene. What is sleep hygiene? This term refers to your child’s sleep environment and behavior, both of which can affect their sleep quantity and quality. We want to do everything we can to maximize our children’s sleep so they can continue to grow healthy and strong and be primed for better behavior throughout the day. I 100% believe that training your children to be good sleepers makes for happier families and stronger marital relationships. Kids are not just born as good sleepers or bad sleepers; they can absolutely be shaped into good sleepers. In case you missed any of the 4 prior posts on Sleep Hygiene, I’ll link to them here:
- Master Your Child’s Bedtime Routine
- Is Your Child’s Room Conducive With Sleep?
- Why Consistent Bedtimes are Important at All Ages
- Bedtime Battles: How to Prevent Common Bedtime Disruptions for a Smooth Bedtime Routine
Those four posts outline some essential information for raising good sleepers; check them out when you have time. For today’s post, I’m going to summarize them into 10 tips for raising good sleepers, so this is a great starting point. Read on to learn some simple yet effective tools to get your child (and you!) a good night’s sleep.
- Understand the importance of sleep for your child. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for your child’s overall health and development. When kids get a sufficient amount of sleep, they achieve proper growth spurts, cognitive development, learning and memory, boots in immune function, and improved emotional well-being. Ensuring your child is getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways you can help them to thrive.
- Communicate with your child about the importance of sleep and the bedtime routine. Explain to your child that a good night's rest helps them grow, learn, and have energy for the next day's activities. Setting clear expectations helps children understand the purpose of bedtime and reduces resistance.
- Create a calming bedroom environment with an easy-to-access bed, cozy bedding, no major distractions, and a simple, non-cluttered feel. Organize your child’s bedroom such that any toys, clothes, books, etc. have a place to be stored at bedtime, tucked away out of sight and out of mind.
- Make getting to bed consistently at an early bedtime a priority. This involves some organization and planning. That means having a dinner plan, having the grocery shopping completed, starting to prepare the meal early enough, getting food on the table on time, and then sticking to the sequence of bedtime activities. This may sound like a lot, but as long as you plan ahead and are aware of the timing, it won’t feel overwhelming. You can have a relaxing mealtime and early bedtime by staying organized.
- Establish a bedtime routine with a consistent sequence of events from dinner time through bedtime. For example, you might have everyone help clear the dinner table, then take a take a bath, then brush teeth, then read three short books, then use the restroom if they’re potty trained, then get a quick snuggle in bed before turning out the lights.
- Put your child to bed at the same time at least six nights of the week to create a consistent sleep schedule. Consistency is the key to your child’s circadian rhythm. Their circadian rhythm is their body’s internal clock. By establishing a consistent bedtime, you are training your child’s body to release the hormone melatonin at that time of night, which helps their body start to feel drowsy and promotes a better night’s sleep.
- Use the “backtrack method” to be sure you’re putting your child to bed early enough. Think about what time your child’s school starts and what time you need to leave the house to get there. Then backtrack based on how long it takes to calmly get ready, have breakfast, and pack up their school bag. Then add at least a half-hour buffer for days when they’re really tired and sleep in because you don’t want to have to wake them up to get ready for school. Then rewind another 9 to 11 hours, depending on how long your child needs to sleep to feel fully rested. Here are some recommendations across different ages, but keep in mind that every child has unique sleep needs:
- The recommended bedtime for children under age 5 is between 7:00 pm and 8:30 pm, with a total sleep duration of 10 to 14 hours. That duration includes naps if your child is still napping.
- In the 5 to 11-year range, kids still need 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night. A reasonable bedtime would be between 8:00 pm and 9:30 pm.
- Teenagers are recommended to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night with a bedtime range between 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm, depending on their school start time and extracurricular activities. It is important for teens to prioritize sufficient sleep for their overall health, cognitive function, and emotional well-being.
- If you’re considering altering your child’s bedtime, do so in 15-minute increments. When you notice they are a) taking longer than usual to fall asleep, b) waking up earlier than usual, or c) asking for a later bedtime, bump their bedtime later by 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes less sleep x 7 nights adds up to a significant change over the course of a week, so try that out, and chances are they’ll be at the right bedtime for months, or even a year before they need another adjustment.
- Use prevention strategies to minimize bedtime disruptions. This may include offering a snack before bed to avoid last-minute requests for food or clearly stating, “This is our last chance to eat until breakfast” before leaving the dinner table. For kids who have nighttime fears, prevention strategies might include talking through fears during the day and developing a bedtime mantra like, “I am safe and loved in my home, and Mommy and Daddy are nearby.” Whatever issue stalls your child’s bedtime, get ahead of it during the day to get you set up for success with a smooth bedtime.
- To manage bedtime disruptions that do occasionally occur, be prepared with response strategies to use in the moment. For children frequently requesting a last-minute bathroom break, allow them to go but avoid engaging in conversations or play that may drawn out the bedtime process and make them more likely to request more bathroom breaks in the future. For kids claiming not to be tired at bedtime, response strategies might include acknowledging your child’s feelings but gently reminding them that their body needs rest to grow and be healthy. Stick to the established bedtime routine and avoid engaging in negotiations or power struggles.
Raising good sleepers is an important goal for families. It can have a huge impact on overall family happiness and your relationship with your partner. Getting enough sleep is necessary for children (and adults) to have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Having children who consistently and smoothly go to bed at an early evening hour and sleep through the night is not a miracle; it’s the result of some intentional planning and purpose in your child’s early years. In today’s post, I outlined 10 essential steps to raising good sleepers. Think about which one or two you can start working on this week, and add another new one each week until you feel like you’ve integrated them all into your child’s sleep routine. Then, relish in the calm and relaxing evenings you experience and the well-rested, more stable behavior you experience from your child each day. Wishing you a good night’s sleep!
Raising good sleepers is part of the Consistency category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see Check Yourself: Are You An Intentional Parent? to learn about the 5 C’s). To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!
P.S. Sleep hygiene can do wonders for your evening routine, but some infants and toddlers need a little more training to sleep through the night without waking. If you have a healthy child over 6 months of age and you’re ready to help them sleep through the night, join me in my Sleep Training Masterclass. I’ll teach you step-by-step how to effectively sleep-train your child to get you and your baby a full night’s sleep!