How to Encourage Better Sleep
If you ask any parent, they can tell you quickly whether their child is a “good sleeper” or not. Good sleepers typically follow a bedtime routine, fall asleep in their own bed, stay there throughout the night, and wake up feeling rested. They aren’t too restless during sleep and they don’t throw a fit at bedtime.
Some parents may be reading this and thinking, “Does this really happen?” Perhaps their experience has been quite different. Perhaps their child fights them at bedtime, needs them to lay down with them to fall asleep, refuses to sleep in their own room, wakes up one or more times, or wakes up MUCH too early in the morning.
Oftentimes, children with sleep problems experience other issues during the day, including noncompliance, hyperactivity, attention problems, academic difficulty, anger issues or emotional reactivity. Sleep-deprived parents will often clash with their sleep-deprived children who have reached a second (or third) wind of energy. It can be a frustrating (and exhausting) pattern that seems impossible to break.
Parents, if your child struggles with sleep, there is hope. First, consult with a primary care provider to rule out any medical reasons your child may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Once you have done that, examine the following factors, which commonly contribute to pediatric sleep problems:
As a provider, I often ask about bedtime. Some parents fire off a specific time and tell me exactly when the lights are off and doors are shut. Many parents, however, waver a bit. They say, “Well, we try to have him in bed by 8 or 8:30 p.m.”
HERE’S THE FIX: Create a schedule and stick to it.
If you don’t know your child’s bedtime, neither does their body. That means they won’t be physically ready for sleep and the routine is out the window. Same goes for wake-up times. Trying to “make up” sleep can throw off the schedule for the next night.
Children (and adults) need a cool, dark, quiet room to sleep. Many newborns sleep in the same room with their parents for various reasons. Some children continue to sleep in the same bed as their parents as they grow into infants and toddlers. This is called “co-sleeping” and may be totally acceptable to some parents, especially when their child is very young. When their child becomes older, they may attempt to transition him/her from a co-sleeping arrangement to independent sleep. This can be difficult if the child is used to sleeping with a parent and is now asked to sleep in their own bed.
HERE’S THE FIX: Teach your child to sleep independently as early as possible.
Sleep is vitally important to growth, learning and emotional regulation. Parents who wait until their child is a toddler (or even older) often struggle with the transition from “Mama’s bed” to the “big boy bed” in their room. The bedtime routine will also be disrupted as the child learns to sleep on their own.
The bedtime routine is extremely important. The more predictable, the better. Once a schedule is set, begin the bedtime routine about 30 minutes before bedtime. Baths and mealtime should already be complete. Many parents struggle with bedtime because they have no routine. They may say, “Our bedtime is at 8 p.m., but then he refuses to lie down…watches television…won’t stay in his room…lays there playing with toys…until 9 or 10 p.m. So sometimes we just wait and put him to bed a little later. It just depends.”
HERE’S THE FIX: Reduce screen time before bed.
Turn off the TV, take away the iPad and unplug from everything. Read your child a book (or two), sing a lullaby and put them in bed drowsy but awake. If they come out, put them back. Do not fall victim to bedtime “curtain calls,” such as needing to use the bathroom, wanting a hug, being thirsty or seeing a scary shadow. Take care of all needs before saying, “Good night” and closing the door.
Does your child usually follow instructions during the day? Do they try to be compliant at school? If so, then you are all set here. However, if your child argues, talks back and throws temper tantrums during the day, do not expect bedtime (or 3 a.m.) to be any different.
HERE’S THE FIX: Increase compliance while the sun is still out.
Just imagine – your child has challenged you all day long. They didn’t like their dinner and screamed when you told them to take a bath. You are a tired parent that just wants some peace and quiet after a tough day. So, if your child wants to keep the TV on all night and refuses to stay in their room otherwise, you might just cave and allow it to happen. At bedtime, the parent is tired while the child is surprisingly energetic. Work on reducing oppositional behavior during the day, and then address behavioral issues at bedtime.
When children have a difficult time falling and/or staying asleep, it significantly impacts the rest of their day. If your child struggles with sleep difficulties at night or behavior problems during the day, we can help at Hattiesburg Clinic Connections and Psychology & Counseling.
For more information, visit the National Sleep Foundation or attend our upcoming 16th Annual ADHD and Related Concerns Conference, held annually in Hattiesburg, Miss. Registration information is available here.
Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not as medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding counseling or mental health, please contact Hattiesburg Clinic Psychology & Counseling to make an appointment.
At Hattiesburg Clinic Psychology & Counseling, we offer counseling and mental health assessments. Following diagnosis, we work with you to determine the best course of treatment and counseling for you. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us today.