Does your child take a long time to fall asleep at night, and then wake multiple times during the night? If this sounds like a normal night at your house, I have some suggestions that may make your nights easier.
Have a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Children do well with consistency, when they know what comes next; they are less likely to fight. Make sure your bedtime routine is calm. When your child is calm and it is time for them to fall asleep, their body produces melatonin which is a calming hormone. Dimming the lights before bed helps the body produce melatonin. Televisions, laptops, smartphones and tablets all actually inhibit the production of melatonin so they should not be used before bedtime. (And yes, this applies to you too Mom and Dad!) A bath, if it calms your child, is a good first step in the routine. If your child is still eating before sleep time, you could do this after the bath. Book or songs are a great final step before putting your child in their bed or crib.
Make Sure Bedtime is Early Enough
Children need a lot of sleep! A typical bedtime for a child is between 7 and 8:30PM. If children are going to bed too late, they may be overtired when they go to bed. When a child is overtired, you may see them get a “second wind”. Once this happens, it is harder for the children to fall asleep; they are more likely to wake during the night and earlier the next morning. Many times parents tell me their child is not tired until 10 or 11 at night. Usually it is really the child is overtired so it seems like they are wide awake. If this is the case in your household, try an earlier bedtime and see what happens.
Make Sure Your Child Goes to Bed Drowsy but Awake
We all have partial awakenings during the night when we are switching through sleep cycles. For most children who do not know how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime, they will have trouble falling back asleep when they wake during the night. (Notice I say most children – if your child falls asleep nursing or taking a bottle and sleeps through the night, I am not suggesting you do anything about it now. You may have to one day when you stop nursing or bottle feeding, but for now I would leave it alone.)
Make Sure the Sleeping Environment is Conducive to Sleep
Studies have shown that room temperature should be between 68 to 72 degrees for sleeping. Too warm a room can actually be dangerous for infants at risk for SIDS. The room should be relatively dark, a nightlight is a personal preference, but it should not be too bright. I recommend using white noise to block out other noises that may wake your child. If there is light from outside either from a street light or early morning sunlight, you may want to look into buying room darkening shades. These can also help a lot for naps.
Make Bedtime and Sleep a Positive Experience
Bedtime should not be a punishment. Children should understand that sleep is important for a healthy body and brain. With children over 2, I like to use some sort of sleep manner chart to show the child the behavior that is expected of them. They can then put stickers or check marks on the chart when they have followed the sleep manner. Parents should also remember to try and remain calm. If bedtime is a stressful time, children will pick up on that stress and think there is something wrong with going to sleep.
Good luck and remember to do what works for your family!
Michelle Winters graduated from the College of William and Mary with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Greenproofer. She has worked in Human Resources, Information Technology, and for the last eight years at a Montessori school. Working with infants, toddlers, and preschool aged children has made her aware of how prevalent sleep difficulties are. She decided she wanted to do something to help all the tired parents out there, especially since she had been one of those tired parents until a few years ago when her then 3 year old son finally started sleeping through the night! She can also help families identify and remove toxins in their environment. Michelle is based in Northern Virginia and is also available to help clients all over the country. She will help you create a plan that will have your child sleeping better at night and at naptime. Her website is SleepWellSolutions. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.