Bedtime for kids can be a nightmare for parents. As all parents know, getting your kids to sleep, and getting them to stay asleep until morning is often an ongoing challenge. Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of “Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep: The All-In-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens,” was invited to appear on TODAY to offer some advice. Here she shares some helpful tricks to get kids to sleep:
Data clearly indicates that sleep problems are very common in children. A 2004 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 69 percent of parents reported that their child (ages 0-10) had a sleep problem at least a few nights a week. The most common problems were bedtime battles and waking during the night.
Sleep affects every aspect of a child's daytime functioning:
- Mood — irritable, cranky, fussy
- Cognitive ability — attention, memory, problem-solving
- Behavior — overactive, increased noncompliance
- Family — sleep problems in children affect every member of the family
So how much sleep does your child need?
Three to five year-olds need 11-13 hours of sleep per night. Six to 10 year-olds need 10-11 hours of sleep per night.
Getting your kids to sleep
Make sleep a priority and keep a strict schedule with the same bedtime and same waketime seven days a week. If you need wiggle room on the weekends, try to keep it within an hour.
Set up your child's room so it is:
- Cool (68 - 70 degrees is ideal)
- Dark (room darkening shades can help, especially in the summer)
- Quiet (a sound machine can help)
Bedtime routines are critical to help your child fall asleep easier and stay asleep. A bedtime routine should be 30-45 minutes and the exact same three to four activities every night. You also want to include every possible request that your child may have, such as one last trip to the potty and kissing the dog goodnight.
Possible things to include in your routine:
- Cuddle time
- Discussing the day
- Reading (kids who are read to or read at bedtime get better sleep)
Things NOT to include:
- Wild time: Bedtime should be a wind-down time.
- Television, video games, computer time (cut these out at least a half hour to an hour before bedtime). Get rid of electronics in the bedroom.
- Cut out all caffeine for this age group.
Does the nap schedule affect sleep?
Right around age three or four, you may encounter a gray zone. There will likely be a time when your child still needs a nap during the day, but a nap will make it hard for him or her to fall asleep at bedtime. (Don't skip the nap, then they're a wreck by five o'clock). Stick with your usual schedule, but let your child look at books in bed for an extra 30 minutes before lights out. If your child calls you, the light gets turned off. Just one time and your child will be happily reading books on his own from then on.
- If you have trouble getting your child to go to sleep, make a bedtime chart that shows every part of the bedtime routine. The idea is to illustrate each step of the bedtime routine with a picture. For example, bath, pajamas, brushing teeth, bathroom, two books, kisses and hugs, and sleep. You can cut pictures out of a magazine or take pictures of your child doing these activities. Younger kids will look at the pictures. Older children may want to check off each activity. Be specific in the pictures because kids are very literal. If you have two books in the picture, that means just two books at bedtime.
- Institute a bedtime pass — a card that your child can turn in for "one more thing" at bedtime. Start with one or two cards. Each time a child makes a request, he or she has to hand over a card. Once all the cards are turned in, no more requests.
Getting your kids to stay asleep
Parents need to set limits during the night too and be totally consistent. Take your child back to his/her room every time and every night. Teach your child what to do when she wakes up during the night, "Roll over, clutch your teddy bear, and go back to sleep." If they wake up in the middle of the night screaming, ready for a video, etc., calm them down, then simply tell them, "No." Don't turn on the television, bring your child to your bed (unless you want to), or any other fun games. As long as it is dark out, it is sleepy time!
Back to sleep tactics:
- Set up a "good morning" light, which is a nightlight on a timer that goes off at a reasonable hour. Explain to your child that it is still night-night time until the good morning light goes off. For example, if your child is waking up at 4:30 every morning, set it for 5 a.m. the first night. They can't tell time, so just keep inching it back every morning until the desired time.
- Start a sticker chart where your child earns stickers and awards for not calling out a night, staying in bed, whatever. Awards can be things like a trip to the library to get a video or a family bike ride.