As important as sleep is for kids, it can take a lot of trial and error to navigate bedtime tantrums successfully and actually get them to fall asleep. With a few tweaks to their nighttime routine, though, the whole family may find it easier to doze off.
Kids' sleep habits change as they get older, so the best advice to help your children get good sleep depends on their age, Dr. Craig Canapari, pediatric pulmonologist and director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, tells TODAY.com.
For teenagers, who are naturally inclined to go to bed and wake up later than younger kids, early school start times can make it tough for them to actually get enough sleep, says Canapari, who is also a father of two boys.
"I drive my kid to high school every morning because he can sleep in for 30 extra minutes," he says, "I just think it's very impactful."
But there are other smaller ways to encourage kids of all ages to get quality sleep at night, every night. And if you start implementing these good sleep habits, you might find yourself sleeping more soundly, too.
I give them a regular bedtime.
A regular bedtime routine can be "a hugely impactful thing to help a child sleep better at night," Canapri says. But figuring out what an appropriate bedtime actually is can be a little tricky.
That may be due to what experts call the "forbidden zone," which refers to the idea that "we all get a second wind in the evenings," Canapri says. "Often, if you're struggling with your child's bedtime, you may be trying to put them down in the middle of the second wind."
Some parents might describe the phenomenon as their child getting "overtired" if they miss their bedtime and becoming almost hyperactive, he adds. If that's happening, their bedtime may need to be 15 to 20 minutes earlier than you think, Canapri says, which can help them avoid getting stuck in the forbidden zone.
I don't reopen the kitchen at night.
Letting kids have a sweet treat at night doesn't matter too much for their sleep, Canapari says. But once you close the kitchen for the night, don't reopen it.
"The way a lot of kids may delay bedtime is they'll ask for food or a snack or say they're hungry," he explains. "It's OK to give your kid something like a glass of milk, but I wouldn't open up the kitchen again even if they're asking for it."
I don't let them take their phones to bed.
The light from screens — like phones, tablets and TV — can interfere with the biological processes that enable sleep. On top of that, using these apps and devices before bed can have an energizing effect that makes it tough to relax and get to bed, Canapri says.
That's why he recommends parents not let kids have their phones in their bedrooms when it's time to go to sleep.
"I always tell parents when I'm seeing children with insomnia, 'If you don't have custody of your child's phone, assume it's in the bedroom and assume that they're using it,'" Canapari says.
If your child uses their phone as an alarm or listens to music to fall asleep, he recommends getting them an alarm clock or smart speaker to use instead.
And, as parents, you can help by modeling this behavior: "You're so much better just not interacting with the device," Canapari says. "The best way to do that is to keep it outside of your bedroom."
I encourage older kids to keep the same schedule on the weekend.
As children get into their teens, their biological clocks naturally shift by two to three hours, Canapari says. And over the weekend, when they don't have to wake up for school, they may fall into a different sleep pattern.
"I see very commonly in my teenage patients that they're living on California or Hawaii time on the weekends and trying to be on Connecticut time during the week," he says.
Experts call this phenomenon "social jetlag," and it can mess with your kids' ability to get good sleep, leaving them feeling fatigued for days. "They can't fall asleep and they're essentially jetlagged for the whole week," Canapri says.
That's why it's crucial to stick to your bedtime and wake-up time on the weekends as much as possible.
I pay attention to snoring.
Snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the muscles in the throat collapse intermittently during the night, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Sleep apnea can affect sleep quality and it can "affect a child's ability to pay attention and regulate behavior during the day," Canapri says. But the condition is also treatable, so it's important to consider getting your child checked out if you notice them snoring regularly.
"It's not abnormal for a kid to snore once in a while, especially when they have a cold," Canapari says. "But for children and grownups who snore nightly and snore loudly, it's absolutely worth getting that evaluated."