Want to help your preschooler establish healthy sleep habits? Here are some basic tips from experts.
Establish a relaxing nightly routine for your child before bed. This could include tidying up their toys, reading bedtime stories, taking a warm bath, and brushing their teeth.
Children are the most rested when they have a consistent sleep schedule. Try to keep their bedtime and wake time the same on weekdays and weekends.
Your child may try to delay bedtime by extending their nightly routine. Experts say you can incorporate some flexibility into their routine by allowing them to pick the bedtime story or goodnight song, but it is important to establish boundaries by limiting the number of choices. To be effective, this routine should last no longer than 30 minutes. Try to leave their bedroom prior to them falling asleep.
Some children will express resistance to going to bed. To help avoid this confrontation, use a neutral timekeeper, like a clock or a timer. This will not only establish clear expectations in an impartial and positive way, but also helps to expose your child to numbers and telling time.
Playtime in bed
Encourage your child to play with their toys on the floor of their bedroom or in another room, reserving their bed solely for sleeping. By limiting the other activities that take place on their bed, your child will begin to associate the bed with sleep time.
To help lessen the fear of the dark, parents have long relied on nightlights. Experts caution that some of the lights currently available on the market are actually too bright for a restful environment and end up inhibiting sleep. They suggest using a low-illumination nightlight and putting it in a place far away from your child's head, so that it is not directly shining into their eyes when they are lying down.
Make a family rule to turn off the television and other electronic devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Extended screen usage, especially right before bed, is often associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, and nightmares. Experts recommend removing the television from your child’s bedroom to ensure that it is a quiet and dark environment.
It is important to send consistent messages about the importance of sleep. Try praising your child after a good night's sleep. Avoid using an early bed time as a punishment or a late bed time as a reward. To create a positive message around sleep, you can make a sticker board and reward them with a star for every night they get to bed on time.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Mary Carskadon, Professor/Director, Brown University; James Maas, CEO, Sleep for Success; and Dr. Judith Owens, Director of Sleep Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital.