When it comes to sleep training kids, there are so many recommendations out there that it can be hard to know where to start. And, these recommendations can change based on a child’s age, health, milestones reached, etc.
However, there are some basic recommendations that can help any child fall asleep easier. These recommendations can also help adults get those ideal 8 hours a night that we all hope for! Here are my 5 recommendations for a smoother bedtime:
Cut screen time
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations regarding screen time and the limiting of digital media. The blue light from phones, tablets, and TV screens is detrimental when it comes to sleep. This blue light emission suppresses melatonin production, which is a hormone that is released in order to help you fall asleep.
Do your best to cut screen time at least 1 hour before bed. These devices should never be used when falling asleep. For children 18 months or younger, the AAP discourages the use of screen media entirely.
Check what your family is eating and drinking
Avoid giving foods high in sugar and salt before bed time. The spike in blood sugar can delay sleep time and cause hyperactivity. Salt can contribute to water retention, and this specifically might increase night-time wake ups to use the bathroom. What you put into your system can greatly affect sleep quality.
I would recommend that if your child needs to eat something before bed, try giving healthy carbohydrates like a piece of fruit, or rice cakes/crackers. Give small amounts of protein, as this can give the body an extra boost of energy that inhibits sleep. For adults, you also want to avoid foods and beverages that can keep you up. For example, caffeine can stay in your system anywhere from 8-14 hours!
Have a consistent bedtime routine
I love routine, don’t you? Kids love routine. Everyone loves routine! Humans do not do so well when things are changed unexpectedly. When helping parents to sleep train their children, one of the first things I teach is the importance of a bedtime routine.
This should be followed the same each day and ideally the same time everyday. This actually works as a cue for the brain to start “shut down mode”. For me, I know it’s difficult for me to get to sleep if I haven’t had just a few minutes of reading after changing into my pajamas for the night.
Make the ideal bedroom environment
If you are having difficulty sleeping, or if your child has a hard time staying asleep, I would first check and make sure that the bedroom is ideal for sleep.
How much light is coming in from the hallway, or windows?
Is it noisy?
What’s the temperature?
The bedroom should be strongly associated with sleep only. So, if too much light is coming in from the windows, get blackout curtains or cover the windows. If your child needs a night light, it should not be too strong and emit a warm color light. If outside noises are really frequent, you might consider a white noise machine to help tune this out.
And for the adults out there — no TV in the bedroom, okay? Refer to Point #1. Trust me, that episode of Game of Thrones can wait until tomorrow.
Consistency, consistency, consistency!
In working with kids with special needs, I have learned how important it is to make the child’s world as black and white as possible. There cannot be any room for grey area.
They need structure, routine, and parents must be consistent with this. Too much changing makes the child feel unsure of what is supposed to happen. If you are not consistent during sleep training, it will feel like you are going back to square one over and over again. Consistency is key to teach good sleep habits!
So, you need to be consistent in bed time each night, consistent in the routine you follow, consistent in not allowing unnecessary night time disruptions. Without this, kids (and adults for that matter) miss out on the important sleep time that their bodies need and deserve.
If you or your child has sleep problems, making some of these simple changes are great steps in the right direction. Implementing these won’t change things overnight. But, if these are implemented, you are well on your way to a better night’s sleep for you and your family.
Melissa Doman is a sleep consultant for kids with special needs. If your child with ASD, Trisomy 21, Cerebral palsy, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, Sensory Processing, or with any other diagonsis cannot sleep well, contact Melissa now to get your child sleeping great!
American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from: aap.org
Sleep Education (2013) Sleep and Education. Retrieved from: sleepeducation.org