Consistent Bedtime Routine Will Help Children Sleep

Possible causes affecting sleep include anxiety, fear, nightmares, poor consistency or stress.


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Q: My 7-year-old son has never been a good sleeper. We were never able to get him on a schedule of any sort. Now, its almost impossible to get him to fall asleep at night. We are exhausted.

A: Behaviors can have a major impact on healthy sleep. A person’s daily schedule can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Possible causes affecting sleep include anxiety, fear, nightmares, poor consistency or stress. Sleep is a restorative process that helps us function better physically, emotionally and metabolically.

Here are a few tips for parents to help promote healthy sleep. Keep in mind, daily routines — what you eat and drink, the medications you take, physical activities, and evening activities — can greatly affect the quality of sleep. Even a few slight changes can result in improved sleep.

 

  • Nighttime waking is a habit. Set limits on attention-seeking behaviors. Remove most toys, games, televisions, computers and radios if your child is having trouble falling asleep or is frequently awake at night. One or two stuffed animals are acceptable.
  • Develop bedtime schedules. Children need structure to feel safe and obtain healthy sleep. The schedule needs to be simple so the child can be held accountable if the parent is not present. Bedtime routines include specific activities beginning 30 to 45 minutes before sleep. They can include baths, homework and nighttime reading. The biggest obstacle to getting kids to sleep is often parental inconsistency. Once you have established a bedtime routine, stick to it. You want to be predictable.
  • Limit time in bed. Hours spent awake in bed interfere with good sleep. Children vary in their need for sleep. Infants and toddlers often sleep more than 12 hours. Children sleep 10 hours, and most adolescents and adults probably only need eight or nine hours. A later bedtime may be needed as the first step in changing a late sleep pattern.
  • Establish consistent waking times. Bedtimes and waking times should be consistent seven days a week (even on vacation). Waking times are more potent than bedtimes in establishing sleep rhythms. It is important for the parent to remain consistent when establishing a routine and not using bedtime or staying up late as a reward.

 

Parents should keep in mind that the bed should only be used for sleeping. Kids, especially teenagers, use their beds for everything, including doing homework and watching television. This can have a negative impact because kids should only associate their beds with sleep. That way when they’re in bed, they know why they’re there and don’t feel like they could be watching television or doing something else.

Finally, one of the biggest sleep disrupters is children going into their parents’ room in the middle of the night for comfort. If your child wakes then, you should get him back to his bed as soon as possible. Don’t have a long conversation or let him climb into bed with you. For kids who show attachment issues, walk with them back to his or her room and sit in a chair next to the bed to keep until he or she falls asleep. This can be hard on parents, but kids need to learn that they can sleep on their own and begin developing independence rather than co-dependency.

 

Hannah Nail Coble is an outpatient therapist at Cone Health Behavioral Health Center at MedCenter Kernersville. Send questions to Sherri McMillen at sherri.mcmillen@conehealth.com.

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