Sleep helps our ability to think critically, retain information, manage emotions, control behaviors, and stay healthy. How can you and your child get more of the sleep you need? Here are some tips for better sleep.
1. Know your number.
Before you start adjusting your nightly routine, it helps to know how many hours of rest to aim for. Here’s how much sleep most people need at different ages:
- Infants: Nine to 10 hours at night, plus three or more hours of naps
- Toddlers: Nine to 10 hours at night, plus two to three hours of naps
- School-age children: Nine to 11 hours
- Adults: Seven to eight hours
2. Break a sweat.
Daytime exercise can help children and adults fall asleep more easily at night. When possible, encourage bike rides, long walks, karate lessons, or exercise classes right after school or on weekend mornings or afternoons. That way, exercise will be less likely to interfere with winding down at bedtime
3. Get outside.
During the day, aim for at least 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight. You might walk the dog with your child or bike together to the store. If possible, try to get an hour of bright morning sunlight. This can help regulate sleep patterns. At night, turn down the lights before bedtime.
4. De-stress with relaxing activities.
One of the best ways to keep stress at bay is to do more of the things that keep you calm. Laughing with friends, exercising, listening to music, practicing yoga, meditating, journaling, organizing your personal space — you name it. Assess what works for you and your child.
5. Watch your diet.
What your family eats can affect your sleep. Try to avoid heavy or spicy foods four hours before bedtime. And avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. If you’re still hungry after dinner, consider eating a light nighttime snack within two hours of bedtime.
6. Develop a knack for naps.
Napping can be a relaxing way to improve your and your child’s mood, alertness, and mental performance. But napping for too long or too late in the day can lead to grogginess or trouble falling asleep at night. It’s best to take naps that are:
- In the midafternoon (2–3 p.m.)
- Ten to 30 minutes long
- In a dark, quiet, distraction-free space
- Followed by a period of gradual wake-up
7. Set a schedule.
All children can benefit from having parents take the guesswork out of their daily routines. This is even more important for kids with learning and thinking differences. Choose a bedtime and wake-up time for each member of the family. Stick to it as best you can — even on weekends and holidays.
8. Create a sleep routine.
Many families abandon the nightly bath-books-bed sequence when children grow out of toddlerhood. But there’s much to be said for these nightly pre-sleep rituals. They help you wind down, no matter your age. (In fact, people who take hot baths before bed actually have an easier time falling asleep.)
9. Eliminate electronics at night.
TVs, cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices can sabotage sleep. The light from these electronics might disrupt the production of a hormone (melatonin) that governs sleep and wakefulness. Being constantly available to friends who want to text, chat, or email doesn’t help either. Before bedtime, move electronics to a central location to charge, like the kitchen or a hallway.
10. Get cozy.
Is the bed comfy? Is the room cool enough? Do your child’s pajamas fit well, without any irritations? A comfortable bedtime setup encourages sound sleep.
11. Treat the senses.
Scents like lavender and chamomile are proven sleep-inducers. Try a pillow spray or a scented body lotion. Light music, nature sounds, or white-noise machines can block intrusive sounds and lull the body to sleep. Consider earplugs if noise is really bothersome.
12. Create contingency plans.
There’s nothing less relaxing than worrying about falling asleep. Still not able to fall asleep after 15 minutes of lying quietly? Try getting out of bed and doing something quiet and peaceful — like reading or listening to light music — until you feel sleepy. (Help your child figure out what activities those might be.)
13. Seek help.
If you or your child consistently have trouble sleeping, you might want to talk to your doctor. Be sure to discuss all medications you’re taking. If your child is taking a stimulant to help with attention issues, that medication could cause sleeping problems. Ask your child’s doctor about taking the medicine earlier in the day or switching to a shorter-acting formulation.
About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.