Many parents have experienced challenges with bedtime at least once during parenthood. In this day and age, there are many “experts” out there willing to share their advice (some for free, and some for a price) on how to get your children to sleep. It should go without saying that what works for one family, doesn’t necessarily work for another; however, with the availability of information and pressure to do things the “right” way, many parents have lost the ability to tap into their intuition and do what is best for their own child and family situation. Below are a few suggestions to consider that may help your family get the sleep you all need and keep you in good health. After all, adequate sleep is necessary for healthy immune function, cognitive development and preventing chronic health problems such as type II diabetes and obesity.
1) Focus on a routine rather than a bedtime–infants and children understand routines and can learn relatively quickly to pick up on cues that bedtime is approaching. Simply telling your child that it’s 7:00 and time for bed doesn’t have the same meaning as taking a bath followed by a bedtime story. The other benefit of routines is that they can help children adapt to new settings and circumstances. You can follow the same routine while traveling or when bedtimes need to change for various reasons, and children accustomed to the routine will understand that sleep is to follow.
2) Chamomile tea–this herbal tea will help to calm nerves and promote relaxation. It is naturally caffeine free and safe for infants and children to take. I would recommend brewing the tea and serving it warm (not too hot) in a bottle or cup 30-45 minutes before the desired bedtime. This tea can be especially helpful for children who are overstimulated, overly tired, or uncomfortable due to teething or ear pain. While you’re at it, brew a cup for yourself as well, since being calm as a parent will certainly make bedtime easier for everyone.
3) Homeopathic remedies–there are a few different combination homeopathic products available over the counter that help promote sleep. These are generally safe for infants and children, since they do not contain any pharmaceutical medications. Follow the dosing instructions on the package and consult your child’s doctor if your child has a diagnosed medical condition or is taking any other medications. Homeopathic remedies for sleep can be especially helpful when traveling between timezones or changing your child’s schedule and is a much safer alternative to other over the counter medications that some parents have resorted to.
4) Nap time–depending on your child’s age and development, they may require day time naps in order to meet their sleep requirements. Infants and children who are deprived of daytime sleep can become overly tired and difficult to put to bed at night. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider to find out what your child’s sleep requirements should be and whether a nap is necessary.
5) Trust your parenting instincts–if you believe that your child is waking excessively or that he/she is not getting enough sleep despite all of your efforts, you should talk to your child’s healthcare provider in case there is an underlying medical condition interfering with your child’s ability to sleep. Bedwetting is an example of a condition that can cause children to wake at night and may be a symptom of a more serious condition.
6) Avoid screen time–the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against any screen time (TV or movies) for children under 2 and very limited screen time for preschool aged children (no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming/day). Screen time can interfere with brain activity and cognitive development and may affect normal sleep cycles. A healthy alternative to the TV is reading books. Storytime can also promote early literacy and help improve cognitive development.
7) Sleep environment–this may seem obvious, but make sure that the bedroom or sleep environment is conducive to sleep. Lights, noise, temperature, and clutter can all detract from the relaxation necessary to fall asleep. This is especially important if you are putting your baby or child to bed before they have fallen asleep. White noise and/or soothing bedtime music can be helpful at blocking other disruptive noise. Bright lights (even a night light or LED clock) near the bed can decrease the release of melatonin, a chemical in the brain that helps to induce sleep.
Hopefully some of the above suggestions will be helpful. When you find yourself frustrated, remember to keep things in perspective–what works for one child, won’t work for every child; all children can go through growth spurts or phases that may lead to bedtime challenges. Remember to stay rested yourself. If nothing else, it will help you get through the challenging times without losing your temper.