Helping Your Children and Yourself Sleep Well

Children of all ages need plenty of sleep to grow and develop. School-age children may have trouble learning and developing socially if they don’t get enough sleep.

Children’s sleep problems can also cause stress for parents, who may worry about their children. Parents also may be awake much of the night trying to get a child back to sleep. Their own lack of sleep can affect parents’ focus at work or in school.

What can keep children from sleeping well?
Several types of sleep problems can cause sleep trouble in children. Examples of these problems include:

  • Nightmares
    Some children have nightmares. Others may have night terrors. Night terrors are different from nightmares because the child remains asleep throughout the entire episode and does not have any memory of it in the morning.
  • Sleep Walking
  • Other Health Conditions
    Some children have health problems that can lead to sleep problems. In some cases, treating the health condition can improve sleep. For example, a child whose asthma is under control may not wake up at night because of coughing.

Children who don’t get enough good quality sleep may have trouble learning and developing socially. They may be tired during the day and not able to pay attention in school.

And a child’s sleep problems can affect parents’ sleep. Parents may be in the child’s room during the night trying to get the child back to sleep—or the child may try to get in bed with the parents to get back to sleep. Lack of sleep can make parents tired during the day, affecting work and family life.

How can parents help their children sleep well?
Parents can help their children sleep well by having a comforting bedtime routine and consistent bedtimes. Parents can help themselves sleep well by learning about sleep routines and about how to reduce stress and relax.

If you have a baby…

  • At night, set up a soothing routine. Give your baby a bath, sing lullabies, read a book, or tell a story.
  • Act quickly—but not too quickly—when your newborn wakes up for a feeding, so that he or she doesn’t have a chance to fully wake up. First wait a minute or so to see if the child goes right back to sleep.
  • If your baby wakes up and doesn’t settle down, check to see if he or she is hungry or needs a diaper change. Feed or change your baby quietly. Keep the light low. Don’t play with or sing to your baby. Put him or her back in the crib as soon as you can.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether to let your baby “cry it out.”
  • Try to stay calm. Young children are very sensitive to a parent’s feelings of frustration.
  • Be consistent. If you change your plan for how to handle nighttime crying, make sure that you and your partner agree on it before you go to bed.

If you have a child…

  • Set up a bedtime routine to help your child get ready for bed and sleep. For example, read together, cuddle, and listen to soft music for 15 to 30 minutes before you turn out the lights. Do things in the same order each night so your child knows what to expect.
    • Have your child go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep your child’s bedroom quiet, dark or dimly lit, and cool.
    • Limit activities that stimulate your child, such as playing and watching television, in the hours closer to bedtime.
    • Limit eating and drinking near bedtime.
  • If your child wakes up and calls for you in the middle of the night, make your response the same each time. Offer quick comfort, but then leave the room.
  • Do not try to wake your child during a night terror. Instead, reassure and hold your child to prevent injury.
  • If your child sleepwalks, keep the windows and doors locked during sleep time.
  • If your child is overweight, set goals for managing your child’s weight. Being overweight can cause sleep problems or make them worse.

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