What to Do When Your Child Won’t Sleep

By Roma Bhatt, Director of Therapy Services

If you are a parent then you are well aware of how challenging it can be to get your children to go to sleep at night! Fortunately, there are a few tips that can help your little ones get the Zzz’s they need.

Set an individualized bedtime and wake up time.

Our bodies like regularity in almost everything, including sleep. Keeping kids on a regular schedule will keep their bodies in a natural rhythm. School-aged children usually need between 9-11 hours of sleep per night, and depending on your child, they may need even more. It’s important to set and stick with consistent bedtimes and wake-up times—even on the weekends!

Turn off the TV at least two hours before bedtime.

Research has found that light from a television screen, cell phone or computer monitor can interfere with the production of melatonin in your body. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate sleep cycles and even 30 minutes of any screen time before bed can actually keep your child awake. In order to avoid this, make the bedroom a screen free zone to help kids get the sleep they need or take up devices prior to bedtime.

Reduce stress by developing sleep rituals

Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone,” and when these levels are high, your child’s body may not be able to shut down for the night. Help your children create a night routine, as they prepare for bed. Engage in calming activities, such as reading, singing, deep breathing, or expressing gratitude. Keep the lights dim and environment quiet and relaxing. These types of consistent night routines may reduce stress and cortisol levels which will help your child fall asleep better and faster.

Optimize their sleep environment and keep their bedroom cool

Evaluate your child’s sleep environment and make sure it is the best it can be. Make sure your child’s bedroom and bed are quiet and comfortable; earplugs, black-out curtains or a white noise machine may be helpful.  We know melatonin levels are affected by light, but they are also affected by temperature, so your child’s sleep cycle is sensitive to the temperature of their environment. A hot room can be uncomfortable and interfere with sleep so keep their room cooler to promote deep sleep and provide appropriately warm bedding.

Address bedtime fears.

If your child has concerns about going to sleep, create space and opportunities to discuss these concerns. If simple assurances about “monsters under the bed” don’t work, you can try buying a special toy or stuffed animal to stand guard at night time or a can of air freshener to serve as a “monster repellent” to help keep fears away. Believe in your child, and remind your child that they are brave and can face their fears with your support and help.

If, despite your best efforts, your child still struggles to fall asleep, stay asleep or has persistent nightmares, they may be showing signs of a sleep disorder, anxiety, depression, or another mental health concern. Make sure to talk to their pediatrician about any concerns you have and don’t be afraid to seek out the help of a mental health professional.