HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR CHILD FALL ASLEEP AND STAY ASLEEP?
Dearest Tired Moms and Caregivers, We realize that for many of you… sleep just isn’t happening. You can’t be productive and/or be present to experience the simple joys in life when all you feel is the sheer exhaustion that you are dealing with. Maybe you got past the newborn stage, and perhaps you thought that you made it through the toddler years getting a bit more sleep…that is…until you realized that you were waking up in a twin or toddler bed (sideways) or wedged in a corner because your (now) child can’t fall asleep on their own. Sigh. We’ve been there, and we truly believe that you can’t be the best version of yourself or thrive when you are stuck in this routine. The good news is that we’ve got help for you and there are some easy fixes! The bad news is you might be making one or two of the most common mistakes during your child’s bedtime routine, so let’s get straight to it - and get you all sleeping well and past the insomnia and exhaustion!
by Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg
Two bedtime routine mistakes you may be making (and, more importantly, how to fix them)…
Four-year-old Amanda loved her cute and colorful menagerie of stuffed animals. At bedtime, she would not get into bed unless at least a dozen of these were set up at the foot of her bed. If any of her favorites were missing, they had to be found. If any of them fell over, they had to be set up again before she would lie down. Once her stuffed animals were settled, Amanda’s mother would leave Amanda’s room to put the baby to sleep, and Amanda’s father would lie in her bed and read to her until she fell asleep.
Her father stopped reading when he thought Amanda was asleep, but Amanda often sat right up again to ask him to keep reading. Reading her to sleep often took well over an hour. During the middle of the night, each time Amanda awoke, she would call her father back to reset her stuffed animals or to read again. This happened many times each night, and both Amanda and her father were becoming very sleep-deprived.
Seven-year-old Leo had a good bedtime routine, but as soon as his parents left his bedroom, he was sure to come right out again to tell them one more thing, to get one more kiss, to give them one more hug, or to ask for one more drink of water (even though he had to pass right by a faucet with a cup to find his parents!). Leo’s parents always granted these requests, hoping that once all of Leo’s needs were met, he would fall asleep. However, almost every night it took more than two hours to get Leo to sleep.
Do these stories sound familiar? Do you struggle to keep bedtime a peaceful and happy time in your home? Parents of babies and toddlers have plenty of resources to help them improve their child’s bedtime routines, but parents of preschool and elementary school children often have a hard time finding age-appropriate help.
Some parents may even be embarrassed to admit that their school-aged children still have sleep issues. If this is true for you, you’ll be relieved to discover you have plenty of company. The National Sleep Foundation commissions a “Sleep in America” poll on different sleep-related topics each year. The most recent national poll studying sleep in children aged ten and younger was completed in 2004 and randomly sampled 1,473 parents of children ages ten and younger. Almost three out of four of these parents reported that their child’s sleep needed improvement. (“2004 Sleep in America Poll” by the National Sleep Foundation, Washington, DC: 2004)
If you would like to help your child become a better sleeper, the first thing to explore is whether you may be making two common mistakes during your child’s bedtime routine that are keeping your child from sleeping well. After we explore these two mistakes, we’ll review some simple ways to address them.
Mistake number one: Staying with your child until he or she is completely asleep.
Parents often ask, “Why does my child fall asleep quickly at bedtime but have difficulty staying asleep?” This issue is incredibly common and is most often due to the fact that you may be staying with your child at bedtime until he or she is completely asleep. Perhaps you don’t leave your child’s bedroom until those little eyelids finally close even though you’d love to knock off one or things on your to-do list or, better yet, watch some episodes of (fill in the name of your favorite bingeable show here).
However, if you stay in your child’s room each night until your child is truly and deeply asleep, your little one will soon wake up again during the night (as all children do, usually after a sleep cycle or two). He or she will almost always call you back to his or her bedroom (or show up like a silent little ninja in yours) because he or she only knows how to fall asleep when you are present.
Mistake number two: Granting too many extra requests after the bedtime routine is (supposed to be!) over.
If your child is like most other kids, he or she will make lots of additional requests or trips out of the bedroom after the bedtime routine is over. Your child might ask for “just one more…” story or hug. She might want lots more escorted trips to the bathroom, or he might ask for another check under the bed or even ask to get up to have another snack. My daughters love theater, so I’ve nicknamed these extra requests callbacks (if your child calls you back to the bedroom) or curtain calls (if your child leaves the bedroom to find you).
You may think that if you grant all of these callbacks and curtain calls, your child will finally fall asleep. But in reality, granting all of these extra requests after lights out actually gives your child lots more of your attention which rewards your child for staying awake (not a great plan!).
How can you fix these two mistakes?
Make sure you and your child have a cozy, comforting and consistent bedtime routine with a very clear endpoint (maybe a final kiss on the forehead). Then leave while your child is still fully awake. Remind him or her to play or read quietly in bed independently until drowsy enough to fall asleep. If your child starts making callbacks and curtain calls, try using "bedtime tickets" to manage these. These are small cards that can be given to a child when the bedtime routine is over and the child can trade them for a final request or two. After the bedtime tickets are gone, remind your child that he or she has used all of the tickets but that it’s fine to play or read quietly in bed until he or she is drowsy enough to make the (solo) trip to dreamland.
This plan should allow you to cross off one or two of those things on your to-do list (but I think you’ve probably earned the right to collapse on the sofa and catch up on those seven episodes)!
I do hope this helps, and if you need more information on how you can “Become Your Child’s Sleep Coach” feel free to use the link provided below to learn more. Sending you wishes for restful and peaceful nights!
Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg is a pediatric sleep psychologist, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine and the director of the behavioral sleep program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. As a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, she is one of only about 200 board-certified sleep psychologists in the country. She is also a mom of three, so she knows both professionally and personally how important it is to help kids become great sleepers.