When parents come into the office for the first time, one of the questions in my intake, is about their children’s sleep.  Do they sleep too much? Too little? What TIME is their bed time? Do they actually go to bed at that time?  How many hours do they sleep at night?  Is it restful sleep or are they up every few hours?     These answers are important to me because I know there are many benefits of good sleep for children and teens.  I don’t have to detail those out, because many of you already know that sleep help fights off colds, allows for better memory and increased attention spans which leads to higher grades.  Sleep also helps with maintaining healthy weight, and overall health.  Recently, this research article was brought to my attention; if you’re not interested in reading it, the conclusion was that “Having regular bedtimes during early childhood is an important influence on children’s behavior...”

Are you one of those parents who struggles with their children not getting enough sleep?     Set a bed time routine! Have a bed time routine – and be consistent. What time does this routine start?  How will you implement it?  If parents are sticking to their child’s bedtime routine on a nightly basis, your child’s body clock will adjust.   Here are some suggestions in helping you, help your family set good bed time routines.

  • Provide a plan a head of time. Communicate that plan to your children.  Write it out, and post it, if necessary.
  • Use your “calm” & “quiet” voice during bedtime routines. Yelling, or raising your voice, can leave the child on high-alert.
  • Children learn by association,  give them something to associate bed time with. Children may not understand what “5 or 10 more minutes” means, but they can associate when the lights start turning off and we’re brushing our teeth, it’s getting closer to bed time routine.  For some kids, having an alarm clock sound at 5 minutes before bed can also help.   When putting these into place, it will become more of a natural routine for the child.

Some things to add to the bed time routine:

  • Warm Bath helps raise body temperature, thus inducing sleepiness.
  • Apply lotion to your child’s arms/legs.  Can be relaxing, a good winding down activity.
  • Appropriate bed time clothes help. Watch out for clothes that are too warm/too light/not comfortable for the child.
  • 30 minutes before bed, offering a light snack might help.  Some recommend including both carbohydrates (to make them sleepy) and protein (to balance out bloodsugar through the night) so peanut butter mini bagel, or half slice of whole wheat bread and small piece of cheese.

Other suggestions:

  • Sound machine or white noise machine in the background. Some parents use a white noise or sound app on an IPAD. TV or radio is not recommended.
  • Nightlights can be helpful for some children, not helpful for others. Try both to see what works better.
  • Keep “good nights” under 60 seconds, and try not to go back into the room after you leave, even if the child is calling you.  By going back into the room, it creates the habit that they can prolong bed time by calling you in 4-5 times in an hour

These suggestions also work well for nap times as well.  The earlier you start these routines, the easier they are to implement.    I also suggest waiting 2-3 weeks to see the full results.  It may take your children a few weeks to adjust to the new routines and expectations.


Jennie Wilson is a child and adolescent therapist. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor