Helping Your Child To Fall (And Stay!) Asleep

Having problems getting your child to fall -- and stay -- asleep? It might be comforting to know that you are certainly not alone. Sleep disorders are not uncommon in kids. Because sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)can lead to other health complications, the AAP’s practice guidelines recommend that all kids who snore regularly be screened for OSA. What’s more, a child with a sleep disorder is very likely to have a family that also suffers from a lack of sleep. If you’re struggling with a child who cannot fall asleep or who cannot stay asleep, these tips are the first actions your Cape Coral pediatrician or local sleep clinic will often recommend:

First, Look for Stress and Changes

Just like adults, kids can develop sleep problems during big lifestyle-changing transitions like a divorce or death in the family. While we can’t remove these stressors, understanding that they impact sleep can help us to be more understanding and patient. Underlying conditions like asthma and allergies can also compromise sleep. In these cases, addressing the root cause will be far more useful than seeking a sleep aid.

Create a Nightly Routine

Good sleep habits, like all habits, are born from rigorous routines. A good nightly routine not only trains our brains to prepare for sleep, but can soothe anxiety and lower stimulation levels. Here are a few tips to help your child establish a good bedtime routine:
  • Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. The light cast by these devices is known to disrupt circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Learn more at the Sleep Foundation.   The National Institute of General Medicine information on circadian rhythm.
  • Prepare for morning by laying out clothes and backpacks. This can be a bit of relief for kids who have anxiety about being prepared.
  • Get all the teeth-brushing and face-washing done, then settle down for quiet activities in a common area.
  • Use late evening time for quiet activities like reading, drawing, and coloring.
  • Inspect Their Sleep Space
It’s possible the problem is with the room, not the child. These tips might help:
  • Check your child’s sleep space by lying in his or her bed. Is there an annoying street light shining in your eyes? Itchy blankets? A tree branch scraping at the window?
  • Use blinds or blackout curtains to achieve darkness, especially during summertime's shorter nights.
  • Most of us sleep best in cool, dark places. If you can, aim for temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wean Kids from Needing Help
A child who can put their self to sleep is a child who can put their self back to sleep should they wake in the night -- and that’s a win for everyone, especially tired parents. If your child has been trained to need rocking, reading, or singing to fall asleep, it’s time to transition. After story time, send your child to bed on her own with a promise to come check on her. Follow through on that promise, but begin adding a minute or two each week to how long you wait to check.

Help Them Get Their Exercise

We’re continually reminded that physical activity is vital to our health, but did you know that regular exercise also improves the quality and duration of our sleep cycles? That's right, you should be wearing your kids out and expending that extra energy during the day so that they are tired when it comes time for bed.

Children need at least an hour per day of exercise. Reaching this goal on wet or cold days may require getting creative, but can yield a better night’s sleep for all.

Understand Your Child’s Sleep Requirements

Sleep requirements evolve throughout our lifespan, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following amounts of sleep by age for each 24 hour period:
Newborns 0-3 months: 14-17 hours*
Infants 4-12 months: 12-16 hours*
Toddlers 1-2 years: 11-14 hours*
Preschoolers 3-5 years: 10-13 hours*
School-aged Children 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
Teens 13-18 years: 8-10 hours
Adults 18-60 years: 7 or more hours
*Including naps
Document Everything

If you’ve established a healthy evening routine and ruled out health conditions but your child is still battling sleep problems, make an appointment with your pediatrician and start documenting the following:
  • Sleep and wake times
  • Not feeling rested after a full night of sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Snoring or pauses in breathing while sleeping
  • Mood swings and irritability
If you have concerns about the amount or quality of your child's sleep, please don't hesitate to give us a call to schedule an appointment. MacKoul Pediatrics of Cape Coral is here to help your child be as healthy and as happy as possible, and we are here to help answer any questions you might have. Just give us a call at (239) 573-2001.