Seven Tips for Struggling Sleepers
Bahar Youdai, OTR/L - February 12, 2021
“…Goodnight stars. Goodnight Air. Goodnight Noises Everywhere.”* Well…not quite. In reality, it is not always a good night. Combating sleep woes can make us feel restless (pun intended), whether your child has been struggling with sleep since babyhood or the pandemic has presented new sleep challenges. A sleepless night for a child usually means interrupted sleep for parents and caregivers. Sleep problems can affect the whole family!
Here are seven tips to help your children sleep at bedtime, sleep through the night, and improve their quality of sleep:
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine and sleep schedule. A healthy routine consists of having a set bedtime and sticking to it every night. For example – bath time, pajamas, teeth brushing, potty, story time, and lights out. Try out a visual schedule and use of timers if your little one needs extra support!
- Limit screen time. Studies show that electronic devices interfere with the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that helps us feel tired at night**. Monitoring the use of screens throughout the day can help your child fall asleep and sleep soundly through the night. Limiting screen time can be tough with virtual school, but a good start is to incorporate a complete shut off of electronics at least one hour leading up to bedtime.
- Daily exercise outdoors. Getting enough movement throughout the day supports a smoother sleep process. In particular, access to the outdoors during daylight provides natural UV light which increases the production of melatonin at night**. Activities that provide proprioceptive input are especially calming. This is one reason recess is super important!
- Limit liquid intake. Some children wake up simply because they have an accident or full bladder! Try limiting fluids the hour leading up to sleep to reduce the possibility of your child waking up to go to the bathroom.
- Bed for sleep only. Maintaining the bed for sleep and pre-sleep rituals (i.e. story time, meditation, reflections) is a simple way to create the association for your child that the bed is for bedtime only. Toys and other play activities may be better in another room or area of the home!
- Reassess the sleep environment. Environmental modifications include blackout curtains, bedding material that feels comfortable for your child (i.e. cotton jersey sheets), covering flashing or blinking device lights, and regulating the temperature in the home (cooler temperatures are linked to more restful sleep!).**
- Utilize support of meditation or story time. Your little one may benefit from a tool when it is time for sleep. Guide your child through a few deep breaths or a calming story to transition into sleep. Check out the Moshi app or Yoto Player!
Need more information? You can dig a little deeper by keeping a sleep log to record and track key information. A sleep log can reveal patterns that may be affecting your child’s sleep. In addition to all the sleep and wake times throughout the night, be sure to include screen time and physical activity throughout the day. If you have any additional questions about your little one’s sleep journey, feel free to check in during office hours (through the online membership)!
* Brown, M. W., & Hurd, C. (2018). Goodnight Moon. Fairfax, VA: Library Ideas, LLC.
** Kidney, E., McGhee, K., & Reynolds, S. (2020). Occupational Therapy's Role in Addressing Sleep Problems in Children. OT Practice, 25-27.