1. Keep a regular bedtime schedule including weekends and holidays where possible. Children sleep better when they have a consistent bedtime and wake time every day. Staying up late during the weekend and then trying to catch up on sleep by sleeping in can throw off a child’s sleep schedule for several days.
2. Make sure the child knows that they should not disturb other members of their family until after an acceptable time.
3. Avoid giving food or bottles during the night to get a child to go back to sleep unless they still require night feeds due to their age, size or health.
4. Do not allow cola, chocolate or other caffeine rich foods or drinks before bedtime.
5. Eat the right amount at the right time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make children more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder for them to get to sleep. In the morning, a healthy breakfast helps to kick-start your child’s body clock at the right time.
6. If a child requires an afternoon nap, schedule it for the early afternoon as opposed to late afternoon.
7. Avoid stimulating activities in the hour before bedtime. If your child takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, he might need a longer wind-down time before turning out the lights to go to sleep.
8. Soaking in a hot bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music can be helpful in relaxing and calming the body.
9. Make sure your child feels safe at night. If your child feels scared about going to bed or being in the dark, you can praise and reward her whenever she’s brave. Avoiding scary TV shows, movies and computer games can help too. Some children with bedtime fears feel better when they have a night light.
10. Create an atmosphere that is relaxing and comfortable. The bedroom should not be used for lively, stimulating activities and play, at least not in the hours before bedtime. A quiet, dimly lit space is important for good sleep. Check whether the bedroom is too bright or noisy for sleep. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets might suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness. It probably helps to turn these off at least one hour before bedtime and to keep screens out of your child’s room at night. Make sure the child’s room is maintained at a comfortable temperature, neither too warm nor too cold; using a humidifier can be helpful in preventing the air from becoming too dry.
11. Avoid creating associations between bedtime, the bedroom and negative emotions, e.g. the bedroom should not be used for punishment.
12. Do not prolong the bedtime routine; the child needs to associate the start of the routine with the final stage, the feeling of being about to fall asleep.
13. Reward good bedtime behaviour using a star-chart or another form of reward system. Using a social story to explain the different stages of getting ready for bed can also be a helpful tool.
14. Do not reinforce settling and waking problems by giving into demands for drinks, food, stories and so on in an attempt to avoid confrontation. Requests to go to the toilet should be allowed, within reason, but verbal interaction and eye contact should be kept to a minimum.
15. If you child has sensory issues that may impact the bedtime routine consult an occupational therapist for specific strategies that might help with falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning. Your OT can also recommend equipment and tools that may help create a more relaxing and sensory friendly sleep environment.
Quine, L. (1997). Solving children’s sleep problems: A step-by-step guide for parents. Cambridgeshire, UK: Beckett Karlson Ltd.
Ferber, R. (1985). Solve your child ’s sleep problems. London: Dorling Kindersley. (Available from The Down Syndrome Educational Trust).