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Sleep: Helping Your Children—and Yourself—Sleep Well


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Key points

  • Children of all ages need plenty of sleep to grow and develop. School-age children may have trouble learning and developing socially if they don't get enough sleep.
  • Children's sleep problems can cause stress for parents, who may worry about their children. Parents also may be awake much of the night trying to get a child back to sleep. Their own lack of sleep can affect parents' focus at work or in school.
  • Health problems can cause sleep trouble in children. Examples of these problems include asthma, ADHD, autism, obstructive sleep apnea, and Down syndrome. Talk to your child's doctor if your child often has trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
  • Parents can help their children sleep well by having a comforting bedtime routine and consistent bedtimes.
  • Parents can help themselves sleep well by learning about sleep routines and about how to reduce stress and relax.

Return to topic:

Several types of sleep problems can keep a child awake at night:

  • Young children sometimes try to delay going to bed by asking for another story or for another sip of water.
  • A child may wake up after wetting the bed or needing a diaper change.
  • Some children have nightmares. Others may have night terrors. Night terrors are different from nightmares because the child remains asleep throughout the entire episode and does not have any memory of it in the morning.
  • Some teenagers have a problem called delayed sleep-phase syndrome. They don't go to bed until late at night and don't fall asleep until early morning.
  • Some children have health problems that can lead to sleep problems. In some cases, treating the health condition can improve sleep. For example, a child whose asthma is under control may not wake up at night because of coughing.

Test Your Knowledge

Sleep problems are always the result of other health problems, such as asthma.

True
False

Children who don't get enough good quality sleep may have trouble learning and developing socially. They may be tired during the day and not able to pay attention in school.

And a child's sleep problems can affect parents' sleep. Parents may be in the child's room during the night trying to get the child back to sleep—or the child may try to get in bed with the parents to get back to sleep. Lack of sleep can make parents tired during the day, affecting work and family life.

Test Your Knowledge

When a child has sleep problems, parents may feel the effects in their own lives.

True
False

Help your baby sleep well

  • At night, set up a soothing routine. Give your baby a bath, sing lullabies, read a book, or tell a story.
  • Put your baby down for sleep in a quiet, darkened room.
  • Act quickly—but not too quickly—when your newborn wakes up for a feeding, so that he or she doesn't have a chance to fully wake up. First wait a minute or so to see if the child goes right back to sleep.
  • Settle your baby down to sleep as quickly as possible if he or she is not acting hungry during a nighttime feeding.
  • If your baby wakes up and doesn't settle down, check to see if he or she is hungry or needs a diaper change. Feed or change your baby quietly. Keep the light low. Don't play with or sing to your baby. Put him or her back in the crib as soon as you can.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether to let your baby "cry it out."
  • Try to stay calm. Young children are very sensitive to a parent's feelings of frustration.
  • Be consistent. If you change your plan for how to handle nighttime crying, make sure that you and your partner agree on it before you go to bed.

Help your child sleep well

  • Set up a bedtime routine to help your child get ready for bed and sleep. For example, read together, cuddle, and listen to soft music for 15 to 30 minutes before you turn out the lights. Do things in the same order each night so your child knows what to expect.
    • Have your child go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep your child's bedroom quiet, dark or dimly lit, and cool.
    • Limit activities that stimulate your child, such as playing and watching TV, in the hours closer to bedtime.
    • Limit eating and drinking near bedtime.
  • If your child wakes up and calls for you in the middle of the night, make your response the same each time. Offer quick comfort, but then leave the room.
  • Help prevent nightmares by controlling what your child watches on TV.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if your child has any problems with his or her medicine.
  • Do not try to wake your child during a night terror. Instead, reassure and hold your child to prevent injury.
  • If your child sleepwalks, keep the windows and doors locked during sleep time.
  • If your child is overweight, set goals for managing your child's weight. Being overweight can cause sleep problems or make them worse.

Help your teen sleep well

  • Talk to your teen about why it's important to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
  • If your teen is going to bed at a very late hour, teach him or her how to change bedtime a little at a time. Suggest that your teen go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until the best bedtime is reached.
  • Have your teen keep his or her bedroom quiet, dark, and cool at bedtime. It's best to remove the TV, computer, phone, and video games from your teen's room.
  • Encourage your teen to manage his or her homework load. This can prevent the need to study all night before a test or stay up late to do homework.
  • If a teen has trouble waking up in the morning, ask what you can do to help.
    • Offer to wake him or her.
    • Offer to check to make sure your teen got up when the alarm went off.
    • Offer to turn on a bright light in the room when it's time to get up.
  • Teach your teen to limit eating and drinking near bedtime. Don't serve caffeine (found in colas, coffee, tea, and chocolate) after 3 p.m.
  • If your teen is overweight, set goals for managing his or her weight gain. Being overweight can be linked with sleep problems.

Help yourself sleep well

  • Avoid or limit caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours before bedtime. Both can keep you awake.
  • Don't drink alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol can cause you to wake up more often during the night.
  • Don't take medicine that may keep you awake, or make you feel hyper or energized, right before bed. Your doctor can tell you if your medicine may do this and if you can take it earlier in the day.
  • Use the evening hours for settling down.
  • Make exercise a regular part of your life, but don't do it within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Try using a sleep mask to help you sleep.
  • Take a warm bath before bed.
  • Make your own sleep routine. Try to have the same bedtime and wake-up time each day.
  • Manage stress. The stress and worry that come with having a child who isn't sleeping well may be causing you sleep problems too. But there are steps you can take to manage that stress and sleep better. For information, see:
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery to Relax.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Meditation.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body.

Test Your Knowledge

Parents shouldn't worry about making things worse by being frustrated and stressed out, because babies who are crying a lot don't notice things like that.

True
False

It's a good idea to try to wake up your child during night terrors.

True
False

Even teenagers need bedtime routines.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to take steps to help your family sleep better.

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor.

Organizations

KidsHealth for Parents, Children, and Teens
10140 Centurion Parkway North
Jacksonville, FL 32256
Phone: (904) 697-4100
Fax: (904) 697-4220
Web Address: www.kidshealth.org

This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It has a wide range of information about children's health, from allergies and diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.


National Sleep Foundation
1010 North Glebe Road
Suite 310
Arlington, VA 22201
Phone: (703) 243-1697
Email: nsf@sleepfoundation.org
Web Address: www.sleepfoundation.org

The National Sleep Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, can provide you with brochures on sleep disorders and a list of accredited sleep disorder clinics.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerLisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last RevisedJanuary 27, 2012

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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