Tips for Kids’ Bedtime and Sleep Troubles

Bedtime and sleep problems are common in preschoolers and grade school kids, so if your child wakes up often at night, you’re not alone. 

Kids wake up for many reasons. Sometimes there’s a medical concern that needs to be addressed, and sometimes you may just need to change your routine, try a new tactic, or just be patient.

Not Getting Enough Sleep

How do you know if your child is getting sufficient sleep? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that in general, children receive the following amounts of sleep during a 24-hour period: 

– Preschoolers (3-5 years old) need 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps)

– Grade School Kids (6-12 years old) need 9-12 hours of sleep

If your child is not getting enough sleep, a good place to start is adjusting their bedtime hour. You can gradually move their bedtime earlier by 15 minutes each night to reset their body’s sleep rhythm. 

Be patient as you adjust to a bedtime hour that allows for a full night’s rest by their morning wake time. For example, if your preschool-aged child needs to wake by 7 a.m., a good bedtime for them would be around 7:30 p.m. If you’ve been putting them to bed by 9 p.m., it could take a week to get their bedtime to around 7:30 p.m. and a couple weeks to really establish it as their new bedtime. 

Waking Up Too Early

It’s normal for young kids to wake up early, but if they wake up too early — like 4 or 5 a.m., the whole family can suffer. The first step is to check and see if your child is getting enough sleep. If they are waking up early but not getting enough sleep, you may actually need to adjust their bedtime earlier. Some kids can get overtired and fight sleep if their bedtime is too late, and if you’re noticing signs of sleepiness at night, then it’s likely you’ve passed their ideal bedtime. 

Having long naps can also disrupt their bedtime sleep cycle. So, if your child takes a nap but has a hard time falling asleep at bedtime, you may need to shorten the length of their naps. 

Make sure their bedroom is a good sleep environment that is a cool, quiet and dark—so you may need blackout curtain if morning light wakes them up. 

If they wake up early, don’t give them an iPad or TV time to help yourself get more sleep. The artificial light can signal to their body that it is time to be awake and only reinforces the early wake time. Instead, offer a quiet, low-light activity.

Bedtime Struggles

Kids at this age are notorious for stretching out the bedtime routine to delay going to sleep. They’ll find lots of reasons to put off bedtime or to come out of their room after bed. But it’s best to be consistent and make bedtime the same time each night. Create a consistent routine that is predictable for your child.  You can give them some flexibility by providing limited choices without giving them so much freedom they push back bedtime. 

Try to keep the bedtime routine down to 30 minutes. That should be sufficient time for brushing their teeth, reading a book, and any other routine they need before bed. Plan ahead, so if your child gets out of bed to ask for water every night after bedtime, make sure they have a glass of water by their bed by lights out. As your child gets older, you can gradually give them more freedom around their bedtime routine.

Coming to Parents’ Bed At Night

If your child has made a habit of coming to your bed at night, you can get them to stay in their bed with some patience and consistency. First, make sure your child understands before bedtime that you want them to sleep the whole night in their room. If they come to your room, calmly and quietly lead them back to their bed and remind them they must stay in bed. You may have to repeat these steps multiple times each night. Make sure to stay calm and keep these interactions brief and boring. 

In the morning, be sure to praise them for staying in their bed all night. Each night should get easier with less incidents of them coming out of bed, but it is a process that takes time, so be patient. 

If your child needs more reassurance that they are safe in their room, you may need to stay with them a few minutes the first few times. Gradually make the spot you sit and wait further from your child’s bed. Repeat this process until you are staying outside their door where you can verbally reassure them without entering the room. 

Snoring and Abnormal Breathing Patterns

Snoring is not as common in children as adults. Kids may snore if they get an upper respiratory infection or have allergies. But, if your child regularly snores loudly, you should speak to your pediatrician. When children snore and also have disrupted breathing patterns, it could be a sign of sleep apnea. You may notice your child snorts, gasps, is restless or frequently wakes. 

Your provider may refer your child to a specialist who can evaluate your child’s airway for abnormalities and may recommend a sleep study.

When to Contact Your Pediatrician

If you are concerned about your child’s sleep or are struggling with bedtime, contact Pediatrics West at 720-284-3700. To prepare for your visit, it can be helpful if you can provide a sleep diary for a week or two to track your child’s sleep problems. Some things to include are:

  • Where your child slept
  • Hours of sleep (including time they went to sleep and woke and length of naps)
  • How long it takes for them to fall asleep
  • How often they woke up during the night
  • What you did to help comfort them and help them back to sleep
  • Any changes or sources of stress at home

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