It’s 3 A.M.
We are on our yearly beach vacation. It’s supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation.
But the sounds of chit chat, singing, and the pitter patter of feet carry through our tiny cabin. My twins are wide awake.
Older siblings utter groans of complaint wishing for the silence they need to sleep.
No amount of shushing, bribing or stern reprimands cajole them back to sleep. My brain doesn’t operate at 3 A.M, and I am too tired to pull from bag of parenting tricks.
If only they would be quiet.
Two hours later, I accept defeat and turn on the TV. It quietens them some but not completely. There is no such thing as a silent activity for my kids with ADHD.
Vacations certainly exacerbate sleep problems, but sleep doesn’t come naturally to my children.
My eldest child had sleep challenges as a baby and toddler. Thankfully, attachment parenting and positive reinforcement helped her overcome these issues and she is now the soundest sleeper in the house.
Some children’s sleep issues don’t improve so easily.
My other children have sleep issues caused by ADHD, anxiety, mood disorder, and early childhood trauma.
Co sleeping and positive reinforcement don’t alleviate their sleep issues. Believe me, I tried. These work for the short term but don’t help in the long run.
Two of my children have difficulty falling asleep. The other child struggles with sleep disturbance due to fears and vivid nightmares.
Even with my kids’ challenges, most of our nights are peaceful. It requires intentional effort to support positive sleeping habits.
Are you kids having trouble sleeping?
You are tired, stressed, and don’t know what to do.
You envy moms who don’t have to wait until late at night to get quiet, kid free time to relax.
You roll your eyes at parents who complain about their babies not sleeping through the night because you’ve got a kid who has long outgrown the safe containment of a crib who can’t sleep through the night.
You wish your kid only asked for a glass of water or another trip to the potty at bedtime. Your child has bedtime meltdowns loud enough to wake up the neighbor’s kids.
I get it.
My kids are not naturally good sleepers.
It’s not easy cracking the code to achieving a better night’s sleep for your kids. Improved sleep didn’t happen over night for us.
I know what works to help my kids sleep better, and I want to share my strategies with you.
These tips may not solve all your child’s sleep issues, but I bet they will help some.
We go through phases of bad sleep, and it usually requires adjusting our routines.
I have developed better sleep habits with my children, and you can too.
Not all this advice works for all kids. I don’t use all of these strategies with all my kids. Each of my kids needs different things to help them sleep better.
Try one change at a time to see how it improves sleep quality.
Bedtime Routines That Work
1.Give your child plenty of physical exercise.
Most children attending school do not get enough exercise during the school day.
Two of my children need at least two hours of active play a day. Almost every night of poor sleep (waking up for the day at 3 AM) can be traced back to not enough physical activity. As soon as my twins have finished their after school snack, they play in the backyard.
2.Start your bedtime routine at least an hour before bedtime.
This allows for a relaxed pace which eases bedtime anxiety. Each of my kids goes into their own space and gets ready for bed and quietly plays alone and/or reads.
3.Establish a consistent bedtime.
If you want to see me look like a crazy lady. The one with the flushed face, bugged out eyes, and smoke shooting out of my ears, suggest delaying bedtime. If you want to see my head spin in circles, tell me my kids will sleep in if I let them stay up later.
They don’t sleep in ever. They wake up earlier if they go to bed later. This means they are getting less sleep on both ends if I delay bedtime.
A consistent bedtime reduces bedtime battles. If kids expect that bedtime is non negotiable, they are less likely to fight it.
4.Keep the bedtime routine exactly the same.
This is not necessary for all my children, and the order and specific activities of the bedtime routine doesn’t affect their sleep.
One of my children needs a specific order to the bedtime routine.Before I implemented this strict routine, there were meltdowns almost every single night at some point during the bedtime routine. It has been months since we have had a bedtime meltdown and refusal to go to bed from this child .
5.Put them to bed earlier.
If your child has passed optimal bedtime, hyperactivity kicks into high gear. Once this happens, it is almost impossible for a child to fall asleep.
- Sounds machines block out noises that disturb sleep. One of my children used to have a sound machine set on a timer, it helped this child fall asleep but did not keep him asleep. Once we added a high quality sound machine, instances of waking up in the middle of the night decreased. The sound machine stays on all night.
- Epsom salt with lavender oil baths calm a child before sleep. Epsom salt contains magnesium, and a lack of magnesium may prevent the brain from settling down to sleep. One of my children takes this bath every night whether or not the child needs to wash up. Implementing a nightly bath, eliminated bath time battles. Please research safe amounts of epsom salt to use with your child.
- Liquid Mind music settles the mind. Research on the benefits of ambient music show that it reduces hypertension, and patients reported it easing pain and anxiety. One child struggles with racing, intrusive thoughts. Liquid Mind played during bath time helps alleviate those negative thoughts.
- Tart cherry juice naturally contains melatonin, and studies show it improves sleep quality. It can be found in the juice section of most grocery stores. My children take it before bed, and only a small amount. It has a strong sour flavor, and diluting it with water may make it more palatable to your child. If you are considering using melatonin tablets, please consult your doctor first.
- Audio books work well for my bedtime talkers. Audio books settle my restless sleepers who will talk to a wall for hours if they can’t fall asleep. Bedtime talking not only prevents the child from sleeping, but it disturbs other sleeping family members.
- Weighted blankets or stuffed animals provide deep pressure touch. Research suggests it may alleviate anxiety and provide a calming effect, and weighted blankets increase sleep time and decrease movement during sleep for patients with insomnia. One of my children regularly uses a weight blanket to help with sleep troubles. Do not use weighted blankets for sleep for babies or toddlers.
- Sleeping bags help two of my children. It keeps the child from kicking off blankets which ends up waking up light sleepers. I found this only effective during cold weather months. Don’t use sleeping bags for babies or toddlers.
You either hate co sleeping or you love it.
Without a doubt, it helped one of my children sleep better as a baby and toddler.
Co sleeping doesn’t help all children, and it’s not a good fit for some families. It is perfectly okay if you have older kids, and you don’t want them sleeping with you.
Now that my children are older, co sleeping doesn’t help them achieve long lasting improved quality of sleep. It is a temporary fix to soothe fears from a vivid nightmares or thunder storms.
Two of my children wish they could sleep with me every night. I allow it once a week for each of these children. This routine makes it easier if they get sent back to their room in the middle of night. They return easily to bed.
My other two squirm and wriggle all night long. I cannot lose sleep two nights in a week to co sleep. I reserve co sleeping for nights when excessive fears are an issue.
On those nights, I bring my iPhone and headphones to watch television shows on Netflix rather than ruminate all night long about not being able to sleep. It makes those sleepless nights more tolerable.
Conventional advice suggests screens before bed are a bad idea. It stimulates the brain too much causing a restless sleep. Yes, too much screen time is unhealthy.
My children have mixed effects from screens before bed.
Screens before bed make it difficult for two of my children to fall asleep. They appear to have no effect on two other children.
Twenty minutes of iPad time before bed soothes one child. Another child watches TV with me before bed and falls asleep quickly at bedtime.
If your child has excessive nightmares or intrusive negative thoughts, the content of television shows, movies, or video games may be contributing to the problem. You might want to consider filtering out violent or scary shows.
Filtering content improves my children’s sleep quality. Some shows, like Scooby Doo, targeted at children may be too much for more sensitive children. Other children are less affected by the content.
It is difficult to function well with sleepless children.
Establishing better sleep habits is possible. I have children with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and defiance challenges. Following a routine doesn’t come naturally to them. Figuring out what works through trial and error, improved my kids’ sleep.
If you have employed healthy sleep strategies and your child continues to fight sleep, please speak with your child’s doctor or therapist. There could be medical or psychological causes behind your child’s sleep issue that may require professional interventions.
It’s 3 A.M again.
I am sleeping under my warm blanket, softly snoring, and dreams of Justin Timberlake are interrupted.
Not another sleepless night!
The house reverberates with noise.
Yowling, hissing, and thundering paws charge through the house.
A cat fight.
“If they wake up the kids…” I mutter to myself.
I can’t promise your furry family members (especially the feline variety) will let you sleep, but your kids won’t be likely culprits of waking the house when they settle into a better sleep routine.
Read 10 Simple Ways to Connect at Bedtime to Bring More Joy into Your Child’s Bedtime Routine