Is bedtime a battle? Here are eight easy tips that have helped many of my readers’ kids sleep easier. Put them to work at your house, and see if bedtime doesn't get a whole lot better.
1. Step it up
Exercise makes falling asleep easier and promotes deep sleep, says Dr. Richard Seligman of Presbyterian Sleep Disorders Center. To help your child fall asleep faster, add more activity to his day — running, jumping, park time or just plain old walking. Every step he takes is one step closer to a better bedtime.
A bedroom full of gadgets can make bedtimes tough. Electronic toys get the brain jazzed up just when it should be winding down for sleep. That includes handheld video games, talking stuffed animals, even that electronic sleep sheep. For a better bedtime, ditch them all.
3. Complex carbs
Complex carbohydrates (like those found in whole grains) help summon the Sandman by aiding the brain’s production of serotonin and melatonin. To get kids yawning at bedtime, serve a snack such as whole-grain cereal with milk or soy milk, whole wheat toast and nut butter, whole-grain crackers and cheese, or popcorn.
4. Toasty tub
After a very warm bath, bedtime beckons. That’s because a warm bath raises the body’s core temperature, which drops quickly after the bath ends. This up-then-down temperature pattern helps cue sleepiness. So say goodbye to lukewarm baths (brrrrrrrrrrrr!) and don’t be afraid to bathe your child in comfortably warm water.
5. Turn it down
Another place to play with temperature is in your child’s bedroom — it should be cool, between 60 and 68 degrees. Warm temperatures are linked to poor, disrupted sleep, and cooling the brain has been shown to be an effective treatment for insomnia. So turning that thermostat down could help your child drift off to sleep quicker.
6. Toy story
Toddlers love to delay bedtime in any way possible, and a bedroom filled with toys and books provides the perfect opportunity. If your child is throwing fits at bedtime for just one more story or just one more plaything, it’s time to move these distracting items someplace else. Keep 2–3 books and a few cherished comfort items in the bedroom, and move the rest out of sight.
7. Play with timing
For babies and toddlers, a better bedtime is often a matter of timing. Overtiredness may be causing your child’s bedtime shenanigans; try moving bedtime earlier by 15–20 minutes.
8. Later, gator
Alternatively, your child may need to be awake longer before hitting the sack. If your child seems amenable to sleep (i.e., she isn’t crazy-hyper, but she just.can’t.sleep and keeps calling you back into her room endlessly) try moving bedtime 30 minutes later.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2020, and updated in March 2021.
Read more from author Malia Jacobson in her book "Ready, Set, Sleep" — now available on Amazon.