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Make Life Easier with These Tips for Bedtime

Many families find bedtime and naptime challenging. It is estimated that 43 percent of all children, and 86 percent of children with developmental delays, experience some type of sleep difficulty. Sleep problems can impact learning and make infants and young children moody, short tempered, and unable to interact well with others. As a young child sleeps, her body develops new brain cells needed for physical, mental, and emotional development. Parents need to feel rested, too, in order to be nurturing and responsive to their child’s needs. Here are some tips to make bedtime and naptime easier.

Tip: Establish Good Sleep Habits

  • Develop a regular bedtime, naptime, and time to wake up. Young children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep daily including naps.
  • Make time for physical activity and time outside but not within an hour of naptime or bedtime.
  • Give your undivided, unrushed attention as you prepare him for bed or a nap to calm him, and let him know how important this time is for both of you.
  • Develop calm, relaxing routines. Young children thrive on predictability and learn from repetition.
  • Establish steps in routines to help her understand and predict what will happen next. “Sara, it’s time to take a nap. First, let’s find teddy. Then we can cuddle.”
  • Tell your child what might happen when she wakes up. Talk with her or show her a picture. “First, sleep. Then you will wake up and go to the park.”
  • Carry a favorite transition object to bed. A teddy bear, blanket, or book becomes a signal that it’s bedtime.
  • Provide your child with calming activities, sounds, or objects. Avoid rough-housing, tickling, DVDs, or computer games before bed.
  • Put your child down for sleep while he’s still awake. Say “good night” and leave the room so he’ll learn to go to sleep on his own.
  • Avoid certain foods and drinks six hours before sleep. Anything sugary, caffeinated, or fatty can keep a child awake.
  • Try breast feeding or a warm bottle before bed. Milk can induce deep sleep, but avoid it three hours before sleep if your child is being potty trained.
  • Provide choices when possible. This is a powerful strategy to prevent challenging behaviors. Ask what toy or story your child wants or if a night light should be on or off.
  • Reduce noise and distractions nearby. The quieter the better in or near the child’s room.
  • Reduce light. A dark room is best, but your child might want a small light or hallway light on.
  • Make sure your child is comfortable. Comfortable for you might be chilly or warm for your child.

Tip: Try Keeping a Sleep Diary for a Week

It might be helpful to keep a written log of when your child falls asleep and wakes up, along with a daily total of hours slept.

Tip: Look for Signs of Sleepiness

Learn the signs when your child is getting tired, and share these with others who help put her to sleep.

Tip: Talk With Your Child About Fears

For a young child, there really are monsters under the bed! In the dark, shadows of toys or furniture may be frightening, but your child might not be able to tell you he’s scared. If your child expresses fear, let him know you understand and then provide comfort. A soft toy can help, too.

Tip: Celebrate Little Successes!

Congratulate your child: “You’re such a big girl sleeping your bed with your teddy!” Remember, restful sleep for your child also means rest for you, so you’ll both be ready for shared days of family fun and learning.

*Adapted from the Making Life Easier Tip Sheet series developed by The Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI), a federally funded center that translates extensive research into everyday practice to improve the social-emotional outcomes for children with, or at risk for, delays and disabilities. Learn more at .