A good night’s sleep impacts everything, including a child’s mental health. It can influence feelings, stress levels, and overall wellbeing. Sleep also impacts a child’s performance at school, in sports and in other after-school activities. Here are some simple routines and habits that you can build to help your child get enough Z’s.

As you and your family adjust, give your changes time to work. Sometimes we get frustrated when it isn’t working after 3-4 days of trying, but remember, it can take up to 2 weeks to see the benefits.

Routines and Schedules

  • Try to stick to a schedule during the day, including waking up and going to bed around the same time each day (even on weekends).
  • Create a consistent bedtime routine. You can start routines as early as 2 months old. Try to do the same activities in the same order about 20-30 minutes before bedtime.

Some ideas for infants or toddlers:

  • Feeding should be the first step once your infant is 6 months old
  • Bath
  • Change diaper
  • Brush teeth (if needed)
  • Change into sleep clothes
  • Read, sing or listen to music
  • Say goodnight

The goal is for the child to be put in a crib or bed when they are awake but tired, so they fall asleep within 10-15 minutes.

For school-aged children, bedtime routines may look more like this:

  • Shower or bath
  • Brush teeth
  • Use the bathroom
  • Change into pajamas
  • Read a book or listen to calming music or a relaxation exercise (you can search on YouTube for relaxation or meditation ideas or check for well rated apps)

What about for teenagers?

They also need a consistent schedule and bedtime routine, but it’s easy for teenagers’ sleep to get off course. Many teens fall into the habit of staying up very late at night and sleeping in late the next day.

  • Bodies need what’s called “sleep pressure” to feel tired and ready to sleep. That means that most of us need to wake up around 16 hours before we’re ready to fall asleep again. So if your teen isn’t getting up until 1 p.m., they won’t be ready to fall asleep until around 5 a.m.
  • If they’ve gotten used to going to bed late and waking up late, have them slowly start waking up 30 minutes earlier every day over several days. Also have them go to bed 30 minutes earlier. These small changes over time will make the adjustment a little easier.
  • Be mindful on the weekends. It can be easy to slip into the habit of sleeping late when there aren’t things scheduled first thing in the morning. Try to have your teen stay on schedule as much as possible.

Other Habits to Promote Good Sleep

  • Limit the amount of time your child or teen spends in their bedroom during the day. Ideally, kids should be in bed only when they are sleeping and not when they are watching TV, on their phone, doing schoolwork, eating, or doing any other activity. This helps to create a stronger connection between sleep and bed.
  • Avoid naps. In a perfect world, there would be no naps for school-aged children and older, but sometimes they happen. If a nap is needed, set a timer to wake up in 20-30 minutes. You may need to put the alarm somewhere so that your child must get up to turn it off.
  • Get outside and be active. Even if it is just for 5 minutes, spend time outside. Have your child go for a walk, play basketball, throw a football, jump rope, play tag or dance. Anything that gets your heart beating fast will help with sleep later. Plus, seeing bright lights like sunshine in the morning is important to keep your body’s clock in rhythm.
  • Avoid screens before bedtime. Ideally, stop screen use about 30 minutes before going to bed. If this is not possible, avoid using screens once in bed. Some strategies for this are:
    • Using the “Do Not Disturb” setting on phones.
    • Putting screens away from the bed so they cannot be accessed easily while lying in bed but could still be used to listen to music or a relaxation script.
    • Having kids turn their phones or tablets in at a set time at night and charge them outside of the bedroom.
    • Removing TVs and video game systems from bedrooms.
  • Be a good model. This means that caregivers should be following this advice as well, and even say what they are doing out loud to really drive the point home, “I’d like to watch my show right now, but I know it’s too close to bedtime and I want to make sure I can sleep well tonight.”

It's Not Working!

It will take time to adjust to these new routines, so give yourself, and your child, some grace. Sometimes, after a vacation, school break or Daylight Savings Time, sleep schedules may get messy. Ideally, you’d take a week or so to adjust back to your usual schedule.

Bedtime battles can happen when a child resists bedtime or refuses to stay in bed. Read more about bedtime battles and how to overcome them.

If these tips and tricks don’t seem to help your child, it might be necessary to seek additional support. If your child is still struggling to fall or stay asleep most nights for more than 2 weeks, contact their doctor. Other reasons to contact a pediatrician could include:

  • Snoring or noisy breathing, especially if snoring wakes your child up at night or you feel like their breathing changes while sleeping.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night with pain or perceived pain (i.e., unable to be consoled, pulling at ears).
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness or falling asleep during the day even though your child is getting enough sleep at night.