Help your kids get better sleep.
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Do your kids keep you up half the night? Is getting enough sleep—for you and them—an elusive dream? Pediatrician Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, RealAge's children's health expert, shares her surefire sleep tips to keep the whole family well rested.
Is this you? The kids are finally in bed, after a few false starts. All you can think of is putting your feet up, pouring a glass of wine and clicking on a silly sitcom. Then a child appears out of nowhere, mumbling, "Mom, I can't sleep." Your brain does a silent scream, but then you get up and patiently say, "C'mon, little one, back to bed."

Or is this you? After a long day of trying to be your mommy best, do you fall into bed in a heap of exhaustion, only to be woken in the middle of the night by a small voice whispering in your ear, "I'm scared, Mommy." Do you pull back the covers, scoot over and make room, or do you drag yourself out of your bed and lead your child back to his bed?

I know sleep issues can be huge for you and your children. I have three kids—I've been there! Sleep troubles usually crop up at around 5 months and smooth out after age 4 or so. But those 3 or 4 years in between can be exhausting, and they make squeezing your child into bed with you at 3 a.m. totally tempting. Try not to. It can almost instantly turn into a bad habit that's hard to break. Kids (like adults!) need to learn how to self-sooth and calm themselves down after a long day. An "everyone into the king-sized bed" ritual not only keeps children from learning this vital go-to-sleep skill, but it also eliminates what is often the last shred of privacy you and your husband have.

I've had bleary-eyed moms and dads in my office virtually weeping about their child's problems with sleep. They weren't just crying for their kids. A child who doesn't sleep can wreak havoc on the entire household, to say nothing about interfering with his growth and development.

4 ways to foster healthy sleep habits in your children

So how do you get your kids to conk out so that all of you can get your much-needed zzzs? Use these four tips to help you help your child get enough sleep.

Don't Give In
Establish a regular bedtime and stick with it. Yes, even on weekends. If your child gets up after he's tucked in, gently guide him back to bed. Try not to fight or fuss. Just firmly enforce the routine.

Set the Scene
Does your child like a bedtime story, a warm bath, soft music or a stuffed pal to cuddle with in bed? Consistent patterns, as well as consistent lights-out times, help kids nod off easily. Small, healthy snacks are fine, but avoid large meals close to bedtime or anything with caffeine, including hot chocolate or tea. Make sure the bedroom is dark and cool.

Try a Little Jaunt Before Shuteye
Do your kids get enough physical activity each day—meaning, at least one good hour of heart-pumping exercise? It will help them sleep. My husband takes my oldest son, who's autistic, for a brisk 30-to-40-minute walk around our neighborhood almost nightly. Sleep problems often go along with developmental issues, and we've found the walk helps him transition to sleep and stay asleep. Sometimes my daughter goes along, but my other son plays hours of sports every day and doesn't need a minute of extra exercise. Just get that activity in at least an hour or so before bedtime. You don't want it to have the opposite effect and give your child a second wind.

Set Up the Bedroom for Sleeping Only
Keep computers and TVs out of kids' bedrooms (yours too, while you're at it). This may be harder as kids get older, but hang tough. Why? First, older kids often sneak out of bed and surf on their computers all night. Second, research shows the flickering light from a TV, computer or cell phone can stimulate the brain in ways that delay both the production of melatonin (the chemical that makes us sleepy) and the drop in body temperature that makes us want to snuggle under the covers.

7 facts about children and sleeping
7 Bonus Facts About Kids and Sleep

  • Kids who regularly sleep more than 8 to 9 hours tend to have stronger immune systems and get fewer colds.
  • Kids who sleep less than 9 hours a night are more likely to be overweight. One connection: When they're up late, they tend to eat. (Same phenomenon as midnight food raids on college campuses.) Also, not getting enough sleep may throw off their metabolism in ways that make it easier to gain weight.
  • Over-the-counter cold and flu remedies can keep your child awake. Ask your doctor before using these at night.
  • On average, children who drink caffeinated beverages lose 30 minutes of sleep nightly. But kids, like adults, vary in their caffeine sensitivity. If you think it's a sleep issue with your children, try to cut off caffeine after 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
  • Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea—those episodes of loud snoring and gasping breaths during sleep. Yes, this can happen in kids, not just adults (especially overweight kids). Talk to your doctor.
  • Kids who sleep poorly often have behavior problems and trouble concentrating. Work with your doc to find the cause and solutions. These might include underlying anxiety or depression, which need treatment.
  • Most school-age kids need 10 or 11 hours of sleep each night. Go for that goal. If they get their zzzs, you'll get yours!
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg—or Dr. Jen—is RealAge's pediatric expert and the author of The Smart Parent's Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents and Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children. Get more of her advice at

Share your war stories and strategies of success in getting your kids to sleep in the comments area.

Keep Reading:
Dr. Jen's tips for surviving the Children's Tylenol recall
Are your kids burned out?
Dr. Oz investigates America's national sleep problems
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.


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