Improve Sleep Habits in Children with Helpful Advice

Disruptive Electronic Devices, Sleep Disorders Should Be Eliminated

Improve children's sleep by addressing sleep habits, removing electronic devices from the bedroom, and treating sleep disorders
Improve children's sleep by addressing sleep habits, removing electronic devices from the bedroom, and treating sleep disorders. Getty Images

Children are sometimes subject to the same sleep disruptions as adults, with potentially serious consequences affecting growth, behavior, and learning. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your child's sleep with helpful advice to address problems. Learn how to help children to sleep better by paying attention to their sleep habits, eliminating electronic devices from the bedroom, and addressing sleep disorders to avoid adverse consequences.

Being Attentive to Sleep Habits and Bedtime Routines

Sleep professionals sometimes refers to the habits surrounding sleep as "sleep hygiene". This includes the important behaviors in the period of time just prior to falling asleep, which should be a time of relaxation.

Here are some basic guidelines that are useful in adults and teens, and with only slight modification the same advice applies to children. Children do best with a consistent bedtime routine. Depending on the age of the child, this might include a bath, brushing teeth, and bedtime stories. This helps to prepare the body and mind for a good night of sleep and eases tensions related to resistance to bedtime and behavioral insomnia.

Eliminating Electronic Distractions from the Bedroom

Perhaps the most important consideration for children, especially older ones, is to address elements in the sleep environment that may be disruptive to sleep. How can your child sleep well if there are other engaging activities available at his or her whim?

Children require a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine, just like adults. Part of this requires that parents recognize the importance of sleep and that they be willing to set some boundaries.

Some of the disruptive activities that should be eliminated from the bedroom environment include:

  • Watching television
  • Talking on the telephone
  • Texting
  • Computer use
  • Electronic gaming

These and other similar activities may keep your children awake and affect their ability to transition to sleep. It is also possible for screen light to cause insomnia. This may have important impacts on teenage night owls and may be improved by getting morning sunlight upon awakening. As much as possible, the bedroom should be reserved for sleeping.

Consider the Role of Sleep Disorders Among Children

Children and adolescents are also at risk of experiencing sleep disorders that affect adults. Children who snore should be assessed for factors that might contribute to sleep apnea. This can manifest in unexpected ways, contributing to bedwetting, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even sleepwalking.

Some children experience restless legs syndrome and this can make it hard to fall asleep. It is also possible for other sleep disorders to occur, and if you suspect that there is something more to your child's difficulty sleeping, start by speaking with your pediatrician and consider a referral to a board-certified sleep specialist.

Serious Consequences of Poor Sleep Habits

Children are especially susceptible to consequences of sleep disruption. They may be more likely to have hyperactive behavior, difficulties with attention, and poor impulse control. Untreated sleep disorders may affect intelligence and learning. They are also less likely than adults to appear sleepy when deprived of sleep, so it can be difficult to tell that they haven't been sleeping enough.

Studies have shown that injury rates among preschool-aged and early school-aged children are significantly higher in those with sleep disorders than in those without. Moreover, sleep difficulties may result in problems with growth.

All these reasons and more stress the importance of improving sleep hygiene for our children. Start by making some simple changes, and reach out for help if you need it.

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Article Sources

  • Durmer, JS and Chervin, RD. "Pediatric sleep medicine." Continuum. Neurol 2007;13(3):153-200.
  • Owens, JA et al. "Sleep disturbance and injury risk in young children." Behav Sleep Med. 2005;3(1):18-31.