Want to help kids fall asleep fast? Build a failproof bedtime routine with these expert and parent tips

·7-min read
Want to help your child build a better bedtime routine? Experts and parents say the keys to a successful bedtime are relaxation and staying consistent. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Want to help your child build a better bedtime routine? Experts and parents say the keys to a successful bedtime are relaxation and staying consistent. (Photo: Getty Creative)

From conflict within their social circles to anxiety over upcoming tests, the list of things that may keep kids awake at night can get even longer once school is back in session. Whether reasons for staying up late involve finishing homework or nailing the latest TikTok dance, it's normal for parents to ask: Are there ways to help kids set up better bedtime routines and fall asleep faster?

Parents like Bianca Dottin, who lives in Orlando, Fla., are no stranger to struggles with getting their kids to follow a bedtime routine, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed and ready for school the next day.

"My oldest suffers from anxiety," Dottin, a mom of two, tells Yahoo Life of her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana.

Dottin says what's helped her oldest child calm down in the evenings is listening to meditations created specifically for children before bed as well as having Tatiana press play on those meditations again if she wakes up during the night.

"We created a playlist on Spotify with some of her favorite meditations," says Dottin, who adds that nature-themed sleep meditations have been most helpful in getting Tatiana to relax.

Bianca Dottin says her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana, has benefitted from using a playlist of nature-themed sleep meditations to fall asleep at night when she is feeling anxious. (Photo: Bianca Dottin)
Bianca Dottin says her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana, has benefitted from using a playlist of nature-themed sleep meditations to fall asleep at night when she is feeling anxious. (Photo: Bianca Dottin)

Nina Meehan, a mom of three from Nevada, shares that her two youngest kids, Meadow, 6, and Robby, 10, each have issues with sleep for very different reasons. According to Meehan, Robby gets caught in what she calls "thinking mode" where he "can't get his brain to quiet down," while Meadow has a lot of leftover physical energy at the end of the day.

"Although she wants to sleep because her brain is tired, her body wants to keep moving long after bedtime," Meehan explains.

Related video: As school kids adjust to new sleep schedules, here are tips for parents

What works for her kids is a bit of mom-guided meditation.

"For both of them I do 'relaxations' almost every night," Meehan explains.

Meehan's "relaxations" are essentially kid-friendly guided meditations that start with the kids imagining a desired "location" for the relaxation, from a beach to a cloud in the sky. Meehan guides each child through taking a few deep breaths and expanding upon their chosen location by picking out details that encompass all five senses: imagining what they would see, taste, hear, smell and touch in their preferred destination.

When the visualization is complete, Meadow and Robby take a few more deep breaths, then imagine a change in the environment such as light rain falling or clouds moving in and the sun coming out.

"At the end," Meehan explains, "I help the child visualize themselves resting in the location in a calm and peaceful state, then have them take a few additional deep breaths."

Mom of three Nina Meehan often leads her oldest two children through guided meditations to help them fall asleep at night. Her children call these mom-led mediations
Mom of three Nina Meehan often leads her oldest two children through guided meditations to help them fall asleep at night. Her children call these mom-led mediations "relaxations." (Photo: Nina Meehan)

According to Dr. Stan Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children's Hospital Pediatrics and Urgent Care, parents like Dottin and Meehan are not alone in their struggles to get kids to fall asleep and stay asleep at bedtime. Spinner says it can be challenging for younger children to fall asleep because they struggle to maintain focus, which hinders their ability to "shut down" at bedtime. Kids may also struggle with falling asleep due to feelings of separation anxiety when it's time to go to bed.

While it may be a challenge for parents, Spinner says it's important to maintain a nighttime routine with kids. The Texas pediatrician recommends parents get children to settle in and fall asleep faster by reinforcing when it's time to go to sleep without deviating from a kid's usual routine from night to night.

"Developing consistent expectations is key," he adds. "The child needs to understand that the use of stalling tactics, such as asking for a bedtime snack or requesting to repeatedly go to the bathroom, will not be allowed."

What can parents do to help kids get in the right mindset for bedtime?

"Implementing quiet time activities into the nighttime routine may allow the child to ease their transition from alert to calm," says Spinner, "which may help facilitate their ability to fall asleep easier."

For parents looking to add quiet some evening activities to their child's bedtime routine, Spinner offers these recommendations:

Reading

Spinner says taking the time to read to your child, or having your child read to you, will help them focus on one single activity, clearing their mind of thoughts of other things that may have happened throughout the day.

Coloring

An evening coloring session can help kids get into a calmer state of mind, as well as boost mental awareness, says Spinner.

Meditation

Spinner recommends nightly meditation or reciting a bedtime prayer to help kids mark the transition from their busy daytime routine to a restful night's sleep.

Dim lighting

To set the tone for restful sleep, Spinner says to be sure the main light in a child's room is turned off. If kids are afraid of the dark, use a soft night light instead.

Minimize distractions

When possible, Spinner recommends keeping a child's bedroom door completely closed to minimize outside noise and distractions.

Connecticut mom Tasha Mayberry says her son, Vasya, 5, was "hyper" at bedtime and took a long time to settle down, often getting out of bed multiple times. Mayberry suspected Vasya was going to bed too late, so she made his bedtime earlier and, about 45 minutes before "lights out," started to dim the lights and turn down the sounds of the TV or radio to indicate the approach of bedtime.

Mayberry also instituted a bedtime countdown, letting Vasya know when bedtime was 30 minutes out and issuing a final notice five minutes before it was time to head to bed.

Tasha Mayberry developed a relaxing evening routine for her 5-year-old son to help him turn his focus to bedtime and preparing for a good night's sleep. (Photo: Tasha Mayberry)
Tasha Mayberry developed a relaxing evening routine for her 5-year-old son to help him turn his focus to bedtime and preparing for a good night's sleep. (Photo: Tasha Mayberry)

"Then we go right upstairs and pee, brush teeth and take a quick 5-minute bath,” says Mayberry. “[We have found] no more than 10 minutes in the bath or [Vasya] can be stimulated instead of calmed."

Once they are in Vasya's room, the routine continues: Mayberry rubs essential oil on her son's chest, Vasya gets into bed, they read a book together and it's lights out. Mayberry also mentions her family worked with a sleep consultant who recommended making a "sleep phrase," a nightly mantra of sorts which indicates when the bedtime preparations are over and it's time to go to sleep. 

For she and Vasya, that phrase is, "Na-night. Love you."

Spinner says repetitive routines like these add up to big changes over time.

"Children do better with consistency," he tells Yahoo Life, "and it's easier for a child to learn appropriate routines when that expectation is consistent."

When in doubt, Spinner reminds parents their own doctor is just a phone call away.

"For parents who are concerned about their child's sleep habits, I recommend they discuss it with their pediatrician," says Spinner. "A pediatrician can work with parents to help develop a more individualized process tailored to the needs of the child and family."

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