6 Tips to Get Your Child to Go to Bed

Little boy sleeping peacefully on bed in dark bedroom

Don't let “good night” turn into a fight. If school-night bedtime is a struggle in your home, ask us how we can help.

If you're like most parents, you probably have had a least the occasional challenge in getting your child to go to bed at night. So it's understandable that you may feel frustration with enforcing bedtimes, especially at the beginning of the school year.

But don't allow yourself to get into behavioral conflicts and power struggles around bedtimes, says licensed clinical psychologist and pediatric behavioral sleep medicine specialist Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD.

"Many parents think about it as their children causing problems, but children can't be forced to fall asleep an hour or two earlier all of a sudden,” she says.

While there are no hard-and-fast guidelines for establishing and maintaining a school-year sleep schedule, Dr. Ievers-Landis has six tips that can help:

  1. Involve children in decision-making. As most parents know, attempting to tuck in children while the sun is still out can be a recipe for disaster. It interferes with circadian rhythms, the biological function that regulates when and for how long a person sleeps. Some families gradually shift to an earlier bedtime during the waning days of summer vacation, while others accept that kids may drag temporarily when classes resume. Ask children which approach they prefer. Don't be overly concerned if children seem jet-lagged at the beginning of the school year. Like travelers returning from the West Coast, it may take a few days to adjust to a new schedule.

  2. Concentrate on wake-up time. If it takes your child an hour or two to fall asleep, the bedtime may be too early. It may be better to let your child stay up so they feel sleepy and nod off more quickly.

    “What's the latest your child can get up to get ready for school?” says Dr. Ievers-Landis. “Let your child have as much sleep as possible in the morning. Figure out what works best for your family and work backward from that.”

    She says once a workable wakeup time is established, a regular bedtime will follow. It takes about two weeks to establish a new sleep schedule.

  3. Relax weekend sleep schedules. Don't shift wakeup time by more than an hour or two on weekend mornings, but if your child isn't having trouble falling asleep and getting to school on time, it's okay to sleep in on weekends a little.

  4. Discuss electronic media use. Watching a limited number of videos or TV before bed is usually not problematic, but be careful of electronics that can rob your teen of much-needed shut-eye.

    “Talk with your teen about whether electronic media use is interfering with sleep and discuss when to turn off these devices or consider not having them in the bedroom at all,” she says.

  5. Don't be bound by sleep recommendations. Individual sleep needs vary. Most school-age children require about nine hours per night, while kindergartners require about 10 hours and high-schoolers about eight hours. Don't fret if your child functions well on slightly more or less than these guidelines.

  6. Enlist help, if necessary. If your child's sleep habits interfere with schoolwork or interactions with others, talk to your pediatrician. Reach out if your child:

    • Takes longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep
    • Regularly has multiple extended wakeups and has trouble falling back asleep
    • Has trouble functioning during the day
    • Requires daytime naps

     

Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and pediatric behavioral sleep medicine specialist in the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and Psychology at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Ievers-Landis or any other doctor online.

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