How to Help Your Child Change a Poor Sleep Pattern

If you have a child who consistently goes to bed very late and wakes up tired and un-refreshed, there are some things that you can try to help them change their sleep pattern. It won't necessarily be easy, as a child who has become habituated to sleeping late can be very resistant to an earlier sleep pattern but it is about habit-changing and persistence and perseverance can help both of you to establish a new routine.


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    Stick to a consistent routine. It is tempting to let children stay up later on the weekend but this is where children learn how enjoyable it is to stay up later and it gives them the desire to do so on other nights. When a routine exists that requires your child to be in bed early every night of the week, this provides a sense of consistency that children can easily adapt to. This means keeping a consistent bedtime and waking time.
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    Ensure that your child has a comfortable sleep environment. The room should be at a good sleep temperature of around 16ºC (60ºF). If it is not possible to keep the room warm enough, add blankets and a child-safe hot water bottle to warm the bed. Avoid using electric blankets as these are not considered to be safe options for children. If the room is too warm, strip the bed down to a sheet only, leave a glass of water at the bedside table and open the window if possible. It is also important that the room is quiet. This means no noise from TV, talking or other hubbub.
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    Keep distractions out of your child's bedroom. Remove anything that might distract a child such as computers, TV, video games etc. The family room is the place for these highly distracting devices. For teens, this will be more difficult, but you can institute a check at a certain hour to make sure they are not sneaking in extra time. The problem lies in the fact that using computers, playing video games or watching TV winds up our mind and it takes considerable time to unwind after using these devices. A good rule of thumb is to require reading, card playing, writing or drawing on paper etc. type activities to replace electronic activities one hour before bedtime. This becomes "down-time". To make it fair, this should apply to everyone in the family, regardless of age, to help all get a good night's sleep!
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    Don't let your child consume products that might keep them lively past bedtime. Ban consumption of soft drinks, coffee, tea, chocolate etc. that contain caffeine several hours before bedtime. Make it a rule that come 6 p.m., all drinks must be caffeine free. This will be harder on teen children than on younger ones.
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    Avoid using bed as a source of punishment for time-outs. Children will associate being sent to bed with bad experiences and this can hamper their desire to go to bed and sleep.
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    Get out and exercise. A bike ride or a ball bounce after dinner can do wonders for improving sleep patterns. However, care must be taken not to encourage exercise too close to bedtime or hearts will be racing and sleep will be long in coming.
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    Change the whole family's sleep patterns. If getting up early is an issue for everyone, perhaps it is time the whole family went to bed early. It can be a fun but instructive game for mom and dad to go to bed earlier than their child once in a while. Tell your child you are going to bed and that they had better hurry up and beat you. Turn out all the lights in the rest of the house except for where teeth are being cleaned and the bedrooms. The message soon becomes clear and everyone gets a good night's sleep! This can be a great way to kick start a new sleeping routine for the entire household and the kids feel involved as a part of the general shift, rather than being the sole focus.
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    Be persistent. Your child will likely argue and whine. Be ready for that and have ears of steel. Repeat the mantra that "your bedtime is now, the TV time is over" or "Goodnight, sleep tight". Using a mantra every night can help your child settle down, as long as you use it to signal that there's no discussion to be had. As much as the wheedling gets to you, as a parent, it is your responsibility to stand up to your child's limit-testing and draw the boundaries clearly.


  • Remember, it takes about 21 days to break an old habit and establish a new one, so keep this up for at least 3 weeks. It will become easier and routine as time moves on, so try not to lose hope.

Things You'll Need

  • Distraction-free bedroom; see how to create a Zen bedroom for more ideas and reasons on why distractions in the bedroom are not a good idea
  • Night light if needed
  • Drinks without caffeine
  • Comfortable bedroom conditions

Article Info

Categories: Childhood Health | Bedtime Routine