Is your child not sleeping at night? We understand that it’s a heroic task to make children sleep – more so, if your kid is a ball of energy, especially before bedtime.
By setting a consistent routine with the proven tips that we’ve collected, you can rest assured that your house becomes less of a battlefield during bedtime!
Having a routine is important for children especially because they are physically active all day long. Plus, a good night’s sleep helps in their brain development and attention span.
Parenting = sleeplessness
“Sleeplessness is almost synonymous with parenting at least in those first two years till our child is officially a toddler.” Dr Grace is a gynaecologist and consulting paediatrician at a leading hospital in Raipur, dealing specifically with issues surrounding the early years of parenting.
Every child is different. We cannot lure our child to sleep in the same way that our grandmother lured our mother, our mom lured us, or our neighbour lures his/her child.
Sleep journey of children
Dr Grace says that most infants give a tough time sleeping due to certain natural reasons like hunger, discomfort, colic, and so on.
However, as they grow older, the reasons for staying up spring from the newly acquired energy. Besides, they simply become very naughty!
So what do you do if your child looks for all the possible reasons to give you a sleepless night? Check out the ultimate guide to make children sleep at night (without turning your house into a battlefield!)
Sure-Fire Tricks and Ways To Make Children Sleep Within Minutes
1) Choose a sleep training method to put your child to sleep
There are various sleep-training methods that you can follow to make children sleep. Here are a few:
- No-tears method: sing lullabies, pat, and rock until the baby is asleep
Here’s how to make babies sleep better — the no-tears method! A well-known method of sleep training, this one by Elizabeth Pantley is well popularised by Indian families.
This method involves lullabies, patting, and rocking your child to a point at which he/she feels sleepy. Parents help their child reach the point where he/she will fall off asleep. In short, it’s an assisted sleeping technique.
- Co-sleeping with your little one: improves sleep for both parents and children
Co-sleeping is a method where parents and their child sleep together on the same bed. Your child’s bedtime is your bedtime since you tuck into bed at the same time. Co-sleeping is a common method in many Indian families.
However, under this method, one needs to make sure that the time of sleep for a child is earlier than that of an adult. Co-sleeping should not disrupt the schedule of your child as that will add to his/her sleeping woes.
- Cry-it-out before bedtime: teach your child to independently fall asleep
Does your child cry while sleeping or right before bedtime? Then try this to make them sleep! This is a western technique where the baby is put into his/her crib and tucked into sleep on his/her own. Your child cries for some time, but after a point settles himself/herself to sleep.
A point to understand under this method is that when your baby cries for you, instead of immediately reaching out to him/her, you let the moment pass. If your child is inconsolable even after a considerable amount of time, reach out, pacify, check if there is no discomfort or pain. Then, explain that it’s bedtime and he/she needs to sleep, after which leave the room.
Make sure that the room and crib arrangements are child-friendly and safe.
- Mixed bag technique – if nothing else works!
If your child is not sleeping properly using any of the above methods, then go for the mixed bag technique! Letting your child cry for a bit, soothing him/her for a bit, then again letting him/her fall off to sleep is what we term as a ‘mixed bag’ of sleep techniques.
Parents may mix all the known techniques to help their child fall off asleep. The end motive is making your child sleep properly, isn’t it?
2) Calming foods – feed them right!
A sure-shot method to make children sleep – feed them right! “What is fattening for us is calming for them,” says Dr. Grace amid chuckles. She is talking about high carbohydrate, amino acid-based foods that are known to lead children into a deep snooze.
Amino acids induce calm sleep and make children sleep better:
“The most common amino acid is serotonin and eating carb-rich food releases this amino acid into our bodies,” explains Dr Grace. She adds that spending a good time with family and friends also helps release the same amino acid in our bodies; but that’s beside the point.
Dr Grace is implying that foods that release serotonin are good for children to consume before bedtime. Serotonin, melatonin, tryptophan are amino acids that have a calming effect on our body. Magnesium, Calcium, and Potassium (to a certain extent) induce sleep.
Try these sleep-inducing food options for children:
- Warm milk or cheese-based dinner – it relaxes the nerves
Milk contains amino acids and calcium that relax the nerves. A glass of warm milk or a cheese-based dinner will make children sleep better through the night.
- Rice and whole wheat – proven to calm the body at night
Most Indian families encourage a chapati or rice-based dinner, which is scientifically proven to be one of the best ways to calm the body at night. According to Dr. Grace, feeding children carbohydrates through whole wheat, rice, or bran helps them sleep better.
- Carb-rich foods like bananas, potatoes, oats and egg – helps inducing sleep!
Bananas (as it is or a milkshake), potatoes (fries, stir fried, boiled), oats, eggs are all carb-rich foods that work well as dinner options for children.
Foods that are a no-no before bedtime
- Excessive sugar/honey causes something called a ‘sugar rush’ or adrenaline rush, which excites the body and makes it more active. Not something we want before bedtime, yes?
- Very heavy food (oily, deep fried) will make your child sluggish, but not necessarily induce sleep. Food should be rich in carbohydrates, but not very heavy so as to trouble your child’s digestive system.
3) Sleeping time according to age
“The time to sleep is as important as the process you follow to help your child sleep,” says Dr Grace. She suggests that when parents struggle to put their children to sleep, they should try different timings and routine to see which one suits their child best. Make children sleep based on specified sleep hours by age.
Since one-size-fits-all doesn’t apply, the time at which your child is made to sleep should not be blindly followed from another child’s routine. However, when making a decision about time, keep these factors in mind:
- Every child needs at least 10-12 hours of sleep. If the child is used to an afternoon nap, he/she will sleep for a lesser number of hours at night.
- Bedtime should be the same everyday. Keeping a fixed schedule helps the biological clock.
- Required amount of sleep varies according to the child’s age.
4) Repeatedly remind your child about bedtime – it informs the brain to relax the body
“Finish your milk, then jammies, tigger stories, and then bed.” My cousin, mother of a one-and-a-half-year old, is very communicative with her baby.
Almost an hour before bedtime, she starts announcing that they have to be ready to sleep, these are the steps they will take, this is what they will read, and so on. The child listens, alert to her mother’s incessant instructions before bedtime.
How do these reminders help?
Dr Grace says that children thrive on their parent’s approvals. They enjoy when parents agree to something and enjoy it with them. These bedtime reminders have the same logic.
- When you tell your child that both of you are gearing for bedtime, they want to follow you.
- Also, they are less scared of routine if you do the process with them.
- Reminders also help trigger the brain functions that it’s time to relax the body.
Gentle yet firm reminders reinstate the fact that you’re the boss and tantrums will not help before bedtime. That’s important, no?
5) Get rid of night-time fears – use calming activities to relax your child
Children are afraid of the dark, suffer nightmares, and get startled by loud sounds. If you’re unable to get your child to sleep well, check for these fears and worries:
- After your child sleeps, sit next to him/her, and observe if he/she experiences restless sleep—talking while sleeping or any agitation during sleep. “These may be signs of excessive fatigue or screen time,” explains Dr Grace.
- If your child is unable to sleep because the lighting of the room is disturbing or due to some sounds, fix those problems immediately. However, if the fears are imaginary, talk to your child about them and reassure him/her that you will be in the same room, next to him/her, through the night. Once reassured, children sleep better.
- If your child is bullied at home or in school, night-time fears might be quite common. Hear your child out during bedtime, look for signs when your child is asleep and then address them in the morning. Children usually talk in their sleep if something is bothering them. You can keep a track of the same.
Dr Grace says that fears also arise if the child has a very active day or set of days. Children should have easy hours during the day in which they simply relax, enjoy a book, or sit and do some relaxing activity. If your child is not over agitated and if a set time for bed is followed, fears can be alleviated.
6) Remove distractions – make the bedroom a peaceful haven for sleep
Namita, a mother of two, lists a few physical changes that parents can make to make children sleep better.
- Get dark curtains/shades in the bedroom where the child sleeps.
- Remove ALL radiation from the room, cell phones included to make children sleep peacefully.
- Don’t watch TV in the bedroom where the child sleeps. Preferably, don’t keep a TV in the bedroom.
- Ensure that the mattress is not too soft or too hard. Very soft mattresses cause posture problems that may disturb your child’s sleep.
- Even in summer, children do not enjoy a very cold room. Set the temperature of the room accordingly.
In short, make bedroom a safe and comfortable haven for your child to sleep in and be assured he/she will sleep well!
7) What Not to expect – kids aren’t like you!
Dr. Grace says the above and assertively adds that parents assume that since they can sleep as and when they want, children have the same capacity.
- Children have more energy than us, so they need more time to channelise it. An uneventful/restful day will mean that your child will not sleep well at night. Get him/her to use the energy.
- A child who has napped till late afternoon will not fall off to sleep early at night. Don’t expect the same.
- If there are guests at home, especially with kids, don’t expect your child to follow routine. Expect and accept tantrums at these times.
- Children can’t accept a new bed/bedroom readily so don’t expect them to sleep properly in a new place/city that you’re visiting. The same applies to making your child sleep in different rooms in your own house.
- Children don’t sleep as per your schedule. Keep their schedules different.
So basically, don’t have unrealistic hopes. They’ll land you with a sleepless night.
8) Keep tab of cold/blocked nose – causes breathing difficulty and sleepless nights
If children have difficulty breathing, even a little, they cannot sleep properly.
- Dr Grace says that if children are not sleeping well, it may be due to the ventilation in the room that causes irregular breathing.
- A simple cold may also be a hindrance to your child’s peaceful sleep.
Check for these issues of your toddler is giving you sleepless nights.
9) The importance of sleep in child development
“Sleep is extremely important for overall child development,” says Dr. Grace. If a child is sleep deprived or is not sleeping properly, he/she will show various overt symptoms. These might later lead to psychological subtle symptoms which can be difficult to cure.
- The overt or visible symptoms are overactive behaviour, irritability, low or no attention span, napping at odd times or during playtime, low or erratic appetite, nail biting, and general fatigue.
- The psychological problems or subtle symptoms will be hormonal. Lack of sleep will convert the child’s irritability into innate anger. Such a child may bully or vent anger in unacceptable ways.
- Children also release cortisol, the commonly known hormone that causes stress and restlessness. This hormone starts getting produced in excessive quantities if sleep requirements are not met.
10) Calming bedtime routines – to foster healthy sleeping habits!
“We all know that making the child restful starts a couple of hours before bedtime but how many of us actually do that?” Dr Grace asks pinpointing at the bad TV and play habits that most kids follow before bedtime.
Too much TV or active play keeps the brain excited that leads to bad sleep habits. We have a bunch of healthy sleep habits that will work wonders to make children sleep!
a) Make a bedtime schedule – and don’t forget to stick to it!
“The key is the word routine.” Pranali, a freelance recruitment consultant and a mother of one, believes that deciding and sticking to a fixed time is the main ingredient of a good bedtime routine and makes children sleep without any hassle.
“You have to follow a strict timeline because isn’t that what a ‘routine’ is all about?” But how do we do that?
Vary the child’s sleep routine
Children can be made to follow a sleep routine where they take a power nap in the afternoon and sleep a little later at night. Another technique to make children sleep and the most advised, is for the child to go to bed early (say between 7.30-8 pm) and wakes up 11-12 hours later.
For this schedule, if your child needs 11-12 hours of sleep, then the time for bed has to be planned in accordance with his/her school timings. “My son has to leave home at quarter to eight in the morning so his bedtime is 7.30 pm,” explains Pranali.
Too early or too late?
Sometimes, kids don’t follow the bedtime routine that we decide for them and refuse to sleep at the prescribed time. Pranali says that there are pointers that you can follow in this scenario. Put your child to bed before he/she gets cranky.
Over-tired children don’t fall asleep easily and even if they do, they are uncomfortable through the night. Follow the next 8 points (b-i) as well, if you’re trying to build a timetable for your child and need to help him/her sleep as per schedule in your child’s sleep routine.
b) Sing lullabies – it regulates baby sleep patterns and heart beats
Research says that mothers, even in 2000 BC, would sing lullabies to soothe and make their children sleep well. It’s a well-established fact that singing relaxes nerves and sets the mood for sleeping. “Children love routine and repetitions. What if that comes via a comforting song?” asks Pranali rhetorically.
You can sing your child’s favourite lullaby or rhyme to pacify him/her for bedtime. “Lullabies are best for the emotional connection between mother and child before and during bedtime,” says Dr Thakrey from Andheri, Mumbai.
Make the connection
- 10-15 minutes before bedtime, sit/lie down with your child or cradle him/her (for babies) and sing.
- Make sure that you choose a quiet corner of the house or it’s just the two of you in the bedroom.
- Let/him her hum along if he/she likes.
- Sometimes, children ask questions or want you to explain the song to them. Softly answer them and then continue singing.
- Lullabies are soft melodious numbers and not tunes that will excite children further. You can ensure the tone of your voice is soft and relaxing.
- Don’t change songs every few minutes or every day. Sing the same lullaby for a few days at a stretch.
And as Pranali says, children love repetitions! Here are a couple of famous lullabies you can sing:
- Hindi: Chanda maama door ke, Pue pakaye poor ke…
- English: Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock…
I’m sure you’ve heard of several lullabies in your mother tongue. Time to give them a shot!
c) Give a comforting hug – it reduces stress and provides high quality sleep
“They never really leave the womb.” Dr Thakrey says so while talking about the emotional connect between mothers and their children. He believes that children crave their mother’s touch especially during morning and night. It’s one of the best ways to appease and relax them.
Physical touch is paramount. Hug and snuggle to make the bedtime moments count. “This also sets a routine in the child’s mind plus gives him/her happy sleep!” he explains. “The feeling stays with them through the night.” Noella, a child counsellor at a Mumbai-based convent, talks about the importance of physical touch to relax the mind and senses of a child and to make them sleep without trouble.
She believes that the feeling stays with them for much longer than that moment. In fact, it helps avoid disturbed sleep and nightmares. So at bedtime, try the universal balm–the hug!
d) Dress for sleep – suiting up with pyjamas will signal it’s bedtime!
“Just like you dress for playtime, birthday parties, football, etc., you should dress for sleep,” Noella says that a good bedtime routine should involve changing into a nightdress. “Wearing pyjamas would automatically make my little one yawn,” she giggles while reminiscing about her now 20-year-old.
Make babies sleep with ease using this technique!
Some pointers from Noella
- Children often crib about changing and wearing a night suit before bedtime so you ensure that their bedtime clothes are of their favourite colour or pattern.
- In case there are tantrums before bedtime, make your child choose his/her nightwear from options of three or four. Giving him/her an open closet to choose from increases the fuss. We don’t want increased tantrums right before bedtime, do we?
- Use a fabric softener to rinse your child’s nightwear after a wash. The softener not only softens but also adds perfume to clothing which most kids like.
If nothing works, change into your night wear and lead by example!
e) Make loo-time compulsory – empty bladders reduce anxiety and put an end to nightmares!
Well, this one goes unsaid unless you like to clean a wet bed in the middle of the night. Besides, imagine waking up to a howling wet baby?
“Children do not realise they have to use the toilet before sleeping so it has to be made compulsory within their bedtime routine,” says Pranali.
- Her now five-year-old would often wet his bed and that would cause a lot of middle-of-the-night-stress for the kid as well as the parents. This is till she decided to make him use the toilet just before bedtime and then again, two hours after he had gone off to sleep.
- Although an after sleep washroom trip does not qualify under bedtime routine, it is something you can do to make your child’s sleep more peaceful and relaxed.
“Two trips to the washroom would ensure a restful and dry night,” chuckles Pranali.
No bad dreams
Dr Thakrey adds a more scientific perspective to this point when he says that an almost-empty bladder reduces sleep-time anxiety and bad dreams. He has diagnosed many children with problems of bed-wetting because their bedtime routine does not involve a compulsory trip to the bathroom.
Therefore to make your bedtime routine a successful affair, make your child use the washroom just before getting into bed. Simple as that!
Read bedtime stories – it ensures soothing and relaxing sleep
“Reading thrills ALL children.”
Noella says this with so much assertion that it gives me a feeling she has actually checked with every child in the world. But then she’s not wrong, is she?
There’s a reason why bedtime stories are so popular and every paediatrician worth his/her salt advocates them for a good bedtime schedule.
Bedtime story routine
- When it’s bedtime and your other scheduled activities are done, tuck yourself and your child into bed, and read to him/her.
- Get your child to choose the story he/she would like to read—children as young as six months can choose a book for themselves.
- It can be the same story everyday or a new one of his/her liking. In either case, the focus should be on reading pleasant and positive stories and that aspect needs to be checked before buying books and not before reading them.
- Read softly and go easy on excessive animation. This will soothe and relax him/her and before bedtime.
- Most children have questions around the stories you read and you should answer them in soft and delicate tones. Also, don’t go overboard with explanations since we’re trying to relax their minds.
- Once the stories are over, you will notice a more relaxed child who will easily drift off to sleep. Mostly children fall off to sleep mid-story and that’s as ideal as ideal can get. Isn’t it?
g) Chit-chat once tucked in – it will ease their fears and provide peace of mind
“Children often speak their innermost feelings when the ambience is quiet and they are tucked with their parents in bed.” Dr Thakrey infers that while we want our children to relax before bedtime, it is important to hear them out before they sleep.
- Talk to your child about the day that went by and listen to him/her intently. This will ease his/her fears (if any) and unburden him/her of information he/she was keeping from you.
- Listening to him/her will give you peace of mind as well.
This is a good way to set a bedtime pattern or toddler sleep routine for a good night’s sleep!
h) Send the bedtime message through a massage – a proven physical stress-buster
“Touch is the most basic amongst all needs.” Dr Thakrey gives quite an assertive opinion while talking about touch therapy and massages for children—especially before bedtime.
A massage is not only a physical stress-buster but also an emotional release. “Every child should compulsorily be massaged before bedtime, at least till seven years of age!”
- Many parents rely on soft massages to lure their children to sleep. Massages are a good way to soothe a child and convey the idea that it’s bedtime.
- Massages help the child grow by stimulation of the nervous as well as cellular systems. In simple words, massages make a child healthier.
- A fatigued child can easily be relaxed by a simple foot massage and then not much cajoling will be required to put him/her to bed.
- A wash/bath can precede a massage to set a nice bedtime routine for your little one.
So, send the bedtime message through a bedtime massage! This is sure to make children sleep blissfully!
i) Keep gadget distractions at bay – gadgets ruin sleep patterns and harm development
“Wi-Fi makes you stay up!” Dr Thakrey and Noella had both given similar opinions when it came to Wi-Fi and electronics affecting a child’s sleep routine. “Wi-Fi is electromagnetic radiation that is very harmful for child development,” says Dr Thakrey.
This is a known fact but what is ignored is that when the Wi-Fi is constantly running in your house, especially near the child’s bedroom, it affects his/her sleeping pattern.
“It can cause insomnia and disrupted sleep,” concludes the doctor. Noella says that a bedtime routine should involve switching off all the electronic distractions around the house.
A few rules
- If other older members within a typical joint family are uncomfortable changing their routine around the child’s bedtime, parents can ensure that at least the bedroom is secure and devoid of these harmful radiations.
- A good way is to maintain a separate switch for the Wi-Fi within the bedroom and switching it off before bedtime.
- Keeping your phones outside the bedroom will also reduce radiation within the room.
- Goes unsaid that the television and sound systems should be switched off and the room should be made quiet and peaceful before bedtime.
By taking these few easy yet important measures, you can set a healthy sleep timetable and make children sleep without any trouble at all. All he/she needs is a little assistance from your side and you need to maintain a positive bedtime discipline. That’s it, you’re sorted!
Is your toddler giving you sleeping woes? What is the bedtime toddler sleep routine that you follow for your child? Share your plans to make babies sleep better. Comment below!
We asked some parents on Twitter about their best advice to make children sleep and here’s what they had to say
@flintobox I either tire him to sleep or make sure he finishes his afternoon nap early in order to be sleepy by bed time again
— Being Mumma (@pranitasohony) June 1, 2016
@flintobox 3) I sing a few lullabies to her that are in “Neelambari” raga. Sleep-inducing, plus my not-so-great singing talent. 😜
— Kuppulakshmi (@Kuppulakshmi) June 1, 2016
— Sushma Mayekar (@sushmayekar) June 1, 2016
@flintobox I used to gently massage my kid’s feet while turning the Iights out. Singing lullabies helped although she’d start singing too. 😉
— Shailaja V (@shyvish) June 4, 2016
@flintobox my 2.5 year old daughter goes to sleep on a swing we have in our house. It is my personal time with her alone after days work.
— Mehul Desai (@imehul) June 1, 2016
— Avantika (@stunningmoon) June 1, 2016
— ani (@DanceEatRepeat) June 1, 2016
@flintobox there was a time I sang songs to make him sleep. Thank God I dont have to do that anymore!
— Anu Shankar (@anushankarn) June 4, 2016
@flintobox I used to gently massage my kid’s feet while turning the Iights out. Singing lullabies helped although she’d start singing too. 😉
— Shailaja V (@shyvish) June 4, 2016
— Vinitha (@vinitha) June 4, 2016
@flintobox nothing quite like singing a monotonous song on a loop. If not the kids, guaranteed to put you to sleep 😊
— Sathya Ramaganapathy (@sathyarg) June 4, 2016
@flintobox I tell him a story and listen to his tales and slowly unwind as we drift of to sleep with a smile.
— Inderpreet Uppal (@indywrites) June 4, 2016
@flintobox A relaxing bath,Lots of cuddling,Short inspiring stories, Songs & prayers recited together. Sometimes I slept first.
— Vidya Devi Sury (@vidyasury) June 4, 2016