5 Tips for Ending Bedtime Struggles
Pediatric occupational therapist offers advice for healthy nighttime routines to lull children off to dreamland
It's the end of the day and your little one is cuter than ever in his dinosaur-covered fleece footie pajamas. There's just one thing between early evening and some relaxation time for mom and dad: the often dreaded bedtime.
"As human beings, we all crave routine—it's what helps our brains function effectively. This is especially true for the bedtime routine for children," says Joy Doll, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Creighton University. "Children need to know that the daily routine of going to bed is going to be consistent so they get the sleep they need to recharge and be able to engage as fully as possible in play and school to ensure good development."
Doll and the American Occupational Therapy Association offer the following tips for successfully sending children off to dreamland:
- Establish a specific bedtime routine. Select a bedtime based on the child's age and schedule and stick to it, even on weekends and on vacation. Share reminders that bedtime is coming throughout the evening by explaining the upcoming evening activities of eating dinner, play time, bath time, and putting on pajamas. Establish a regular sequence of events that includes your child's participation, such as choosing books to read and songs to sing, and asking the child what comes next.
- Help the child relax. To help the child unwind, avoid caffeine, exercise, and TV immediately before bedtime. Focus on cleaning up toys and playing music to help the child calm down and signal that bedtime is arriving.
- Ensure that the child is safe. Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by keeping blankets and stuffed animals out of the crib, place nightlights in the bedroom and bathroom for trips to the potty, keep blinds cords out of reach, and consider bed rails or a bedside pillow to prevent and cushion falls out of bed.
- Help the child feel comfortable. Make checking the closet and under the bed part of the routine for kids who are afraid of "monsters." Consider sensory issues like scratchy or too tight pajamas, room temperature, lighting, and kitchen smells. Support the child by instilling confidence that he or she can overcome anxieties or fears that interfere with sleep.
- Foster sleeping independence. At 2 months of age, place the child in bed prior to being asleep so he or she can learn to fall asleep independently. Older children should go to bed at an established time, even if they do not feel tired.
Sleep is one of the many daily occupations (activities) that occupational therapy practitioners help to promote. If a child has trouble maintaining a healthy bedtime routine or has consistent issues with falling asleep and staying asleep, an occupational therapist can conduct an evaluation to identify a potential underlying health concern and/or provide additional strategies.
"Occupational therapists play a pivotal role in helping children and adults to live life to its fullest potential," says Doll. "They can offer advice on how to make sleep something the child sees as part of a good, healthy lifestyle, and reduce the stress of everyone in the family."
To view the American Occupational Therapy Association's tip sheet on Establishing Bedtime Routines for Children, visit AOTA's bedtime routines website.
To schedule an interview with Doll, or to learn more about occupational therapy's role with older adults, call AOTA Media Relations Manager Katie Riley, 301-652-6611, ext. 2963 or e-mail, email@example.com, or visit www.aota.org.
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA's major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.