When your child is not getting enough sleep, or not getting the right kind of sleep, the clearest telltale signs are grogginess and excessive irritability or fussiness. A tired child is much more likely to whine and tantrum and “melt down,” or to display unusually insecure, “clingy” behavior. A child who hasn’t been sleeping well might also simply fall asleep at unlikely times, such as in the car. A small child’s physical coordination may also suffer; clumsiness and dropping things a lot may also be an indicator that a child is not getting proper rest.
Probably the best way to make sure your child sleeps well is to establish consistent routines around bedtimes and naps. Ways to do this include the following:
Stay true to a predictable schedule. If bedtime is, say, 7 p.m., do not vary it. Children will always push back against limits, and that’s okay. You can build in a certain amount of (predictable) flexibility by giving your child choices, such as whether they want you to read them one more book, or bring them one more glass of water. But they should get used to certain inalterable limits.
Make bedtime a sweet time. Send your child off into dreamland with pleasant thoughts and warm feelings. Cuddle them a while if they want, sing to them, or have a soft conversation about all the people they love, or the day that just happened, or what they have to look forward to tomorrow.
Reduce stimulation. Turn off computer and television screens for at least a couple of hours before bed. Studies have shown that kids who spend a lot of time playing video games have more difficulty sleeping. Also, unplug all unnecessary electrical appliances in your child’s room, and place the necessary ones as far as possible from your child’s bed. These devices emit electrical energy that can potentially interfere with sound sleep.
Optimize the sleeping environment. Make sure your child is neither too warm nor too cold, and that the sleeping area is clean and free of dust. Be sure your child fits comfortably in his or her pajamas. If your child has congestion or seems physically ill at ease, have your child tested for allergies.
Allow bedtime comfort food. Breakfast-y items like bananas or a little milk or even toast with peanut butter can help a child settle in to sleep. Don’t overdo it, but if your child enjoys a small bedtime snack, include this in your routine.
If all these strategies fail to help, it may be time to consult your pediatrician about what may be causing your child to have difficulty sleeping.