How much does it absolutely suck to get in bed at night and just lie there because you can’t figure out how to fall asleep? How much worse is it when your kids won’t sleep for one reason or another? Healthy sleep is a big topic with a lot to know and a lot to learn, for both adults and children. As a parent, you’ve probably wondered how to stay awake (especially during your child’s newborn phase) or how to wake up early (when do kids start sleeping in?!). However, the question you’ve probably pondered more for you and your child is the amount of sleep you both need — and how to fall asleep so you can be sure everyone is hitting that mark. Here’s the thing: Numerous studies exist on how much sleep you truly need in a night, and the number changes as you age, but the hard part is actually falling asleep and staying asleep.
Many factors can affect your quality of sleep, which means there are plenty of ways to help yourself fall asleep faster and have a good night’s sleep. We’ll go ahead and warn you now that you might not like some of these recommendations, but perhaps once you and your littles start having more peaceful nights, you’ll understand why these are all good changes to make in your lives.
How to Help Kids Sleep Better
When it comes to helping children fall asleep faster (and stay asleep), parents can do a few things. First and foremost, it’s crucial for parents to set up a bedtime routine from an early age. And when we say early age, we mean when your little ones are infants. “It is critical that young children (beginning around four to five months of age) learn to fall asleep on their own, in their own bassinet or crib,” says pediatrician Dr. Robert Hamilton, MD, FAAP, of Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. “The early establishment of healthy sleep patterns makes a difference in children, and these early practices can help later.”
We know how stressful it can be to get a baby to sleep — and sleep consistently — but setting up these healthy sleep habits from the beginning will be beneficial as your child grows. Many things can affect a child’s ability to sleep, including school-related stress, family-related stress, illness, travel, and more. If your kid is experiencing sleeplessness for a short period but goes back to normal healthy sleeping habits, you may not need to be concerned. But if you notice a marked difference in the quality of your child’s sleep, it might be time to intervene.
Pediatrician Dr. Sara Siddiqui, MD, of NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group, can’t recommend sleep journals enough because they can clearly pinpoint sleep issues. “A sleep journal for two weeks can help identify and keep track of sleep and awake times, number of nighttime awakenings, daytime sleepiness, or symptoms during the day,” she says. You can then take this sleep journal to your pediatrician to further discuss ways to help your child have better sleep hygiene.
If your child, though, just has consistently poor sleep habits, you need to address them — it’s detrimental to their physical and mental health not to get enough sleep each night. Pediatrician Dr. Gina Posner, MD, of MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, noted that one of the most important things parents can do is enforce a consistent sleep schedule. Like Dr. Hamilton advised, you should set up that sleep schedule early on. You can adjust it as your child ages and needs a different amount of sleep, but make sure you’re sticking with it.
While you and your children might be tempted to sleep the day away on a Saturday simply because you can, it won’t help your sleeping patterns during the week. Instead, have your kids get up at close to the same time on Saturdays and Sundays as they do during the school week’s morning routine. It will keep them on a schedule and get them in that routine of sleeping the right amount of hours each night. Dr. Posner also strongly recommends not letting older kids nap in the middle of the day on a regular basis.
How to Fall Asleep Fast for Kids
As for getting your children to fall asleep faster, the pediatricians we spoke to all largely recommend the same few things:
- Incorporates a little exercise or rigorous playtime into their schedule. (This will make them extra tired around bedtime!)
- Put away the phones!
- Avoid giving them sugary snacks a few hours before bedtime.
- Relax before bedtime.
- Keep your child’s bedroom set at a cool temperature, like around 65 to 70 degrees. And make sure they’re wearing breathable cotton pajamas. A cooler room will help your child drift off to sleep faster compared to if they’re hot.
- Take a warm bath.
- Stick to a schedule.
- Turn off the TV.
- Talk to your child’s pediatrician about their sleep schedule. If your child has an incredibly hard time going to bed, check in with your health care provider about alternative tricks you can try.
How to Fall Asleep for Adults
Getting your kid to fall asleep can be a solid first step toward your path to bedtime, too. But if the events of the day leave you feeling wired, here are a few ways for adults to best prepare for some good ZZZs:
- Dump the electronics: We know how tempting it is to scroll TikTok before bed, but the harsh light from your phone screen isn’t doing you any favors. When you get in bed, turn your phone to silent mode and leave it out of reach.
- Take a warm bath or shower: Allowing yourself to relax in a bath or shower about an hour before bedtime can help ease your mind and body to prepare for sleep. Studies have proven the efficacy of this method if you can make the time for it.
- Try aromatherapy: Lavender and chamomile are both known to help induce sleep. Try washing with lavender soap before bed, putting lavender or chamomile essential oils in a diffuser at bedtime, or even putting the essential oil directly on your skin. One method is to put the oil on your feet and then put socks on.
- Remove all distractions: We mean all of them. Turn off the TV, find another place for your pets to sleep (if they’re disruptive), leave that phone on the bedside table, put on an eye mask. Anything that sometimes trips you up when you’re trying to fall asleep — find a way to eliminate it (within reason).
- Make your room calming: This can vary based on what you need, but maybe you need blackout curtains to block that annoying street light right outside the window. Or perhaps you need a white noise machine to drown out the neighbor’s dog barking. Figure out what you need to make your room more zen and stick with it.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime: While some foods get credit for being helpful with sleep, you’re probably better off just not eating too close to bedtime. Not only can eating before sleep make your stomach do funny things, but you might end up eating something that makes you stay awake longer. So, it goes without saying: Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Meditate or do yoga: Spend a few minutes doing either a gentle yoga sequence to clear your mind or just meditating. Both of these should hopefully rid your brain of some of the stress of the day that prevents sleep.
- Close your eyes and visualize peace: No, but really. Get in bed, shake off the day, close your eyes, and visualize the most peaceful place you can think of. If it’s a beach without your partner and kids, that’s OK. Whatever it takes to help you sleep at night.
- Adjust the temperature in your room. If you sleep better when it’s cold, turn down the thermostat or flip on the air conditioner. And make the proper adjustments if you like your bedroom warm and toasty. To fall asleep, your home should be at the ideal temperature for your comfort.
- Draw a mental image in your head. This is a calming mental exercise to ease your mind before bed. Think of a painting or a beautiful view, then try to paint it in your mind.
- Don’t look at the clock. When you wake up in the middle of the night or go to bed a little later than you planned, avoid checking the clock. Fixating on time can cause anxiety, making it harder to go to sleep. Some people calculate how many hours of rest they have left, which causes even more stress. Checking the time leads to swirling thoughts, so if you wake up in the middle of the night, try to lay there until you drift back to sleep.
If this list looks incredibly similar to the tips for kids, it’s because it is. Helping children fall asleep faster is very similar to how you can fall asleep faster, and all of this contributes to a better night of sleep all around. But while many of these can work for kids as well, we strongly advise having a conversation with your pediatrician if your child is struggling with sleep.