How To Help Your Kid Get Better Sleep

Without Fighting About It

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not good at getting enough sleep. The bad sleep habits I adopted as a high school student—sleep as little as possible to cram productivity into my day—have absolutely followed me into adulthood. This may be true for you, too.

But I know sleep is important. Since I'm far from an expert, I turned to one of my favorite books on parenting + confidence: The Self-Driven Child, by Ned Johnson and Dr. Bill Stixrud. (I recommend it to everyone.)  

The authors promote sleep as a form of “radical downtime”, a way for stressed and over-scheduled kids to reclaim wellness and stability in their lives. Even though they generally promote independent decision-making for kids, they encourage parents to lean in and steer their child in the direction of getting more sleep. 

Here are some insights on how to help kids get more sleep (without provoking too many power struggles) that I’ve learned from them, other researchers, and my own experiences trying to get kids to do things that are good for them, but not fun.

1️⃣ Clue them into the science behind sleep.

Kids tend to be interested in information about how their brains work, and reasoning trumps “I told you so” any day. Let them know about what scientists say about sleep: that kids need around nine hours of it, and that it can help improve reaction times, decision-making, mental recall, and overall happiness and health. 

Your kid might think “Sure, that’s true for most people. But I’m pretty tough. I don’t need as much sleep.” You might consider sharing with them articles like this one, about how sleep scientists work with professional athletes. Even the most physically and mentally tough people in the world need lots of high-quality sleep!

2️⃣ Build a wind-down routine that works.

“Quality over quantity,” the saying goes. In the case of sleep, both quality and quantity matter, and quantity comes in part from how you prepare. 

Experts have identified plenty of tools that lead to increased sleep quality.

  • Lower light before bedtime.

  • Keeping phones out of the bedroom.

  • Relaxation tapes.

  • Exercise during the day.

  • Even warm milk—yep, that old chestnut—has been proven to have a positive effect on sleep quality. 

Use the list above, add a few ideas of your own, and sit down with your child to come up with a set of strategies that work for you both. Try it out for a few weeks and ask yourselves whether things are working better. Don’t be afraid to change up the techniques if you need to!

There’s no “standard” wind-down routine because there’s no such thing as a “standard” kid. But by following the science on what tends to work, and coming up with a routine that’s easy for you and your kid, you’ll be improving their sleep, even if they don’t spend an extra second in bed. 

This gives your kid a little more control over their sleep routine—which may make them more cooperative—while still insisting they get enough of it. 

3️⃣ Keep routines around sleep as consistent as possible. 

What time your kid goes to sleep is largely out of everyone’s control. But what time your kid is in bed with the lights out is something you can agree on and enforce. And researchers find that a consistent sleep routine—not just quantity and quality of sleep—is a key ingredient in wellness. (Obviously, it’s OK to vary the routine on weekends and for special events.)

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