Bedtime Challenges - Getting Your Kid to Sleep

sleeping figurePsychologists have a bunch of methods for parents to try to get their kids to sleep. They have terms like "unmodified extinction", aka crying it out, which means leaving the kid in bed until morning, no matter how much crying or complaining goes on. "Graduated extinction" means the parent weans the kid from being around others by putting him or her to bed still awake, and slowly shifting the amount of time the parent waits with the child to shorter and shorter periods.

Another time-related trick is "bedtime fading" which calls for the slow rolling back of bedtimes of children who prefer to go to bed late. Sometimes psychologists also advocate counseling for problem sleepers and suggest the children and their parents construct a plan together to achieve a targeted bedtime. This makes it into a project for the kid. Good sleep hygiene is recommended for children, as it is for everyone. Kids can especially benefit from a set bedtime routine before they go to sleep, perhaps involving story reading, a bath, or changing into pajamas. This helps reinforce the child’s circadian clock.

What can parents do to help children get to sleep?

  1. Make the bedroom boring. Or at least dark and free of easy distractions. Televisions, computers, bright lights and electronic toys can disrupt the circadian cycle.
  2. Create a routine wind-down period before bedtime. Most adults and children find it difficult to sleep after exercise or other heavy physical activity. Resting before bed helps, and establishing a routine imbibes cues to promote sleep habits. Reading a story to small children is one way to do this, and even older children respond to a routine.
  3. Make bedtime fun! OK, that sounds a little corny, but good habits start early. Using "being sent to bed" as a punishment to bad behavior is a bad idea. Then bed becomes associated with losing or being punished. Talk up bedtime as a good thing, not a bad thing.


Children sometimes suffer from sleep-onset association disorder.

How much "should" kids sleep? The consensus answer is: more! Insufficient sleep causes poor academic performance, as many teachers know. Commenters have bemoaned the lack of a defiitive answer from science and noted that for decades and even centuries pundits have been recommending longer sleep times. However, a large study published in 2012 found that American kids in early childhood through early adolescence generally did get enough sleep.

A recent Swiss study found shorter sleep durations on weekends were associated with higher IQs. The researchers hypothesized that the higher IQ kids had better sleep efficiencies.


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