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Winning bedtime battles: how to help your kids sleep

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

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While many kids do fine once they are finally down for the count, getting them settled can be a struggle. When a child lies awake, though, it is not always a sleep problem. Late bedtimes and too much stimulation can be to blame. Even getting up later on the weekends can wreak havoc on a child’s weeknight sleep pattern.

School-aged children need between nine and 12 hours of sleep every night. If you’re losing sleep over your children’s bedtime routine, try these tips to help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

During the day

  • Establish a routine. Letting kids “sleep in” on the weekends can have a ripple effect the following week. Stick to regular bedtimes and waking times.
  • Plan for regular naps. Maintaining consistent nap times may help kids wind down on their own because they know when naps are coming. If possible, avoid scheduling activities that conflict with nap time. Children thrive on routine.
  • Limit caffeine and sweets. Both can cause a spike in energy and make it difficult for a child to wind down for bed, even when consumed hours before.
  • Encourage physical activity. Any kind of exercise or play activity at least three hours before bedtime can help children dispel energy and tire them out.

In the evening

  • Turn off the TV. Watching television before bed can make it harder for kids to fall asleep and may even cause nightmares. Computers and video games may have the same effect.
  • Try an earlier bedtime. A child who is fussy or distracted during the day may just be overtired. Move up his or her bedtime by 30 minutes to encourage extra shut-eye.
  • Don’t serve a large meal close to bedtime. If your child is still hungry after an early dinner, offer a small healthy snack. Stick to light carbohydrates like graham crackers or fruit and only provide the snack if your child asks for it.
  • Stick to a simple routine that ends in the child’s bedroom. A drawn-out combination of a toy-filled bath, three bedtime stories and a lullaby or two can seem more like playtime than sleep time to a child. Keep the bath low-key and limit the story to just one. Don’t let your child persuade you to read any more than that.
  • Try a “free pass.” If your child asks over and over for one last drink of water or trip to the bathroom before bed, give him or her a pass that can be exchanged for just one of those things. This strategy works well for curbing power struggles in kids ages 3 and up who understand how it works. Once the pass is used, no more requests are allowed!
  • Keep the room cool, dark and quiet. A too-warm room or too many blankets can disturb deep sleep. Use a night light if needed and turn off music or keep the volume very low. A white-noise machine can help drown out distracting sounds from outside.

View the original Winning bedtime battles: how to help your kids sleep article on myOptumHealth.com 


  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Star sleeper: Sleep tips for your children. Accessed: 08/24/2007
  • Moore B, Friman P, Fruzzetti A, MacAleese K. Brief report: evaluating the Bedtime Pass Program for child resistance to bedtime – a randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 2007;32:283-287.
  • National Sleep Foundation. Sleep for Kids: Sleep tips. Accessed: 08/24/2007


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