Tired of Tired Children? Here's How to Get Them to Bed.

Why is it important for children to get enough sleep?

About 25 to 30 percent of children in the United States don't get enough sleep, and the American Psychological Association reports that 69% of children experience sleep problems at least a few nights a week. Which means parents often don't get the sleep they need either. And the whole family can become cranky and ill-prepared to handle daily stresses. A fatigued child will often have trouble:

1. Paying and maintaining attention.

2. Learning

3. Regulating their emotions,

4. Showing self-control.

All of which leads to a child who is difficult to deal with both at home and school.

Age of child 
No. of Hours Sleep 
1 year 
2 years 
3 years 
4 years
5 years
6 years
7 years
8 years
9 years
10 years
11 years
12-13 years
14 years
15 years
16 years
17-18 years
General Sleep Requirements from Dr. Ferber, M.D.

How Much Sleep do Children Need?

Children need more sleep when they are younger, which gradually reduces to 8 hours a day when they become adults. This chart outlines the typical sleep requirements as set out by Dr. Ferber in his book How to Solve Your Children's Sleep Problems.

However, even though growing children need sleep, they do not automatically go to bed and sleep soundly for the allotted amount of time. Most children will stay up as late as they can. Faced with a world of continuous stimuli, children don't want to miss a thing. And, consequently, sleep takes a back seat. So parents must set consistent bedtimes and adhere to them if they want their children to get the sleep they need.

This is not always easy. Children are not happy to be sent to bed when interesting things are happening all around them. They will often throw tantrums, cry and show other signs of distress.

Dr. Patrick Friman, Ph.D.
Dr. Patrick Friman, Ph.D.

What's the Best Way to Do This?

There are a number of methods parents can use to solve bedtime problems. According to Dr. Patrick Friman, Ph.D. and Director of Outpatient Behavioral Pediatric and Family Services Clinic at Boys Town, "most children can and will go to bed if parents create the right conditions and follow through consistently."

The first step is to develop a pre-bedtime ritual that prepares children for sleep in a nurturing way. Many children find the prospect of being alone in a dark room frightening. A loving ritual before bed can ease some of these fears. Dr. Friman recommends that a pre-bedtime ritual include the following things:

Winding down: Activities done prior to bed should be relaxing as opposed to stimulating. Taking a bath is a good winding down activity.

Using the bedroom as the setting: The ritual should be done in the bedroom with the child tucked under the covers and consist of a long loving good-night, a tucking in of stuff animals in preparation for sleep, or reading a quiet book. Tickling, wrestling, or other physical play is not a good idea.

Having the child sleepy but awake: Part of solving bedtime problems is to teach the child how to go to sleep by themselves. If put to bed sleepy but still awake, the child is aware of his or her surroundings and not as likely to be frightened when waking later in the dark room. If children are put to bed asleep, they don't have this same opportunity to orientate themselves.

Bedtime Pass

And After the Pre-bedtime Ritual?

What comes next in training your child to go to sleep and stay asleep will depend on the age of the child. Dr. Friman suggests a number of techniques that parents can employ across this spectrum of ages in his book, Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You. Now get into Bed and go to Sleep!

These include how to deal with children who come out of their room, who cry or call out, who resist and who run away. Dr. Friman explains that the older the child is, the more tactics he or she has in her arsenal. "Preschoolers put up a tougher fight when it comes to actually going to bed than toddlers."

An example of one of these techniques is the bedtime pass. Dr. Friman tested this innovative approach on 3 to 10 year olds, and it proved successful in increasing bedtime compliance. A simple process for any parent to use, the bedtime pass consists of a laminated paper with Bedtime Pass printed on it. (While laminating helps preserve the pass, a pass can be made out of anything.)

Once the child is in bed, the parent gives him or her the pass with the understanding that the pass is good for one easy request after the lights go out, such as getting a glass of water or having the parent check the bedroom.

Once the parent carries out the request, the pass must be surrendered. This process puts some control into the child's hand and limits the number of bedtime disruptions for the parent. Dr. Friman found that some children do not use the pass at all. "I'm not sure why they don't; possibly they are saving it for a rainy day or like the comfort of knowing the option is always there." After the rules are clear and the process is used for a few nights, Dr. Friman notes that most children will follow bedtime guidelines.

Solving Bedtime Problems

While getting a child to go to sleep seems like a simple enough task, many parents know it isn't. And the problem can disrupt the whole household no matter how old the child is. In his book, Dr. Friman suggests a few ways to make bedtime problems disappear and make life less frustrating for parents--ideas many parents will find useful as they tackle this issue.

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