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Encouraging Healthy Sleep Habits for Kids

Did you know March is National Sleep Awareness Month? This is a great time to reflect on your family’s sleep habits and search for ways to improve both the quantity and quality of sleep. Healthy sleep habits drastically support your child’s physical and mental health. Try practicing healthy sleep habits together as a family to help everyone build strong bodies and minds!

Benefits of sleep for a child:

  • Supports emotional regulation – improves overall mood

  • Helps with decision making

  • Boosts memory and attention – improves school performance

  • Increases physical energy

  • Strengthens the immune system & lowers the risk for health problems

  • Reduces stress

Sleep deprivation (or the lack of consistent sleep) impacts a child’s:

  • Hormones

  • Growth

  • Brain development

  • Frequency of illnesses

  • Negative emotions and overall emotional regulation

Tips for a healthy bedtime routine:

  1. Have a consistent daily bed and wake time (weekdays and weekends should be the same)

  2. Encourage your child to be a part of the process.

  3. Ask your child what steps come next to reinforce the routine.

  4. Offer choices of books, songs, etc., and suggest they pick out their comfort item(s).

  5. Avoid giving your child complete control and allowing the routine to change.

  6. Be present. Avoid multitasking during this time with your child.

  7. Have a positive mindset about bedtime.

  8. Do not skip any step of your child’s bedtime creating – consistency is key to create a sense of comfort and security.

  9. Keep the bedtime routine to under 60 minutes.

  10. Use a transitional item throughout, such as a blanket or a soft toy. This may aid in relaxation for your child.

  11. Assure your child feels safe.

  12. Limit liquid intake right before bedtime and avoid caffeine (like sodas and chocolate) late in the day.

  13. Set a rule that the bed is for sleeping only – not a play space.

  14. Be sure your child is not going to bed hungry or too full.

  15. Put your child to bed awake so they learn to fall asleep themselves.

  16. Be gentle but firm if your child protests.

  17. Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle unsupervised. This can lead to choking or tooth decay.

  18. Check the environment – temperature, sounds, lights.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping soft objects and loose bedding out of the sleeping area for at least the first 12 months. This recommendation is based on data on infant sleep deaths and guidelines for reducing the risk of SIDS.

Suggested sleep time for children:



Total Sleep Time



14 to 17 hours



12 to 16 hours



11 to 14 hours


10 to 13 hours


9 to 12 hours


8 to 10 hours

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Bedtime routine example:

  • Step 1: Turn off screens at least 1 hour before bedtime.

  • Step 2: Consider a nutritious light snack or bottle.

  • Step 3: Hygiene health including bathing, brushing teeth, diaper change.

  • Step 4: Practice a calming activity such as journaling, reading, listening to relaxing music.

  • Step 5: Talking about their day and connecting with you.

  • Step 6: Massage, cuddling, rocking.

  • Step 7: Prepare the bedroom space – turn off lights, turn on sound machine, dehumidifiers, etc.

  • Step 8: Say goodnight.

Have a routine and notice your child is still finding bedtime difficult?

Inconsistent routines are typically the culprit. Children need (and thrive off) consistency and a routine they can rely on and where they know what to expect. Be sure to address any confusion or misunderstandings regarding their bedtime routine and stay consistent with your expectations.

Another common contributing factor to nighttime challenges is a child getting to bed too late. Overtired children do not always respond calmly or agreeably to bedtime, and you may notice more irritability (i.e., fussy, cranky, saying “no”). Revisit your child’s overall sleep for the day/night and be sure they are getting the suggested amount of sleep for their age.

Additionally, we know that children, like adults, at some point, will experience nightmares. Nightmares can happen for a multitude of reasons including stress, a recent emotional event, illness, or other. If this happens your child may call out for you due to their need to feel safe and comforted. Approach this in a calm manner and reassure your child – letting them know it is their imagination and it is not real. Some children may find it challenging to soothe themselves, therefore they have a higher desire for caregiver presence and for a longer time. If you believe there is a separation anxiety issue and your child is upset you are not there, try to cuddle before bedtime and provide a comfort item like a blanket or stuffed animal, or use a night light.


Have more questions or concerns regarding your child’s sleep habits?

The team at Hearts Connected is available to help. Schedule your free consult today to talk directly with one of our child life specialists about how we can support you and your family.

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