Scrambling for Sleep: 10 Tips for Reducing Bedtime Battles


Is your family scrambling for sleep? Are you having a difficult time managing your child’s sleep habits? Poor bedtime routines are often the cause of many stress related behaviors that might be upsetting the apple cart in your home.

Adults know first hand that poor sleep can make us irritable, tired, unfocused, emotional and impulsive. But did you know that 60% of America’s children don’t get enough sleep, especially children with autism, which can affect more than just their mood and behavior.

Not getting enough sleep can also lead to:

  • more meltdowns the following day
  • problems with learning, reasoning and memory
  • weight gain, increased anxiety and stress related disorders.
  • a false diagnosis of ADHD.

We know getting our nightly quota of quality z’s will make us and our children function better in all aspects of life. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that the amount of deep sleep a child gets “dramatically enhances changes in brain connections during early development”.

Many studies have proven that a good night’s sleep will have a positive impact on brain development, mood and attention span. In addition to helping a child be more successful at school, adequate sleep will also improve their behavior at home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infants require up to 18 hours of sleep a night, toddlers 11-15 hours, school age children 9 -12 hours and teens should receive 8.5 – 9.5 hours to function at their best.

Unfortunately, achieving this goal is not always easy when you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and getting them to bed on time and to sleep is often a parent’s greatest challenge. If you find yourself struggling with your children when it comes to bedtime here are ten tips to help you establish and maintain a calm and consistent nightly ritual that benefits everyone:

  1. Start young to establish regular and consistent bedtimes because it will only become more difficult to create a routine as the kids get older. Once you have determined a bedtime for weekdays and weekends, stick to them and don’t give in to whining.
  2. Sit down with your partner and discuss what you would like to see and experience at bedtime then make a plan that is agreeable to both of you. Presenting a unified front to your children and supporting each other is very important. If you are a single parent, take some quality time by yourself to think about what you want to have happen, formulating a specific goal will help you approach it with more confidence.
  3. Once you have identified a bedtime you feel is best, work towards it slowly by moving bedtime up in 15-min intervals. Sudden changes from an 8:30pm to a 7:30pm bedtime can set any child off, especially a child with special needs that struggles with change.
  4. Develop a calming atmosphere throughout the house as soon as possible after dinner to encourage a state of relaxation in everyone. Minimize noise, subdue lighting and encourage quiet activities.
  5. Create a sensory friendly bedroom for your child. Make sure your child’s sleeping environment is not having a negative impact on their sleep. Pay attention to noise level, lighting, smell, texture of sheets and blankets, firmness of pillow, quality of air, color of walls, and even the way nighttime shadows get displayed.
  6. Avoid overstimulation by limiting screen machine time. Computers, television and video games will always have a place in our culture but it is important not to allow them to negatively impact your child’s life style.  TV shows, video games and violent movies only serve to heighten arousal in children and make it more difficult for them to want to sleep.
  7. Never place a TV in a child’s bedroom. In addition to unnecessary stimulus it offers it creates a situation that is almost impossible to control and manage later on.
  8. Expose your child to lots of fresh air and exercise on a daily basis to help them achieve a natural state of sleepiness as night approaches. Active children fall asleep faster and sleep longer so keep your child in motion as much as possible during the day. If despite your efforts, they don’t fall asleep the minute they hit the pillow remember all the other health benefits you are providing them with.
  9. In addition to giving your child a bath, consider a gentle massage to help him or her relax physically and mentally. If your child cannot tolerate that level of touch, begin with some type of contact they can endure and gradually increase it. If your child sees an occupational therapist you may want to ask him or her for suggestions.
  10. If sleep problems persist despite your best efforts, make an appointment with your child’s primary health care provider so that any physical conditions or drug interactions can be ruled out.

Despite well meaning attempts to create positive nighttime habits, bedtime may not always be perfect and your bedtime routine will often need to be adjusted at regular intervals as your children develop. The important thing is to commit to a gradual process and stick to it. If you find yourself having occasional bedtime battles don’t get discouraged, maintain your patience and lower your expectations but keep moving forward.

Remember, getting your child to sleep better will reap countless benefits for them, as well as many added bonuses for you. Would you actually say no to more quiet time for recharging your batteries or the opportunity to get more sleep yourself?

What has worked for you to help your child get to bed and nod of to dreamland?

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