9 Things That Interfere with Kids' Sleep

9 Things That Interfere with Kids' Sleep

Girl awake in bed, kids' sleep problems
If your child is not sleeping well or has trouble going to bed, there may be a reason for her sleep problems. KidStock/Getty Images

School-age kids may not need as much sleep as they did when they were toddlers, but their bodies still require plenty of rest. Kids ages 6 to 13 need approximately 9 to 11 hours of sleep and preschool and kindergarten kids ages 3 to 5 need as much as 10 to 13 hours of shut-eye (exactly how much depends on a child's individual sleep needs).

But school-age children have a lot of things that compete for their attention and cause them to fight going to bed and interfere with their getting enough sleep. At the same time, it becomes more important than ever that they get enough rest since poor sleep can lead to attention and behavioral problems, not doing well in school, increased risk for weight gain, and even reduced immune system health (which can be a big problem for school-age kids since they spend a lot of time in close contact and need to fight off colds and other infections that are passed around in school). Here are the top most common reasons why your child may not be getting a good night's sleep:

Electronic Devices

Girl texting on cell phone on bed can interfere with kids' sleep
Having a cell phone in the bedroom can interfere with kids' sleep. Emma Kim/Getty Images

TV, cell phones, video games--there's no shortage of screens calling for your child's attention, and statistics show that even young children are connected to devices. Not only are these attention vampires addictive and increase the odds that people will ignore each other to stare at their screens (a phenomenon called "phubbing"), but studies have shown that they can interfere with falling asleep and staying asleep. (This can be a particularly problematic for kids since they need to get enough sleep to be alert and focused in school.)

Don't let kids watch TV or play video games at least an hour before bedtime, and do something quiet and soothing instead, like taking a bath or reading a book with you. And keep TVs, computers, and other screens out of your child's bedroom. Even small screens, such as smartphones, have been shown to cause sleep problems for kids when they're allowed in kids' bedrooms. A January, 2015 study of more than 2,000 kids in 4th to 7th grade published in Pediatrics found that children who sleep near a smartphone or another small-screen device get less sleep than kids who are not allowed to have these types of devices in their bedrooms.

Abrupt Transition to Bed

Kids' sleep problems - mother tucking daughter into bed
A good bedtime routine with time for transitions can prevent kids' sleep problems. KidStock/Getty Images

It's tough for anyone--a child or a grownup--to abruptly go from being awake to falling asleep without some time and bedtime routines to transition from one to the other. School-age kids--especially younger ones--need a bit of time to go from one thing to another, whether it's going from one place to another or going to sleep. If you don't allow your child to have some time to wind down before she heads to bed, chances are she won't be able to fall sleep right away.

Give your child some time to go from being awake to being asleep by making sure there's quiet and peace at bath time, during teeth brushing, and while reading a book. Have your child put away her toys and books--which can be a relaxing activity--and try some stretching or a few yoga poses. Play some quiet music and dim the lights to get your child into the mindset of rest and bedtime.

Inconsistent Bedtimes

girl watching tablet at night - kids' sleep problems
Inconsistent bedtimes can cause kids' sleep problems. Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Another problem that can interfere with kids' sleep is expecting a child to go to bed at a certain time one night and then at a very different time another night. For example, some parents might allow a school-age child to stay up late and watch a movie or email or text friends on weekends and then expect that she'll go to bed earlier on a school night without a problem. Unfortunately, inconsistent bedtime will only lead to kids being more tired the next day and not being able to fall asleep at her regular bedtime. And the idea of letting kids catch up on sleep on weekends doesn't work because some kids wake up early anyway (as many bleary-eyed parents will attest), or they sleep in really late and then are even less likely to be sleepy at an early bedtime during the school week. In short, having late nights doesn't really make up for the "sleep debt" that builds up over time.

Your child may protest that it's not fair because her friends get to stay up, but be firm: Not straying too far from regular bedtime and ensuring that your child gets anywhere from 9 to 11 hours of sleep (recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for kids ages 6 to 13), is an important way to avoid kids' sleep problems and make sure your child gets the rest she needs.

Not Having a Good Bedtime Routine

bedtime routines help children sleep
A good bedtime routine can help children sleep. JGI/Jamie Grill/ Getty Images

If your child has trouble falling asleep at night, it might be time to take a look at his nighttime routine. Having a good bedtime routine is important for kids; a relaxing warm bath, soft lights and music, and a nice book can all be part of a nightly ritual that signals to kids that it's time to wind down and relax, and will send kids off to dreamland in no time. And the more you do it, the more your child is likely to get used to the routine and fall asleep more easily. Bonus: Lots of great bedtime routines, like reading a book or doing some relaxing stretches together, are wonderful opportunities to communicate with kids and strengthen your relationship.


Girl eating chocolate
Watch for hidden sources of caffeine too close to bedtime to prevent kids' sleep problems. Maike Jessen/Getty Images

Another culprit that may interfere with kids' sleep may be hidden in her diet: caffeine. If your child's dessert or a late-day snack often includes chocolate--say, a chocolate chip cookie, chocolate milk, or any other chocolatey treat, your child may well be having sleep problems because chocolate contains caffeine. Other hidden sources of caffeine that kids may ingest include bottled fruity teas (they are still teas, and have caffeine, not to mention huge amounts of sugar), energy drinks, sports drinks, energy bars, and even some non-cola sodas.

Being Overtired

girl jumping on bed - kids' sleep problems
If your child is overactive at night, she may be overtired. MoMo Productions/Getty Images

If your child is acting more hyper and energized than sleepy at night, that doesn't mean that she should go to bed later; in fact, it may be a sign that she's overtired and needs more sleep. You probably saw this kind of behavior when your child was a toddler in serious need of a nap. But just because your school-age kid is not napping during the day anymore, it doesn't mean that she's always able to regulate herself and say, "Gee, I'm tired; I really need to go to bed now." If you see your child behaving in an uncharacteristic way, running around, and acting more hyper and energized than usual, break out those good bedtime routines and get her ready for bed.

Getting Riled Up Before Bed

Kids' sleep problems - dad pillow fight with kids
Pillow fights may be fun but may cause kids' sleep problems at night. Chris Ryan/Getty Images

Pillow fights may be fun, but getting kids too excited right before bedtime is bound to keep them energized instead of relaxed. Be sure kids have lots of physical activity during the day and stick to quiet and calm activities before kids start their bedtime routine.

Bedroom That's Not Set Up for a Good Night's Sleep

boy sleeping in bed - kids' sleep problems
A bedroom that's too warm can cause kids' sleep problems. Tetra Images/Daniel Grill/ Getty Images

If your child's bedroom is too warm or cluttered or not dark enough (with the exception of a night light if he wants one, of course), he may not be able to relax enough to ease into sleep. Get any electronic screen devices, such as tablets or phones or any other screens, out of his bedroom ASAP. Consider playing some soft music, turn out the lights (and get light-blocking shades if need be), and make his room a tranquil oasis that invites rest and relaxation.

Night Terrors, Nightmares, Restless Leg Syndrome, or Other Sleep Disorders

kids' sleep problems, nightmares - girl scared in bed
Nightmares and night terrors can cause kids' sleep problems. PeopleImages/Getty Images

Your child may also experience sleep problems such as apnea, restless leg syndrome, nightmares, night terrors, or insomnia. Talk to your pediatrician if you suspect that your child may have a sleep problem that has a physiological cause, or that isn't going away, even after you try all the strategies above.

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