Preparing Before Bedtime
- Try to spend time playing outside for 1 hour. This can be done anytime during the day, or break up the time into shorter intervals. Exercise helps tire kids out, but it also increases melatonin production – the hormone that helps us fall asleep.
- Avoid any screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime. The blue light from TV, computer, and tablet screens suppresses melatonin and disrupts circadian rhythms.
Sticking to a Bedtime Routine
- Children thrive when they are aware of expectations and are engaged in familiar activities. The same routine each night will make falling asleep and staying asleep much easier. Make sure to also keep bedtime the same regardless of how long naps are each day.
- A visual schedule can often be helpful for both children and parents to maintain their bedtime routine each night.
- Throughout your routine, have your child perform animal walks (crab walk, bear crawl, frog hop) in between rooms and activities, such as in between teeth brushing, putting on pajamas, and reading a story. These gross motor movements provide input to their busy bodies that organizes their nervous system before lying down for bed.
- Have a calming routine that includes things like a warm bath with firm squeezes or a back massage as you dry them. This is done by putting one hand at the top of the spine and one at the bottom. Slowly move the top hand down the spine giving firm but gentle pressure with your fingers. Immediately before the top hand reaches the bottom hand, move the bottom hand to the top of the spine.
Creating a Relaxing Environment
- While holding your child against your chest, engage in deep breathing exercises. Your child will feel your breathing and your decrease in heart rate, and their body will begin to match yours and relax in preparation for sleep.
- Diffuse lavender fragrance (or any fragrance that has relaxing properties and is soothing to your child) in your child’s bathroom and bedroom. You can diffuse lavender scent using an air fragrance, essential oils, or even lavender bubble bath during bath time. The chosen fragrance should be used only at bedtime in order to develop association with sleep and bedtime routine. Keep in mind, allergies, sensitive skin, asthma, or other issues specific to your child, should be taken into consideration so that bedtime can be a healthy and enjoyable experience for both you and your child.
- Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature. Our body temperature needs to drop in order to fall and stay asleep.
- If your child does not want the lights turned all the way off, dim the lights or turn on a nightlight with calming visuals.
Staying in Bed
- Having trouble keeping your child in bed? Try using a bedtime pass to set limits on how many times they get out of bed. Allow them a certain number of bedtime passes or tokens to get out of bed. If they don't use all their passes up, they can get a reward.
- If your child wants you to get in bed with them or to get into your bed, tell them they have to go in their bed, but you will lay down on the floor beside their bed for a little while. Each night, move a little further away from their bed until you are out in the hall. It usually takes a few weeks or more to get them sleeping in their own bed, but it is very effective.
- Using ambient sound machines can keep your child relaxed while in their room and drown out any household noises that may wake them.
If your child continues to struggle with getting a good night’s sleep after the age of 2 and these strategies are not effective after trying them for a few weeks, we would be happy to provide a free consultation or screening at BDI Playhouse.
Written and Edited by: Kourtney Bautz with contributions from the Occupational Therapy team at
BDI Playhouse Children's Therapy