Trouble Getting Your Kids to Sleep? You're Not Alone, Poll Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • About 1 in 4 parents have trouble getting their child to sleep

  • Poor sleep hygiene contributes to this

  • Kids also are kept awake by their own fears and worries

MONDAY, June 17, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 1 in 4 parents struggle to get their child to sleep, a new poll reports.

Some of this is related to poor sleep hygiene, but some also is due to dark worries harbored by the kids, researchers report.

Parents of sleepless children are less likely to have a bedtime routine, more likely to leave on a video or TV show and more likely to stay with their child until they’re asleep, researchers said.

“Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial,” said Sarah Clark, a pediatrician and co-director of the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

“When this transition to bedtime becomes a nightly conflict, some parents may fall into habits that work in the moment but could set them up for more sleep issues down the road,” Clark said in a university news release.

However, nearly a quarter of parents say their children’s sleep is often or occasionally delayed because they’re worried or anxious.

More than a third of parents say their child tends to wake upset or crying in the night. More than 40% say their child moves to their parents’ bed and about 30% say the kid insists a parent sleep in their room.

“Many young children go through stages when they become scared of the dark or worry that something bad might happen, causing them to delay bedtime or become distressed by parents leaving the room. Bad dreams or being awakened in the middle of the night can also disrupt sleep,” Clark said.

“Although this is a normal part of a child’s development, it can be frustrating when parents already feel tired themselves at the end of the day,” Clark said. “Parents should find a balance between offering reassurance and comfort while maintaining some boundaries that help ensure everyone -- both kids and adults -- get adequate sleep.”

About 1 in 5 parents say they have given their kids melatonin to help them sleep, a move that experts say should be approached with caution.

Melatonin products have not undergone rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness, and their long-term impact on a child’s growth and development is unknown, Clark said.

“Although melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and may be fine to use occasionally, parents shouldn’t rely on it as a primary sleep aid,” Clark said. “Parents who are considering giving melatonin to their young child should consult with their pediatrician to discuss options and rule out other causes of sleep problems first.”  

Parents would do better to stick to a consistent bedtime routine, which helps smooth the transition to sleep.

Most parents polled said they had such a routine, which might include brushing teeth, bathing or reading bedtime stories. Less than half of parents said their routine includes having a drink of water or a snack, turning off devices, saying bedtime prayers or talking about their day.

“A predictable bedtime routine provides a sense of security and comfort and signals to the child that it’s time to slow down,” Clark said. “Knowing what to expect next can reduce anxiety and help children feel safe and relaxed. Having this dedicated time with parents also promotes bonding and emotional connection, creating positive associations with bedtime.”

Nearly two-thirds of parents said children staying up to play is a major factor in delaying sleep. Kids should start winding down at least an hour before bed.

A calm, quiet sleep environment also can help kids drift off to slumberland.

More than two-fifths of parents said noise from other rooms interferes with their child’s sleep, results show.

“The sleep environment can have a major effect on a child’s sleep quality, including getting to sleep and staying asleep through the night,” Clark said.

In addition, most kids don’t have their own room, which can add to bedtime distractions.

Less than half of parents said their child has their own bedroom, while about a quarter share a bedroom with siblings or sleep in their parents’ bedroom.

“When possible, children should have their own bed in a room that is quiet, without a lot of noise from other family members,” Clark said.

Parents can ease kids’ anxiety by spending a little time with them at bedtime, giving them a chance to talk about any specific worries they might have.

But rather than remaining in the room, parents can offer to check on the child every few minutes. That can reassure a kid while making sure their sleep environment remains calm.

“Families can incorporate comforting rituals to help transform nighttime fears into a calming experience,” Clark said.

More information

The Sleep Foundation has more on bedtime routines for children.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, June 17, 2024

What This Means For You

Parents should create a calming bedtime ritual for their children, and make sure the kids have a quiet sleep environment.

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