Child sleep: Put preschool bedtime problems to rest

Bedtime shouldn't be a battle. Consider common preschool bedtime problems — and what to do about them. The result could be a good night's sleep for the entire family.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You're past middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes, but a good night's sleep is still elusive. Maybe bedtime has turned into a battle of wills, or you're struggling to get your preschooler to stay in bed all night.

Consider these simple strategies to put the most common bedtime problems to rest — starting tonight!

The problem: Bedtime is chaotic

The scenario: You feel rushed when you put your child to bed.

The solution: Make bedtime a priority. A predictable, calming bedtime routine is often the key to a good night's sleep.

What the bedtime routine involves is up to you, but avoid active play and electronic devices, which might be too stimulating. You might give your child a bath, brush his or her teeth, read stories, and say prayers. Praise your child for a specific accomplishment or talk about the day. If you play bedtime music, make sure it's soothing. Then tuck your child into bed and say good night.

Experiment to find what works best for you — but once you settle on a routine, follow it consistently every night.

The problem: Your child doesn't want to go to bed

The scenario: It's bedtime, but your child wants to stay up.

The solution: If your child can hear talking, laughing, or sounds from electronics, it's easy to see how he or she would want to stay up. To ease the transition to bedtime, keep things quiet during the hour before bedtime. Put away mobile devices, video games and toys. Turn off the TV and any computers. Dim the lights. Limit the entire family to quiet activities, such as reading or doing puzzles. Sleep might be more appealing if everyone slows down before bedtime.

The problem: Your child won't fall asleep alone

The scenario: Your child needs you to stay in the room until he or she falls asleep.

The solution: To encourage your child to fall asleep alone, help him or her feel secure. Start with a calming bedtime routine. Then make sure your child has a comfort object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket. If your child is afraid of the dark, turn on a night light or leave the bedroom door open. Pretend to assign one of his or her stuffed animals the task of staying awake to keep the room safe and quiet.

If your child continues to resist, you might promise to check in every few minutes, increasing the interval between checks until he or she falls asleep. During these checks, praise your child for being quiet and staying in bed. Remember that you're helping your child learn to fall asleep alone. If you give in and climb into bed with your child, that's what your child will remember — and probably expect the next night.

Jan. 10, 2015 See more In-depth