Having a safe, comfortable space to sleep is part of a soothing bedtime ritual. It helps your child relax their mind and body and settle in for the night.
It’s easy for children and youth to get into the habit of checking their phones, studying, or just hanging out in bed. The problem is that these activities send the brain and body mixed signals when it comes time for sleeping.
Rather than lulling them into “sleep mode,” your child’s bedroom becomes a place where they feel awake and alert. A better idea is to make the bedroom “boring” - a calm, quiet place free of distractions that prepares the brain and body for sleep.
To reduce bedtime struggles, move playing video games, checking social media, and eating to another room. Leave the bedroom as a sanctuary for sleep.
Steps for creating a soothing sleep zone
1. Take an inventory of the bedrooms
When you take a look around your child’s bedroom, what types of distractions are present? Electronics, laptops, cell phones, videogames?
Remove distractions from the bedroom where you can and make the bed only for sleeping. Set up the computer or Xbox away from the bedroom - it’s too tempting. Try to move it to another room, or a common room. The easier the access, the harder it is to set limits!
2. Remove digital devices from the bedroom at night
Even though it may be a struggle at first, using electronic screens like phones before bed can negatively impact your child’s ability to fall asleep. It’s another tempting distraction that will wake them up during the night, and make falling asleep harder.
Try these tips around setting rules around electronic use in the bedroom.
3. Make the bedroom a special, calm place
A messy room can be a reminder of daily distractions and to-do items. Keeping a tidy and clutter-free bedroom will reduce distractions, create a sense of calm, and may help your child drift off to a better sleep.
Have your child build the habit of putting one thing away each night, putting a few toys they aren’t using away, or picking up clothes off the floor.
Many teens use a desk in their bedroom. Over time, the work area can come to associate the room with stress, deadlines and even poor self-esteem. If you can, try making the bedroom a place where they can take a break from the challenges of school and work for a while.
Have your child participate in decorating their bedroom. If your child shares the room with a sibling, make sure that each child gets their own special area to decorate.
4. Use a simple alarm clock
These days phones are often used as alarm clocks in bedrooms, but this can be a distraction and even an excuse not to sleep. It’s best to keep phones in a common area or another room at bedtime.
Try switching to a simple bedside clock to prevent scrolling habits before bed. For some children you may want to turn it around to avoid the glaring light. Otherwise, your child may lie awake, watching the time pass. Clock-watching only reinforces negative thoughts about being unable to fall
For younger children who can’t read clocks yet, some families try Gro clocks as an option. These are clocks that parents can set so it is blue when it’s nighttime and turns yellow when it’s time to wake up. However, some children sleep better in a completely dark room without a clock or nightlight.
5. Check the bedroom noise, light and temperature
Here’s a simple checklist to create ideal conditions for sleep:
- Keeping the room cool, dim and quiet is best for most children
- Make sure your child is not too hot or cold in bed. A cooler room temperature promotes better sleep (about 16 to 20 degrees Celsius). If your child is taking off their clothes in the middle of the night, they’re probably sleeping too hot and need to be cooler.
- If your child is sensitive to noise, try putting a fan on, or using a white noise machine or other soothing sounds to help them drift off to sleep. Even relatively quiet sounds, like water running or the hiss of traffic outside a window, can bother some children at bedtime. And if your children have different bedtimes, consider reducing the family noise level before the youngest child is winding down for bed.
- Consider adding dark and heavy curtains (or blackout shades) to block outside light that may be interfering with sleep. And turn off any lamps, hallway lights, or lights from devices. Some children are bothered by even the smallest trace of light, so it’s a good idea to charge phones and other devices outside the room.
- When your child wakes up, draw the curtains back to let in natural sunlight. Exposure to sunlight in the morning may help your child feel more awake.
6. Make sure your child feels comfortable and secure at night
It’s not uncommon for children to feel scared about going to bed in the dark. A few simple comforts may help soothe them:
- For some children (especially very young), a nightlight or a dim light is helpful. Leaving the bedroom door open may also help them feel better.
- Surround your child with items they love, like a favourite stuffed animal or blanket that they can touch, smell, and curl up around.
- Take a look around your child’s room to see things from their perspective. Is there a picture or toy that may cast a shadow or look creepy? Tuck it away or move items around to avoid unsettling your child at night.
Have your child draw a picture of their room to look for anything that might be contributing to their sleep problems (e.g. monster under bed, or scary shadow of tree coming through the blinds). Sometimes talking about nightmares (or drawing a picture of them) the next day can help them stop having them.
7. Sleep strategies for children with sensory challenges
Some children with autism may benefit from sleeping with a heavier blanket. Weighted blankets help calm restless bodies, reduce feelings of anxiety, and improve sleep troubles. Talk to your health care professional before trying one out, as this isn’t suitable for all children.
Some children are especially sensitive to textures in their bedding and pajamas. Experiment to find out what makes your child most comfortable and will keep them at the right temperature for sleeping. Choose smooth and soft fabrics, plain and neutral colours, and watch out for seams, tags, buttons, and zippers on their pajamas.