Written by: Lana Adler
Updated March 4, 2021
If it feels like your child is on a daily mission to worm their way out of bedtime, you're not alone. Studies suggest that between 15% and 25% (1) of children have trouble sleeping, and many parents are at their wit's end to know why their tot won't stay in bed.
There are many factors that could be affecting your child's sleep, but one of the easiest ones to address is their bedroom environment. Just like adults, children sleep best when their bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet (2). If you're struggling with how to get the kids to sleep, consider these options for creating the perfect child sleep environment.
A Tidy Bedroom
Teaching your child to associate bed with relaxation at an early age helps pave the way for them to be a good sleeper. As part of the bedtime routine, encourage them to tidy up their room and clear away objects that take the focus away from sleeping, such as toys or homework. If you can, try keeping screens and playtime out of the bedroom altogether, to reinforce the idea that bed is for sleeping (3).
If you're wondering how to get your toddler to sleep in their own bed, it's all right to leave them a comfort object such as a teddy bear or security blanket. This can reduce your child's separation anxiety (4) and help them learn to fall asleep without your help. Avoid leaving a bottle with your baby overnight, as this can lead to tooth decay.
Bright lights from electronic screens (5) and even household lighting (6) can delay the onset of the sleep hormone, melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Blackout curtains in the baby or toddler room are an affordable and easy option for keeping out external light. They may be especially convenient for daytime naps, early bedtimes, or bedrooms that let in excessive street light.
The darker the sleep environment, the better. However, a nightlight in your toddler's bedroom might give a much-needed sense of security to kids who are scared of the dark. Plus, children who keep a nightlight on won't have to turn on the overhead lights during those nighttime bathroom breaks.
Using a nightlight instead of a lamp or overhead light keeps light levels low, reducing stimulation and helping them get back to sleep faster. For best results, keep nightlights on the dimmest setting.
Lowering the Thermostat for Sleep
Keeping the bedroom temperature on the cooler side helps naturally prepare the body for sleep. The optimal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 66 and 70 degrees (7), beyond which your child can regulate their own temperature by kicking the blankets on or off.
For babies who are too young to control the blankets, it's even more important to keep the room temperature within a comfortable range and dress them in a onesie or sleep sack as appropriate. Avoid over-bundling them, as this can also increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (8).
Ambient noise from outside (9) or inside the house (10) is a common disruptor of sleep quality. Unfortunately, for many children, it's difficult to achieve a totally silent bedroom at night, especially if other family members are still awake. In these cases, a white noise machine can help mask outside sounds. When choosing white noise for toddlers, opt for a steady, low-key sound such as waves lapping or a steady heartbeat, and keep the volume at a level that's safe for your child's hearing.
For stubborn sleepers, try harnessing the power of aromatherapy with calming scents such as lavender (11), which is said to help promote relaxation. Keep them away from secondhand smoke (12), which has been known to cause sleep problems in children. If you smoke, try to limit your children's exposure and keep their bedrooms a tobacco-free zone.
Comfortable Mattress, Pillows, and Bedding
Children generally sleep better when they have their own bed (13), as opposed to sharing with a parent or sibling. Investing in a child-friendly (14) mattress, pillows, and bedding can help send your tot off to dreamland and wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Bed-sharing, letting your baby sleep on the couch or car seat, and leaving soft items in the crib can put your baby at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (15). Always follow age-appropriate guidelines when choosing a mattress and bedding for your child.
With just a few tweaks to your child's bedroom, you can vastly improve their sleep setup and set them up for better slumber at home and at daycare. Healthy sleep in children has been linked to better academic performance and a reduced likelihood of developing mood or health problems. Establish good sleep habits (16) and a consistent bedtime routine now, and your child will thank you for it in the future.
- https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Melatonin-and-Childrens-Sleep.aspx Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19675858/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11903859/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Healthy-Sleep-Habits-How-Many-Hours-Does-Your-Child-Need.aspx Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25560435/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24918238/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31105512/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-alerts-caregivers-increase-sids-risk-during-cold-weather Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494406000375 Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28369539/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23573142/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23819057/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://www.sleepmedres.org/journal/view.php?doi=10.17241/smr.2014.5.1.29 Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16335483/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/STSEnvironmentAIAN1PagerFinal.pdf#search=sleep-environment Accessed on February 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24634628/ Accessed on February 25, 2021.