How to Nurture a Healthy Sleeper

Behavior and Discipline, Featured Article, Growth and Development

The kids are in bed. Finally!! And after a few false starts, all you can think of is putting your feet up, pouring a glass of wine and clicking on that silly sitcom you DVR’d two days ago. Then, your child appears out of nowhere: “Mom, I can’t sleep.” Your brain does a silent scream, and then you patiently get up and say, “C’mon, back to bed.”

So how do you get your child to conk out so that you can get your much-needed ZZZZZZZs? To help your kids develop healthy sleeping habits, try these suggestions:

Don’t give in.

Establish a regular bedtime, depending on your child’s age, and stick with it. Some children crawl into their parents’ bed in the middle of night, swearing that it’s the only place they can sleep. Don’t fall for it. Without creating a huge fuss, gently guide him back to his bed if he gets up after being tucked in. No fuss, just enforce the routine. Yes, even on the weekends.

Create a routine.

Does your child like a bedtime story, warm bath, soft music or a stuffed pal to cuddle with in bed? If so, indulge his needs each night, and eventually a routine will form. If he needs a small snack before bed, that’s fine, but avoid large meals close to bedtime or anything with caffeine, like hot chocolate or tea. And make sure the bedroom is dark and cool. 

A jaunt before shuteye.

Does your child get enough physical activity and exercise each day? At least one good hour of heart pumping exercise? If not, he should as it will help him sleep. My husband takes my son for a brisk 30- to 40-minute walk around our neighborhood almost nightly. It helps him transition to sleep, and he stays asleep longer. But get that activity in at least an hour or so before bed. You don’t want a workout to have the opposite effect and give your child a second wind at night.

The bedroom’s for sleeping only!

Kids (and adults too!) who use their bed just for sleeping (no laptop, no reading, no playing games, no talking on the phone) sleep better because they’ve trained their body to associate their bed only with sleep. This may be tough as kids get older, but it’s really a bad idea to allow computers and TVs in the bedroom. Research shows the flickering light from a TV or computer can stimulate the brain in ways that delay the production of melatonin (the chemical that makes us sleepy) and the drop in body temperature that makes us want to dive under the covers.

Every child is different so consider asking other friends with children  for their advice or join an online forum for others’ tips and tricks.


Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg (aka “Dr. Jen”) is the co-founder of Baby Bundle, a comprehensive parenting app created to simplify the first 24 months of life with a baby. It is highlighted in the Apple app store as an “Editor’s Choice” and “Best Featured App.” You can find Dr. Jen’s private practice in Manhattan, where she has been practicing for the past 18 years. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine; a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics; has appeared on The TODAY show, CNN and Wall Street Journal Online; and has published two parenting books, The Smart Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Kids through Check Ups, Illnesses and Accidents (2010), and Good Kids, Bad Habits (2007). She and her husband live just outside of New York City, where they are raising their three children.


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