Bedtime Breakthrough: Tips for Getting Your Little Ones to Dreamland

It’s the middle of the night and your child, who had been sleeping soundly in his own bed, has found his way to your bedroom. You allow him to climb in bed with you for some comforting and, more often than not, that is where he stays for the remainder of the night.

Sound familiar? As parents, we have all been there – awakened by a child that can’t sleep and then having to choose between making an attempt to get them back to sleep in their own bed or allowing them to stay with us.

While comforting in the short term, not establishing guidelines for the bedtime routine can have a lasting impact on your child, according to SIU HealthCare physician Joseph Henkle, MD, director of Memorial Medical Center’s Sleep Disorders Center.

“A child’s daytime behavior is affected by sleep,” Henkle said. “It’s the parent’s job to teach children how to fall asleep. They just don’t come with that ability.”

Seem easier said than done? Dr. Henkle suggests the following:

  • Make sure kids get the right amount of sleep for their age. Young infants need 16 hours of sleep, and toddlers and preschool-age children require about 12. School-age kids ages 5 to 12 generally need around 10 to 11 hours. Naps typically end for children around age 4.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. Unwind from a day’s activities with a warm bath, help the child into his pajamas, pick out a book or sing some lullabies. Then leave the room and let the child fall asleep on his own. “When kids wake up in the night, they need to see the same environment they fell asleep in. If they fell asleep while being rocked, watching TV or eating, they don’t know how to fall back asleep on their own,” Dr. Henkle said.
  • Find out if there is a problem. If your child is waking up at night, find out if he’s sick, had a bad dream or if something else is going on. If he’s fine, reassure him all is OK and have him go back to sleep on his own.
  • Break bad habits. When you escort the child back to his bed, check on him, leave the room and let him cry for a few minutes. Repeat the process. It’s hard to do, but it eliminates the behavior in a short amount of time.
  • Learn when to seek help. If you’ve tried the tips above and it’s still not working or if you notice funny breathing or movements during your child’s sleep, call your pediatrician.

Remember, it takes a concentrated effort from parents to break bad sleep habits in children, but it can be done. And better sleep for your child means better sleep for you.

Still looking for a pediatrician? Memorial Physician Services, Memorial Health System’s network of primary care physicians, has several pediatricians accepting new patients. To view their personal video message to patients, visit or call (855) 9-MPS-DOC for more information.