Getting children to fall asleep and stay asleep

January 4, 2017
Credit: Valley Health System

Overall, studies indicate that 15 to 20 percent of one to three year olds continue to have nightwakings. Stephanie Zandieh, M.D., director, Pediatric Sleep Disorders and Apnea Center at the Valley Hospital, says, "Inappropriate sleep associations are the primary cause of frequent nightwakings. Sleep associations are those conditions that are habitually present at the time of sleep onset and in the presence of which the infant or child has learned to fall asleep. These same conditions are then required in order for the infant or child to fall back to sleep following periodic normal nighttime arousals."

Sleep associations can be appropriate (e.g., thumb sucking) or problematic (e.g., rocking, nursing, parental presence). "Problematic sleep associations are those that require parental intervention and thus cannot be reestablished independently by the child upon awakening during the night," adds Dr. Zandieh.

Here are some helpful tips to help your child sleep through the night:

  1. Develop an appropriate sleep schedule with an early bedtime. Ironically, the more tired your child is, the more times she will awaken during the night. As such, be sure your child continues to take naps during the day and set an early bedtime.
  2. Introduce a security or love object to your child. A transitional object, like a stuffed toy, doll or blanket, helps a child feel safe and secure when you are not present. Help your child become attached to a security object by including it as a part of the bedtime routine. In addition, try to include this object whenever you are cuddling or comforting your child.
  3. Bedtime routine: Establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes calm and enjoyable activities, such as a bath and a bedtime story.
  4. Consistent bedroom environment: Make sure your child's bedroom environment is the same at bedtime as it is throughout the night. (e.g. lighting)
  5. Put your child to bed awake: After the , put your child into her crib awake and leave the room. Remember, the key to having your child sleep through the night is to have her learn to fall asleep on her own, so she can put herself back to sleep when she naturally awakens during the night.
  6. Checking method: If your child cries or yells, check on her. Wait for as long or as short a time as you wish. For some children, frequent checking is effective; for others, infrequent checking works best. Continue returning to check on your child as long as she is crying or upset. The visits should be brief (one minute) and non-stimulating. Calmly tell you child it's time to go to . The purpose of returning to the room is to reassure your child that you are still present and to reassure yourself that you child is okay.
  7. Respond to your child during the night: In the beginning, respond to your child as you normally do throughout the night. Research indicates that the majority of children will naturally being sleeping through the night within 12 weeks of falling asleep quickly and easily at bedtime. If your child continues to awaken during the night after several weeks, then use the same checking method during the night as you did at bedtime.
  8. A more gradual approach: Some parents feel that not being present when their child falls asleep feels like too big of a first step for them and their child. A more gradual approach is to teach your child to fall asleep on her own, but with you in the room. This approach may take longer, but it can feel more comfortable for some families. The first step is to put your child into her crib awake and sit on a chair next to it. Once she is able to consistently fall asleep this way, sit farther and farther away every three to four nights until you are in the hallway and no longer in sight.
  9. Be consistent and don't give up. The first few nights are likely to be very challenging and often the second or third night is worse than the first . However, within a few nights to a week, you will begin to see improvement.

If you are concerned about your child's sleeping habits or would like support in helping your to develop healthy sleeping habits, please visit Valley Medical Group's Pediatric Sleep Disorders and Apnea Center's website.

Explore further: Study shows that children sleep better when they have a nightly bedtime routine

Related Stories

Study shows that children sleep better when they have a nightly bedtime routine

May 7, 2015
A multinational study suggests that having a regular bedtime routine is associated with better sleep in young children up to 6 years of age, and the positive impact on sleep increases with the consistency of the nightly routine.

Help your kids sleep in heavenly peace

December 20, 2015
(HealthDay)—Changes in routine can shortchange children's sleep during the holidays, so a sleep medicine expert offers some advice for parents.

Spotting sleep problems in special-needs children

March 5, 2013
(HealthDay)—About 30 percent of children have a sleep disorder, but the rate is even higher in children with special needs, an expert says.

Toward improving patient sleep in pediatric intensive care units

July 20, 2016
Intensive care units are full of high-tech equipment and highly trained professionals, but Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA is focusing on a simple aspect of patient care that's often overlooked: sleep.

Video: What you need to know about sleep

March 21, 2016
Dr. Alon Avidan, a professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, offers these tips for getting better sleep:

Recommended for you

Small drop in measles vaccinations would have outsized effect, study estimates

July 24, 2017
Small reductions in childhood measles vaccinations in the United States would produce disproportionately large increases in the number of measles cases and in related public health costs, according to a new study by researchers ...

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...

New comparison chart sheds light on babies' tears

July 10, 2017
A chart that enables parents and clinicians to calculate if a baby is crying more than it should in the first three months of its life has been created by a Kingston University London researcher, following a study of colic ...

Blood of SIDS infants contains high levels of serotonin

July 3, 2017
Blood samples from infants who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had high levels of serotonin, a chemical that carries signals along and between nerves, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes ...

Is your child's 'penicillin allergy' real?

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many children suspected of being allergic to the inexpensive, first-line antibiotic penicillin actually aren't, new research indicates.

Probiotic supplements failed to prevent babies' infections

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Probiotic supplements may not protect babies from catching colds or stomach bugs in day care, a new clinical trial suggests.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.