Parenting babies and little kids — and all their recurring sleep regressions — is sure chaotic, isn’t it? Then again, those kiddos did pretty much always call it a night by 8 p.m., leaving you to enjoy your home in blissful quiet. Once those toddlers turn into tweens and teens, though…not so much. Now, those once-early snoozers have started roaming the house at 10 p.m., 11 p.m., midnight or even beyond. This is no good for a couple of reasons. For one thing, older kids still need sleep (8 to 10 hours a night). And for another thing, you need to be able to watch Stranger Things 2 without interruptions. I mean, priorities.
But trying to get a “no I don’t feel tired at all” kid to go to bed is anything but easy. So here are some tips that can actually help.
1. No gadgets in the bedroom starting 30 minutes before bedtime
There is no way your kid is going to bed if their phone is beeping and buzzing just a few feet away. Child psychologist Alissa Sheldon says that if the phone is around, the temptation for your child to check it is just too hard to resist. “Even if it’s just to check the time or how many likes an Instagram post received, by picking up the device, you are engaging in a stimulating activity,” Sheldon says. “It can signal the brain that it may be time to rise, not rest.”
So half an hour before bedtime, kids need to leave their phones downstairs. Yep. It may sound impossible, but if you have a strict policy of keeping all chargers in the kitchen or living room, your child will be more likely to plug in and walk away. After all, the thought of an uncharged phone is enough to send any teen into complete panic mode.
Also, if possible, set your child’s phone to switch to Night Shift a few hours before bed. This displays yellow instead of blue light, which is better for allowing the brain to transition to bedtime.
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2. No sugar or caffeine before bed
Seems self-explanatory, but it needs to be noted. Kids of any age should not consume a ton of sugar or caffeine before they go to sleep. And that means for several hours before bed — sorry, overpriced Starbucks “dessert” drinks. So if you do allow your kids to have dessert, just make it the ending to an early dinner. (My 13-year-old recently tried to make herself a bowl of chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup and whipped cream 15 minutes before her bedtime. Oh, no you don’t, girl.)
3. Exercise & downtime need to be on the schedule
Children are not robots. They can’t just focus at school for six hours, head to an after-school activity, eat dinner, do their homework and then go to bed. That list is missing two crucial things: exercise and downtime. Sure, some kids get exercise through PE or their after-school activities, but if that’s not the case, make sure yours are given some time to move, run and play. My teen, for example, likes to jump on our trampoline for at least 15 minutes to get some energy out. But Sheldon warns that kids and adults alike should “try not to exercise too vigorously right before bed, as this can sometimes energize rather than relax.”
And don’t discount downtime; kids need space and time to just chill out. If you need to, scale back on his or her extracurricular schedule so your child has time to goof around and decompress.
4. Relaxation before bedtime
This is not TV time. It’s not scrolling Instagram time. It’s taking a bath, working on art, playing music or reading a book — alone or with a parent. Your kid is well past Goodnight Moon at this point, but there are lots of great books that are way more interesting than a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush. Reading together is also a perfect time to have a quiet conversation with your child before you say goodnight.
Or why not try meditation? Headspace is a great app for kids looking to do some mini-meditation before bed to encourage sleep.
5. Get into bed at the same time every night
Subtitle: How the Heck Am I Supposed to Do That? This really takes commitment, because it can seem like something always comes up (a late game, a test, etc.). But really try to get your tween or teen into bed at the same time every night. Of course there will be exceptions, but the more you develop a bedtime routine, the more likely kids will be to sleep early and well.
Besides, according to most doctors, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t actually help kids “catch up” — it just plays havoc with their sleep schedule. So, sure, they can stay up an hour later and maybe sleep in a bit on Saturday and Sunday morning, but don’t let it turn into a 3 a.m. weekend “bedtime” or some other radical departure from the weekday schedule.
And in addition to a consistent bedtime, Sheldon recommends keeping kids’ rooms cool (68 to 72 degrees), making sure it’s dark (even limit nightlights) and if possible, make sure they reserve the bed for sleep only (rather than doing homework or watching TV in bed).
And if after all that, your kid is still not sleeping? Hey, there’s always boarding school. Just kidding. But really, remember: You cannot actually force your kids to sleep. What you can do, however, is let them know that after a certain time, the kitchen is closed, the TV is off and all their devices are off-limits and charging downstairs. Given the limited remaining options (read some more?), going to sleep might not sound so bad after all. I hear their parents love it!
A version of this story was originally published in November 2017.
Once you’ve got those angsty teens tucked in bed, read up on how to communicate with The Youths via our teen slang guide.