Dennis Rosen, MD is the associate medical director of Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and author of Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids. If you have a sleep-related question to ask, please email it to Thrive@childrens.harvard.edu.
Let’s face it: we all know that sometimes getting our kids into bed is only half the struggle when it comes to having them fall asleep. They may lie there, tucked in but not sleeping, or toss and turn for hours. But is your child's bedroom the reason she's not getting enough rest?
Here are a number of things to look for in your child’s bedroom, which may be interfering with her ability to fall asleep at night:
Too much light. Bright light, especially in the evening, has a very powerful awakening effect on the brain. Make sure the bedroom lights are dim, or better yet turned off completely. If your child reads before going to bed, use a low-wattage lamp. If a night-light is needed, use the lowest wattage you can find (no more than 7 watts) and make sure that the light it casts does not shine directly on the bed. In the summer months, when you may be trying to put younger kids to bed before the sun has set, consider using light-blocking shades or curtains.
Too many distractions. Televisions, computers, iPads, video games are problematic not only because of the light they cause, but because of their content, which can rile up the brain when it should be calming down. And while falling asleep to soothing music can be very helpful to some, not all music is soothing. I’ve met teens with difficulty initiating sleep who never made the connection between the heavy metal they listened to in bed at night and why it was taking them so long to fall asleep.
Pets. Whether it’s a dog who snuggles up and leaves you little room to stretch out, or a cat that’s constantly moving about, your pet may be causing more of your child's sleep problems than you realize. If you’re not convinced, consider videotaping the bed one night and watching what happened over the course of the night.
Too much stress. Taking computers, homework, or work into bed is an especially big no-no, because it can generate stress that lingers even after the task is complete, and the computer turned off and the notebooks put away. It’s important to keep the bed for sleep and not to allow negative associations to develop between the bed and unpleasant or stress-generating tasks, which can then interfere with sleep.
Clocks. Even though the stress they produce is a direct continuation of point #4, they bear special mention. Nothing is more anxiety-producing than watching the minutes tick by as you lie in bed and can’t fall asleep. “Oh no, it’s been half an hour, and I’m still awake… Now it’s been thirty-five minutes and I still haven’t fallen asleep.” Most of us need an alarm to wake up in the morning, but that doesn’t mean that the clock has to face the bed. Move it out of arms-reach and out of sight. For example: put the clock on a dresser across the room and facing the wall. That will make it much less tempting to look at.
Noise. Thin walls, snoring family members or someone watching TV in the den can all make it harder to fall asleep. Sometimes this is easy to fix, but not always. If that’s the case, consider foam earplugs, or a fan or white noise machine to mask the sound for your child.
Good luck, and good night!