Some kids sleep like angels from birth, but not all kids (or their parents) are so lucky. While you can't force children to sleep, you can encourage them to drift off faster by providing them with the ideal sleep environment. We spoke to a variety of experts familiar with children's sleep needs to find out how to make your child's bedroom as zzz-inducing as possible. These tips can help any child rest easier, whether you're trying to prepare a bedroom for an infant, a preschooler, a preteen, or a child with special needs.
Ready for the smallest residents in your house to get some good shuteye? Here's how to create the coziest, dreamiest sleep space for your little ones.
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Meet the Experts
- Brenda McSween, a parenting coach, certified pediatric sleep consultant, and founder of Parenting Foundations
- Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, a pediatrician and expert reviewer for Mom Loves Best
- Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, a medical content expert at SleepingOcean
- Christine Kingsley, an advanced practice registered nurse at the Lung Institute
Make the Room Dark
"The ideal lighting for sleep is darkness. The darker, the better," Brenda McSween, a parenting coach, certified pediatric sleep consultant, and founder of Parenting Foundations, tells Hunker. Darkness initiates the body's production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for helping us fall asleep and stay asleep. Of course, children aren't typically known for their love of pitch-black rooms (particularly older children who have developed a fear of the dark), so she recommends using a red nightlight, as red light is the only color of light that does not interfere with melatonin production.
She also recommends using blackout curtains to prevent light (including nighttime light sources, such as streetlights and moonlight) from entering through the windows and interfering with melatonin production.
Use the Right Sounds
While some people sleep best in absolute silence, others require a little background noise to keep their mind from spinning. Either way, sleep sounds should be calm and below 50 decibels, which is about as loud as a hair dryer or vacuum. Pediatrician Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett of Mom Loves Best suggests using blackout curtains to help muffle outside sounds that could bother young sleepers.
For kids who don't do well with a completely silent room or whose parents cannot eliminate certain distracting noises, experts recommend using a sound machine, fan, or app to generate calming sleep sounds. McSween suggests leaving these sleep sounds on all night since people of all ages wake up several times a night, and distracting noises "can wake you up more, but white noise can block it out."
While people use the term “white noise” indiscriminately, there are also pink, green, brown, and gray noises. Which color background noise is best for sleep ultimately depends on individual preferences. Experiment with different sounds to see which works best for your child.
Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, a medical content expert at SleepingOcean, says introducing calming background noise is a particularly good idea for those with infants. "Using one may remind the baby of the sounds they used to hear in the womb, creating a feeling of safety and security and thus helping the little one sleep more soundly," he tells Hunker. Poinsett notes that "children with autism or ADHD may be especially sensitive to sound," so sleep sounds can be particularly useful for these kids as well.
Try Guided Meditation
For kids who have a hard time settling down because their brain can't stop talking at bedtime, like those with ADHD, McSween recommends using guided meditation stories and meditation music. Though there are products you can buy like the Zenimal Meditation Machine, Audible, YouTube, and Echo Dot Kids also have good meditation programming for kids as well.
Set the Right Temperature
Experts say the ideal temperature for a child's room should be between 60 and 72 degrees, though they tend to disagree on the specific numbers. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not offer exact sleep temperature guidelines for children, cooler temperatures help increase melatonin production.
Of course, kids have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep if they feel cold at night, so it's essential to keep them warm. The AAP advises against using anything aside from a fitted sheet in a crib until a child turns 2 due to the risk of asphyxiation or suffocation. Unfortunately, this means babies and young toddlers shouldn't sleep under blankets or quilts. To keep children under 2 warm while they sleep, dress them in a thick blanket sleeper or sleep sack. However, older children can use quilts, blankets, sheets, or thick pajamas based on their personal preference.
Try a Weighted Blanket
While they aren't right for all children, many kids benefit from a weighted blanket. McSween advises choosing a blanket that weighs approximately 10 to 15 percent of the child's weight. Weighted blankets may help boost melatonin in sleepers and provide comforting proprioceptive input, a form of sensory feedback that helps improve body awareness that can make kids feel more relaxed. The proprioceptive input of these blankets makes them particularly well suited to children with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and similar conditions.
Compression sheets can also be a good alternative for kids who don't like weighted blankets but could still benefit from bedding that offers a hugging feeling.
Pick the Right Mattress
For children under 2, the AAP suggests using only a firm mattress approved for infants due to the risk of asphyxiation. McSween says mattress firmness is a personal choice for older children, though. You may want to bring your toddler to the store with you or let them try your bed before buying them a "big kid" bed to find out what type of mattress they prefer.
Keep Toys Out of View
While not a viable option for every home, keeping toys in a separate playroom can help sleep. "Toys can be a distraction, and the less distractions in the room, the better," says McSween. If you can't keep toys out of the bedroom altogether, Dr. Hsu suggests dividing the room into zones — for example, setting aside one area for schoolwork, one for play, and one for sleep. Having separate areas for different activities can "help the brain associate the bed only with sleep and relaxation," he tells Hunker.
Christine Kingsley, an advanced practice registered nurse at the Lung Institute, says that reducing clutter and disorganization is vital when trying to help neurodivergent kids sleep, as messes can trigger mental unrest in these kids. So, make sure toys and other messes are put away out of view before bedtime "... to minimize restless sleep, night terrors, and other sleep interruptions."
Plushies and Books for Bed
Because kids like to have a friend to snuggle with, our experts suggested letting kids over two years old sleep with lovies or other plushies if they so choose. Similarly, McSween says it's a good idea to keep a few books near the bed. Having some books on hand is helpful for soothing a young child after a bad dream and provides older kids with a positive method of calming down when they wake up at night.
Decorate the Room for the Appropriate Age Group
Kingsley says that infant nurseries should be decorated with many shapes and bright colors so the child is mentally simulated while in bed, distracting them from the absence of their parents. For toddlers and older kids, though, she warns that these simulating colors could be distracting and keep the child awake, so it is preferable to stick with neutral, calm colors rather than bright hues. McSween says the same applies to pictures or other decorations on the walls. "Dial it down. Keep them calming," she says.