Does your child fight you about going to bed every night? Do they complain they can’t fall asleep or wake you up in the middle of the night with nightmares? Do they awaken in the morning feeling groggy and cranky?
If any of these applies to you, you’re in the right place because here, you’ll find a handful of relaxation techniques to help improve your child’s sleep on all these counts. You’ll learn how to do them and why they work.
How Relaxation Techniques Benefit Kids’ Sleep
According to studies like a National Institutes of Health (NIH) one on children with sleeping troubles from leukemia, relaxation techniques help kids to sleep better by:
- Promoting calm feelings
- Lowering anxiety levels
- Reducing upsetting bedtime thoughts
Five Relaxation Techniques to Help Your Kids Sleep Better
Helping your kids to sleep better means helping them:
- Fall asleep faster and easier
- Stay asleep without disturbances
- Avoid bad dreams or nightmares
- Wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated
With that in mind, here are five proven effective relaxation techniques to get you started.
1. Relaxing Sounds
While screens are a sleep-time no-no, there’s nothing wrong with sounds at bedtime, provided they’re relaxing ones. Science has repeatedly explored how relaxing music can promote healthy sleep and other soothing sounds.
Many parents use sound or white noise machines set on sleep timers to help soothe kids to sleep.
Another way you can do this is with sleep-inducing soundscapes in certain streaming programs for kids, like the Disney+ documentary Oceans, full of the soothing sounds of the underwater world.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Pain, anxiety, and trouble breathing could impair any child’s sleep. Science has shown intentional belly breathing can help relieve all of those.
As the NIH reports, studies on diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing or breathing into the belly, have found it effective as a way for kids to:
- Cope with painful medical procedures
- Reduce anxiety
- Manage recurrent abdominal pain and asthma
Here’s how it works:
Anytime we breathe, we take shallow breaths into our chests or deeper breaths into our bellies. Shallower breaths are associated with unconscious breathing and the fight or flight response.
As PBS Kids for Parents explains, in this state, the heartbeat rises, and the body goes into a hyper-alert state. This is obviously not the most conducive state for sleeping. By contrast, breathing into the belly lowers the heartbeat and promotes relaxation–much more conducive to sleep.
Here’s how to do it:
- The child lies on their back and relaxes their muscles.
- The child places their hands on their belly.
- With their mouth closed, the child breathes in through the nose slowly to a count of four or until the child feels their chest and belly filled with air. First, the chest will fill and then the belly; it’s important the belly fill before the child proceeds to the next step.
- The child holds in their breath for another count of four.
- The child opens their mouth and slowly blows out the air like blowing bubbles through a straw until their chest and belly are completely clear of air.
- Repeat several times or until the child feels relaxed.
Relaxing Bedtime Activities
Many experts recommend children stop watching screens like TVs, computer screens, phone screens, and handheld gaming consoles at least one hour before bedtime. More broadly, sleep experts generally recommend relaxing activities pre-bedtime to help a child wind down for sleep.
Some suggestions from the non-profit Pathways.org include:
- Painting and coloring
- Puzzles and stationary, non-screen games (like board games)
- Reading or storytelling
- Yoga or stretching
Different examples here promote relaxation in different ways. For example, reading and storytelling engage the imagination, sparking the potential for good dreams; yoga and stretching loosen the muscles and promote deep, restful breathing.
3. Streaming Bedtime Stories
In the vein of using storytelling to help encourage restful sleep, Netflix has created the podcast Bedtime Stories with Netflix Jr to help soothe kids into slumber by telling stories of some of their favorite characters from popular Netflix streaming kids series, such as:
- Chip and Potato
- Super Monsters
- Ada Twist, Scientist
- Ridley Jones
- Trash Truck
- Go! Go! Cory Carson
4. Looking at Pictures
Much like storytelling and reading engage the imagination and promote good dreams, looking at pictures helps a child develop their powers of visualization–another powerful relaxation technique for someone of any age.
Just make sure these are physical, printed pictures like photographs in an album or illustrations in a picture book rather than on a screen, as that defeats other efforts at relaxing your child for sleep.
As many studies have found, developing visualization skills can also help a child conquer obstacles, reach their goals, and improve their emotional and mental health and physical health.
5. Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a collection of practices intended to better help a child, or any person, improve their sleep.
According to the US military’s Performance Triad and the NIH study cited at the start of this article, you can also help your kids get to sleep easier, faster, and more consistently by following sleep hygiene guidelines like these:
- Promote exercise and exposure to light daily during the day.
- Avoid giving the child sweets or anything containing caffeine (like colas) at least an hour before bedtime.
- Engage in quiet activities before bedtime.
- Make the sleeping environment comfortable, dark, and quiet.
- Eliminate distractions from the bedroom.
- Establish regular sleep and waking times.
As a parent, it’s helpful to have more than one solution to a problem since one-size-fits-all solutions often don’t work for every child. Give all of these techniques a try to find out which relaxation techniques work best and which ones your child enjoys the most. Remember that what works for your oldest child might be different from what works for your youngest child.
Frank Moraes is Content Editor at HotDog.com. He recently compiled a US nationwide sleep study for HotDog's blog. Frank specializes in technology, business, and film/television.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.