Get the scoop on electronics, pillows, nightlights, and more.
When putting together your child's bedroom and thinking about what will help your little one get the sleep they need, you have so many choices. How many pillows are best? Is a nightlight okay or is total darkness better? And should you set up the room any differently if your kid is sick? Here’s what you need to know.
IF YOUR KID IS HEALTHY
To raise a good sleeper, think about the following advice every night.
Say goodnight to screens an hour before bedtime. Put any of your child's devices "to bed" in another room an hour before your kid hits the sack. This includes tablets, laptops, phones, and remote controls, so TVs can't be turned on. Not only may watching an exciting YouTube video or texting with a friend keep your child awake, but simply staring at the bright screen at night is a bad idea. That's because the blue light that is emitted by this type of tech can delay the release of melatonin and push the body's circadian rhythm (or body clock) later. "Light is on a spectrum. On the blue light end of the spectrum, that is the alerting kind of light, the daylight kind of light," says Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children's Medical Center and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.
Limit other gadgets. Aromatherapy diffusers, music players, white noise machines, and toys that shine constellations onto the ceiling can be helpful in terms of getting your kid to nod off, but they can pose problems, too, like attachment. If they shut off in the middle of the night, it might prompt your child to wake up and then ask you to turn them back on. "It becomes a sleep-onset association. And then when Jonie goes to Julie's house, does she need the sound machine for the sleepover? That's not great. Does Jonie need it at summer camp? Does she need it at grandma's house?” Dr. Schneeberg explains. If you must use one, the smaller, lighter, and more transportable the gadget, the better.
Keep pets out of the bedroom. If your dog whines, barks, passes gas, or moves around a lot during the night, this can disrupt your child's sleep. It’s best to create a separate sleeping area outside the bedroom for a pet.
Add a nightlight. You want something that isn't insanely bright—you need only a tiny bit of light in the room. "I think a lot of kids like the orientation that you feel when you wake up in a room and can just sort of see around a bit. Maybe kids have to go to the bathroom, maybe they dropped their bear off the bed," Dr. Schneeberg says. Look for the kind that automatically turns on (and stays on) when the room is dark.
Put up blackout curtains. These can be helpful if a lot of morning sun pours into the room and your child wakes up too early. They can also be useful for the opposite reason: if too much outdoor light is coming into the room around bedtime during long summer nights and your kid is having trouble falling asleep. In short, they can't hurt, but if your child is sleeping fine without them, they aren't necessary.
IF YOUR KID IS SICK
To help your child feel better faster, have these items at the ready to give them if needed.
A cool-mist humidifier. If your little one has a cold, this will help thin the mucus to help them breathe better. Place it near the bed but out of their reach and make sure to clean it out regularly.
Extra blankets. Whether to curl up with and snuggle or just to help keep them warm, blankets can help your child feel more comfortable.
A bell, an old baby monitor, or walkie talkies. When your child needs something but is too weak to go get you or too hoarse to yell your name, having something like this makes it easier for them to get your attention, Dr. Schneeberg suggests.
A water bottle with built-in straw or sipper. Staying hydrated is important when sick, so keep fluids, like water, on the nightstand. Using a water bottle instead of a glass may help prevent accidental spills. (This is also where that nightlight comes in handy.)
Cold medicine. An OTC medication like Dimetapp can help relieve runny, stuffy noses and coughing in kids age 6 and up, so that those symptoms don’t keep your little one up all night (bonus: kids love the grape flavor, which makes it easier to administer so your little one feels better faster).
A reading light and a stack of books. If your child is having trouble sleeping and needs a break from tossing and turning, keep the screens off and encourage them to read instead (check out our suggestions for books you’ll both love). This might be a small headboard clamp light or a bedside lamp. Anything that's not a bright overhead light and can be turned off in bed is great, Dr. Schneeberg says.