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Working with the 0-3 age group, I hear parents so frequently talk about difficulties with sleep, both bedtime and naps.  Over the past few years, I’ve come to two conclusions: Sometimes, we really do have to wait for their neurological system to mature such that they are able to self calm better.  Don’t stop reading yet!  I know that’s not a great answer, but I’ve found sometimes it’s the truth.  That being said, I have picked up a few tricks from some very incredible parents and foster families.  Here is a list I would start with:

1. Establish a routine.

Routine: A set of customary and often mechanically performed procedures or activities.

I know a lot of parents (including myself) have heard this suggestion and say “I have a good routine set up, moving on…”  I challenge families to get a very strict, regimented bedtime routine set up when you’re really ready to commit to work on improving night time sleeping (which could make for a long couple of nights…).

Here is an example of a bedtime routine

  • 6:00-6:30   Family dinner (no TV, no music)
  • 6:30-6:50   Bath (consider turning bath lights down low, adding classical music, and lavender in the water.  If the running water is loud and difficult for your child to tolerate, get the bath water ready prior to bed)
  • 6:50 – 6:55 Lotion rub with lavender lotion – long, slow, firm strokes on arms and legs.  Can be followed joint compressions if parent is trained by OT.
  • 6:55 – 7:10 Three bed time books
  • 7:15 – 7:20 Lights out, child in bed alone

2. Consider the bedroom environment. I had a parent tell me ” I thought I had a great space set up, but I went in there one night when she was sick and I realized the fan was blowing on the blinds, making a flapping noise, and the light from the baby monitor was really in an obnoxious spot.  Simple changes, but I think she’s sleeping better now.”
3. Natural supplements I know not every is a fan of natural supplements, but I have heard several parents report they believe natural supplements have been very useful in helping their difficult sleeper get and stay asleep.  Some of the more common supplements I’ve heard of are:

  • Melatonin
  • Calms forte

4. Calming activities before bed. I would suggest implementing these tasks with a specific time frame. For example:

  • Lotion rub
  • Reading a book
  • Rocking in chair with parent


I have heard of a pediatrician recommending an age appropriate dose of Benadryl before bedtime to help the child sleep through the night. The pediatrician recommended use of the medication for 5 nights in a row to help the child’s sleep cycle re-set.  Always talk to your doctor before administering medication like this.

6. Sleeping alone. If the child shares a room, consider putting the child in their own room while working through some of the strategies above.