When we hear about sleep training our minds tend to go to babies and toddlers, but we are noticing that there are a lot of elementary and middle school age children needing sleep training help as well.

I am sure that pre-covid many kids had trouble sleeping but our suspicion is that the stress and anxiety of Covid has certainly meant more kids with sleep issues than ever before.  In fact, Mylee had to sleep train her then 8-year-old during the height of Covid! He was getting out of bed so many times overnight wanting reassurance over worries about his health and whether things he did or touched during the day could potentially make him sick. Mylee started providing bedtime reassurance and it snowballed from there. Some nights he was getting out of bed to use the toilet dozens of times, other times it was to ask many, many questions. He was tired, I was tired, and we couldn’t keep going.  So I decided to sleep train.

sleep training for pre teens

What causes sleep problems for elementary and middle schoolers?

Anxiety and worry.

Kids this age are much more aware of the world around them and this can bring on more fears, worries and anxiety.  There is also increased pressure at school and more complex friendships and social pressure to deal with. This can translate into more difficulty falling asleep while these thoughts and feelings fill their minds.

Inconsistent or inappropriate schedule.

Sleep schedules can be one of the biggest reasons for sleep problems in older kids. With extracurricular activities, play dates, and more and more homework, a bedtime on the earlier side can fall by the wayside to fit all these things in. Elementary and middle schoolers still need A LOT of sleep – between 10-12 hours and sometimes it can feel like there is not enough time in the day to fit it in. A lot of kids this age aren’t getting that much. When kids are sleep deprived it can be even harder to fall asleep and stay asleep overnight.  And not enough sleep also heightens anxiety and worry as well.

Feeling like they can’t sleep.

Kids can lay in bed thinking that they won’t be able to get to sleep and more often than not this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. On average we all take about 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, but if a child doesn’t have confidence that they can do it or they spend time thinking they can’t, then this 15-20 minute can feel like a lifetime and can cause a child to seek other things to do that delay sleep. And then they become overtired, which means it is even harder to fall asleep.

sleep training for pre teens

Strategies to help them sleep better. 

Tweak their sleep schedule.

Prioritize a consistent bedtime for your child each and every day. A child 8 years and under should go to bed at 8 pm or before.  A middle schooler should go to bed by 9pm. The exact bedtime for your child may depend on what time they wake for the day.  We always suggest bedtime stay the same as much as possible even on weekends because this helps with keeping their circadian rhythm on a consistent schedule and doesn’t run the risk of tiredness going into the school week.

Make sure the sleep environment is conducive to sleep.

Make sure that there is nothing in the bedroom environment is keeping them awake.  Is the room dark enough?  Is there too much noise coming through?  Are electronics making it too tempting to stay awake?

Don’t hesitate to add extra blackout protection. Darkness triggers the production of melatonin, which is so incredibly when it comes to sleep.

 A sound machine can block out noises from the outside environment – including noises you make before you head to bed yourself.

 Removing technology from the bedroom. TVs, computers, and phones are enticing and can delay trying to sleep, as well as the blue light from them suppressing melatonin.

Handling bedtime behavior.

You will need a plan on how to handle the unique bedtime behavior you are experiencing.  If your child is expressing lots of worries, anxiety or fears, you can plan in some pre-bedtime time to talk through what’s on their mind, to lessen the chance they’ll get up and express them when they should be concentrating on sleep.

Or, if they are getting up a lot which delays bedtime then you may need to sit down and talk through your family’s sleep rules and what your plan will be if they aren’t followed. Will you return them to bed without talking?  If so, let them know.  Or will you check on them as they fall asleep?  Knowing the plan is important for kids so they feel part fo the process.

Increase their confidence.

Show your child that you have confidence that they can fall asleep and follow the sleep rules.  Kids look to us to know how to feel so when we exude confidence it will help them feel confident.  Let them know that they have a healthy brain that can do this sleep thing, they just might need some time and practice.

Celebrate small improvements in their sleep each day.  This will help increase their confidence as they see their successes and it will help them reach for bigger improvements as the days progress.

If you are struggling with your older child’s sleep and think sleep training is in your future, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We can help you get their sleep back on track. Please reach out and we can discuss how we can help you out with the process.

Postive Parenting Coaches

sleep training tweens