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Battling the kids over bedtimes? Not anymore

Updated: June 8, 2012 04:45 PM EDT
Milk relaxes children because it includes tryptophan, which induces drowsiness. (©iStockphoto.com/Amanda Rohde) Milk relaxes children because it includes tryptophan, which induces drowsiness. (©iStockphoto.com/Amanda Rohde)
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By Elizabeth Hurchalla
From Your Family Today 

When it's time to brush their teeth and go to bed, many kids go into meltdown mode. They refuse to put on pajamas, plead for "just one more story" and get up at least 10 times after they're put to bed. Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of American children experience frequent sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, stalling for later bedtimes and resisting going to bed. But just because this is a common problem doesn't mean it's inevitable. Follow these steps for combating bedtime bummers and put more ease into your z's.

Commit to a bedtime ritual

"Kids thrive on routine," says Patrick Friman, Ph.D., author of Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You: Now Get Into Bed and Go to Sleep! (Boys Town Press). "If they know that every night they will be brushing their teeth, putting on pajamas and going to sleep at a certain time, they will grow to expect that and will be more willing to go along with the program."

Offer choices

"When I let my 3-year-old pick out his own pajamas or decide what book we'll read before bed, he is much less resistant to turning in for the night," says Jamie Maxwell of St. Louis. Making decisions empowers kids and makes them feel like they have a say in what's happening to them.

Give a warm bath

"A quiet, relaxing bath will help make kids sleepy -- especially when you use lavender aromatherapy soap, known for its relaxation benefits," says Rachel Franklin, M.D., a family practitioner in Oklahoma City and author of Expecting Twins, Triplets and More: a Doctor's Guide to a Healthy and Happy Multiple Pregnancy (St. Martin's Griffin). Science backs her up: When we fall asleep, our body temperature naturally falls. The same thing happens after you get out of a hot bath. When your temperature drops back down, it makes your body think it's time for sleep.

Note: The relaxing effects of putting kids in a warm bath before bed go flying right out the window if you fill up the tub with toys. So try your best to keep it low-key.

Play soothing music

"Every night, I play my 5-year-old daughter classical music while I rub her back," says Traci Coleman of Oklahoma City. "It is very relaxing, and never fails to put her to sleep within 10 minutes." Other soothing CDs feature the sounds of ocean waves, raindrops or birdsongs.

Serve warm milk

Milk relaxes children because it includes tryptophan, which induces drowsiness. For best results, give your kids milk one hour before bed. (Just make sure they use the toilet one last time!)

Back up bedtime

"If you put children to bed 30 minutes earlier, many kids will actually sleep later in the morning," says Dr. Friman. "That's because they'll go into a deeper sleep and sleep more soundly. For kids, early to bed does not mean early to rise!"

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