21 Tips to Help Your Family Sleep Well

Sleep is an necessary (and let's be honest, lovelypart of life

And I believe it is a necessary part of a good attitude for us all as well.

In our home, good rest for everyone is an essential ingredient in making for a peaceful home environment. When we moved abroad, multiple times over, with little ones in tow, getting everyone onto local time and getting good rest was pretty much my top priority in the first couple of weeks. Naps are non-negotiable for kids until around age 4, and then only negotiable if their pleasant attitude can consistently hold out until bedtime.

With 6 kids in the house, all of whom share 2 bedrooms, sleeping is one of those issues (like making healthy meals) that I've chosen to invest time in, because consistency and effort in this area pays us all back multiple times over. We all sleep well, and mama is happier that way.

  1. Long-time Making Home readers know that for babies, I'm a big fan of Babywise. Giving your children good quality sleep is truly a gift for their little bodies, souls, and attitudes. (Psst: We now use swaddlers for the first 3-6 months. They didn't have these when I started having babies, but they're wonderful for taming the newborn "startle" reflex.)
  2. And I've laid out specifics before about how we work (yes, work!) to help our children continue to sleep well, long past infancy. I see this as a serious priority for our family.
  3. Get them in bed at a reasonable hour. This can vary from family to family, depending on parents' working hours, family norms, and kids' schooling. In our house, kids 6 & under are in bed by 8 (8:30 in the summer), and kids 11 & under are in bed by 9 (9:30 in the summer). 
  4. The bedtime routine is quick. We don't play around; when it's time for bed, it's time for bed. They don't need endless stories, because we've been reading together throughout the day. A quick hug and kiss, a prayer, brush-your-teeth-get-a-last-drink-go-potty-and-get-in-bed. Phew! (This gives mommy and daddy much-needed time together too.)
  5. We put dark curtains in their rooms (when we lived in a place where it got brighter, earlier, we put blackout curtains like hotels use as an inside liner behind their normal room curtains). A nightlight is kept on in the bathroom, with the door almost completely shut so the light doesn't disturb sleep but they can find it if they need to go potty in the middle of the night. 
  6. If they wake up too early, back to bed they go. 
Very few people in our society get enough sleep, but helping our children sleep well is a top priority for me, because it pays dividends in their attitudes, and in mine.

Through twelve years of non-stop pregnancies, nursing babies, cross-world moves, migraines, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome, I want to share what works for me:
  1. I teach the kids to sleep well. Yes, I think the first step in me sleeping well is making sure that everyone else sleeps well, so there's no one else waking me up.
  2. I regularly take hot baths with Epsom Salt and Lavender, right before bed. It relaxes my body and keeps me from experiencing the insomnia of restless-leg-syndrome.
  3. My husband rubs my feet with body butter while we talk or watch movies on a fairly regular basis. This helps me calm down, and gives us a chance to connect.
  4. We are intimate, often. This lowers tension, keeps us emotionally connected, and yes- relaxes and helps us both to sleep better. (The endorphins and hormones released during intimacy relax the body... God made these things for our benefit, y'all!)
  5. I keep simple over the counter aids like muscle rub creams, Chloraseptic, pain relief medicine, and Vicks vaporub on hand, so I can treat what ails me.
  6. We have a Sleep Number Bed, and shipped it around the world with us. We've had it since 2003, and it's still going strong, all these moves later. Being able to make the bed softer and more firm, at my whim, has made sleep more comfortable for me through the ever-changing-pregnancy-body.
  7. Did I mention that helping the kids sleep well is a top priority around here? Seriously. I see this as part of my job description as mom, just like it is my job as their mom to see that they eat properly.

  1. Avoid caffeinated drinks, especially after 4pm.
  2. Eliminate negative input. (Don't pick up phone calls from negative people, news/media, things that will cause you to worry.)
  3. Go to bed on time. There is always one more thing you can do. He says, don't deceive yourself. Get to bed about an hour before you plan to fall asleep.
  4. Make sure the room is DARK. Any kind of light impacts sleep patterns. Block out windows.
  5. Keep the temperature cool. About 68 in winter, about 70 in summer, so you can have a cover and feel comfortable.
  6. Run a fan, or have white noise. Turn on the overhead fan. Get a "white noise" app or machine. Give your brain enough background noise to mask external noises.
  7. Use essential oils. "People are rediscovering the benefits of oils." Michael Hyatt uses DoTerra, and applies vetiver (on feet, behind ears & on temples), clarysage (on feet), and lavender (on chest, back of neck, & pillow). 
  8. Prayer. "Gail and I pray together every night." It casts burdens on the Lord, clears your mind, connects you with your spouse, and gives you peace and the care of the Lord.
His bonus tips:
  • Take a hot bath. Relax and prepare you for bed.
  • Read. Even better if it's something "mindless" (looking through a magazine).
  • Listen to music.
  • Be intentional with your sleep. Take deliberate actions to improve your restfulness.

Any additional sleep tips to share? Please add your ideas in the comments.


Erin said...

Hey Jess. I also have restless leg syndrome. I am also a huge fan of hot baths right before bed to relax the body, but another great trick is magnesium. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant. My doctor recommended it and I take it only when my legs are really bothering me. It works like a charm!

Jess Connell said...

Yes! The Epsom salts have magnesium in them, which is why I always use a big heaping dose in my baths.

I've also eaten bananas before bed for their potassium (when I had the terrible pregnant charlie horses) and it helps too.

Bookworm_Wood said...

Hey, thanks for the helpful practicalities here! As a mother of slightly youngers, I have a question about potty use during the night -- when / how do you allow yours that freedom? My oldest is 4 and still wears a diaper at night. I tell my kids they can't get out of bed until I come get them in the morning, but I do think my 4 and 2 year olds could probably be dry at night if they were allowed to get up and go potty and go back to bed... but I'm afraid it'll lead to them getting up to play or not sleeping as well (4 YO sleeps in the same room as our baby, quite far from the bathroom really in a dark house). We're moving out of the country in a few weeks and this is one thing I'd like to change when were in a different house rather than where we are but I'd love your thoughts...

Also, perhaps another post or something but as we're moving soon (from the US to Nicaragua, no big time changes, but long day of flights and a pretty different environment on the other side) do you have any widsom to offer on how to help your kids through moves / large transitions... So they can enjoy the adventure but have appropriate security to their young years too?

Thanks for your blog! I love reading your thoughts and hearing your wisdom :)

Jess Connell said...

Yeah, that's a tricky season.

One thing we've done is take them potty before we go to bed (so around that 10/11pm mark) and limit their drinking before bed, so that helps them make it and not need a diaper any more.

But essentially what we've done each time is said "when you can go 7 nights in a row with a dry diaper, you get to wear underwear to bed." So once they start staying dry at night, we just make marks on the calendar, or on a paper on the fridge, or whatever, and if/when they reach 7 in a row, they can wear underwear rather than a diaper.

I'm not very hard and fast about it, just wait until they can do it on their own. But there's no right answer here. You could try whatever works for your family.

Yes, perhaps I can do a adjustment post sometime. Main thing is just talk talk talk about everything-- set their expectations. Our boys were 3.5 & 1.5 when we first moved to China, and then 5, 3, and our daughter was 1 when we moved to Turkey. They all adjusted well, I think in large part because we talked so extensively about each and every part of the adjustment we could think of. (Putting "everyone will speak Spanish" in 4yo terms, putting "long airplane ride" into "we're going to wait, wait, wait, a long time to have to get on the plane, we'll have to be still and sit in our chair, and then give the lady our papers and get our seats on the plane, and mommy will need you to be a big helper so that we can get settled in on the plane, and then we'll go up up up and want to get up and walk around but can't really do that except to go potty and then…" etc. Just really talking them through what reality is going to look like (maybe even paint it ever so slightly worse than reality, just in case you hit some speed bumps)… we found that it really really helps in terms of how they approach the difficulties.

Hope this helps!

Bookworm_Wood said...

Thanks, that is helpful :)

Michelle Spriensma said...

My 5 year old and 4 yr olds girls struggle with nightmares during the night and wake up (and wake me up). We've talked about not fearing, having trust in God, etc, but any other tips?

Also, my 5 yr old will ALWAYS wake up at least once to go to the bathroom. We limit drinks before bed and everything, is this normal? I never wake up during the night to go unless I'm pregnant. Never had that problem when I was a kid. Sleep is definitely a priority in our house too and interrupted sleep makes me crazy!

Catie said...

What do you do if you expect them to sleep go to bed when you say, but they just won't? We have tried EVERYTHING with our 3yr old. She doesn't respond to spanking, rewards, taking away privileges, etc.
We've (mostly my husband b/c I'm with the baby) resorted to sitting in the bedroom with her until she falls asleep. Which works great at night (although time consuming) but during the day for naps, I simply do not have the time to sit in her room while she falls asleep. So oftentimes, we'll just skip naps altogether.

Part of her problem is she just can NOT settle down. She is a very high energy child in general and every night when we put her in bed she practically does somersaults. Rocking her to sleep sometimes works, but not all the time. HELP!

Jess Connell said...

My 3yo sounds like yours Catie. I do sit with him during nap time until he falls asleep. When i got consistent & decided to truly not allow wiggling, talking, or open eyes I found that it almost always takes him less than 15 minutes and sometimes less than 5 to fall asleep. I can't afford (attitude wise for him) to NOT spend those 5-15 minutes helping him fall asleep.

We all have different priorities but if you believe she needs a nap then see that she gets one. If not, no sweat & no guilt. :)

Jess Connell said...

In addition to reminding them of verses, just keep praying over them before nighttime. I pray over them something like, "God help them sleep well, sleep all the way through the night, and wake up ready and refreshed for a new day tomorrow."

As for the night waking, certain of our kids have, and others have not needed to wake to go potty. We just keep a nightlight in there.

Best wishes. Those transitional times are difficult… hang in there. Do the best you can but then also just joyfully muddle through. :) Hang in there.


Catie said...

Thank you. It's nice to know we're not alone and that you sit with him too! This too shall pass, I guess. ;)

Katie S said...

This was helpful! I've read several of the linked articles over the years (and found them helpful), but I love having this "roundup" and the new tips.

We just had our second child, and the two (26 mo boy, 4 mo girl) share a room. I'm totally fine with them sharing a room for the next few years, but eventually, we'll probably want boys and girls in separate rooms. (We hope there are more babies coming!) I'm sure you and your husband have thought about what is appropriate for brothers/sisters sharing bedrooms; would you share your thoughts?

Jess Connell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jess Connell said...

We've done it different ways at different times. I do have a few thoughts.

1- be safety-minded (a curious older sibling needs to be aware that they can hurt the little baby without meaning to, and thus should never get in the crib, lay on top of, etc., their littler bro/sis.
2- be watchful and discerning about the curiosity/sexual discovery of the older child. There is an age, and it's different for each child (but often falls in that 2-5 range), where curiosity about private parts, etc., starts happening. It is natural and normal and absolutely nothing shameful about it. That is the age for our family when we've just opted to separate for bedtime and bath times to avoid any issues that could arise in that area. (If it's a matter of bath time "fun", mom and dad just sit in with them the whole time & use lots of bubbles in the water.) ;)

Since our daughter was 2, she's always had a baby brother in her room. About the time he's 2, he moves in with the big brothers, and she's had a new baby brother to take his place. :) We like having them together-- she's a sweet "little mama" and the baby brother gets extra snuggles and sweet talk in the morning from her.

Anyway, I like (and our kids like) room sharing. But I do think we have to be cautious-- wisely cautious, not fearfully cautious-- about ages & genders & just not put our children in situations where childish curiosity will end up with something negative happening.

It's one of the reasons I love the watchfulness of Raising Godly Tomatoes. When you really watch & see your children and their thought processes, you are better able to discern what is going on in their hearts by watching their words, choices, and actions.

Hope this is helpful for you. :)