700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

How to Manage Sleep Problems

Oct 21, 2021
Mother carrying her child.

Sleep is an important element in child development. Children need a good night’s sleep to ensure they have enough energy for the next day and to allow their bodies to grow and develop. Learning ways to help you and your child manage problems during the night can help children to develop healthy, independent sleep patterns.

Parents also need adequate sleep to rest and ensure their own needs are being met. Children getting out of bed, children crying in the night, and nightmares are just some of the many problems families face during the night. The following tips may help to minimize some of the common sleep problems that parents and children face.

Getting Out of Bed

If your child gets out of bed during the night, immediately take them back to bed. Help them walk if they are able, or pick up your child and carry them back. It is important to ignore your child’s remarks or complaints during this time. If you are comfortable doing so, it may be beneficial to close your child’s door. If your child continues to get out of bed, simply take them back every time. Try to stay calm and do not engage with your child. It is important to be consistent, as this may happen many times before your child learns that they will not be able to stay out of bed.

Crying in the Night

It is common for children to cry while going to sleep and during the night. Unless your child is in pain or ill, try to give them as little attention as possible. Comforting children too much when they cry during the night can encourage more crying to get your attention. If you feel that comforting them is necessary, spend as little time as you can. Assure them they are safe and that you are nearby, but be consistent with giving them as little attention as possible.

Getting Into Bed With Parents or Siblings

If your child is getting into bed with you or a sibling, immediately take them back to their own bed. Spend as little time as possible helping them settle back in. If they try to join you again, take them back to their bed. Try to be consistent, as letting them stay in your bed may be giving them an accidental reward. Ignore all complaints and attempts at conversation.


Nightmares are most common in preschool age children. Over one third of preschoolers have a nightmare at least once every 2 weeks. Nightmares can happen for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because of that day’s events and sometimes it can be for no obvious reason. It is common for children to wake up from a nightmare feeling scared and upset, but they often calm down once a parent comes. After a nightmare, here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Reassure your child – If your child wakes up scared and upset, you can hold your child close or give them affection in a way they are comfortable with. Assure them that nothing bad will happen and that you are close and will keep them safe.
  2. Listen to your child – Your child may want to talk about what they were dreaming of and what scared them. Letting them explain what happened may be helpful if they need to process it. Try to calmly listen and reassure them that they are safe.
  3. Help your child relax – As children can be scared and upset when awaking from a nightmare, they may need your help calming back down. To help them fall back asleep, encourage them to relax and take some deep breaths. It may be helpful to demonstrate how to do this and work on self-soothing strategies during calm moments in the day.
  4. Leave a light on – Leaving a dim light on may help calm some of the fears your child is experiencing. A nightlight can allow your child to quickly understand where they are and assure them that their nightmare is over and that they are safe.

If you and your child are experiencing problems during the night , Nationwide Children’s offers free Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) classes, including one on Developing Good Bedtime Routines, that have additional ideas to help your child (and you) get a full night of sleep. For more information, click here, email TripleP@NationwideChildrens.org or call (614) 355-8099

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Carly Fawcett
Behavioral Health

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.