How to Help Your Child Sleep Alone

February 15, 2023

How to Help Your Child Sleep Alone

As a parent, whether you have just welcomed your first child or your fourth, you experience difficulties in making the best decisions for your child’s overall health and well-being. Of the many things you have a constant worry about, though, your child’s ability to fall asleep shouldn’t be one of them.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a good night’s sleep for your child. However, at some point, you will want your child to sleep alone in his or her own bed. If this isn’t coming easy, you’re not alone. Lots of parents struggle with this.

Below we highlight some sleep tips for optimizing your child’s bedroom, and helping them with falling asleep or staying asleep when they sleep alone. But first, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of allowing your child to sleep in your bed.

Pros and Cons of Bed-Sharing

There are two sides to the “bed-sharing” coin. There are some that believe sharing a bed is dangerous, and should not be attempted. Others though think there are advantages to sharing their bed with their child, including helping their child fall asleep faster.

Pros of Bed-Sharing

Promotes Skin-to-Skin Contact

Skin-to-skin contact is a bonding method implemented from day one of delivery. It allows parents to form a healthy bond with their children, and soothe them back to sleep if the child wakes. Direct skin contact between a parent and child also allows for significantly decreased stress levels felt by an infant, as they are comfortable and secure feeling the warmth of their mom and dad.

Allows for Prolonged Breastfeeding

Some pediatricians recommend mothers breastfeed for as long as they can to allow the baby to get ample nutrients and minerals found in breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively for about the first 6 months, then with continued breastfeeding, in addition to introducing appropriate complementary foods for one year or longer. Many breastfeeding moms report prolonged breastfeeding when they share a bed with their baby, as it is easier to feed without having to leave their own bed.

The Ability to Fall Asleep Faster

Falling asleep for a new mom is more difficult when they are unable to see their baby, as they experience an increase in stress, anxiety, and fear of something happening if they allow the baby to sleep alone. In addition, it may make falling asleep more difficult for a toddler or small child to be away from mom and dad when they are used to sleeping in mom’s room.

Cons of Bed-Sharing

Increased Risk of Suffocation

As an infant, a healthy sleep space should be free from pillows, blankets, loose sheets, and stuffed animals, as these pose a suffocation hazard. Sharing a bed with a child that is too small to have adequate head control to enable them to remove themselves from a pillow or blanket over their face increases the risk of suffocation.

Fall Hazard

A baby sleeping in a crib or a child’s bed has a safety railing and barriers, which allows them to move freely within the bed without the risk of falling. If they do experience a fall once their bed has been transitioned to a toddler bed, it is significantly closer to the ground than the average adult bed. Because of this, there is an increased risk of a toddler or small child falling out of your own bed, and experiencing a serious injury.

Bed-Sharing Makes it More Difficult to Transition

Have you thought about at what point you want your child to sleep in his or her own bed? if they have been bed-sharing for an extended period, bedtime can be increasingly difficult, leaving your child to feel afraid, and having sleep problems. Getting a child to sleep alone after bed-sharing is often not something that many parents follow through with because their children wake during the night, and disrupt sleep for the rest of the family. A sleep habit can be difficult to break for a child, as bed-sharing can create dependence.

Reasons Your Child has Difficulty Sleeping Alone

Whether adult or child, sleep is important for all members of the family. Infants, toddlers, and small children require more hours of sleep per day than the average adult, which means they must spend more time in bed.

Sometimes, though, negative sleep habits are formed during infancy, making it difficult for your child to fall asleep alone in his or her bed. From fears to anxiety, there are many reasons your toddler experiences difficulty falling asleep. Here are some of them:

There is Chaos at Bedtime

Without a healthy bedtime routine, there is an increased risk of tense situations and chaos before bed. When you experience stress, your children can pick up on these feelings, and often internalize them, making it more difficult for them to fall asleep.

Allowing plenty of time for a peaceful bedtime routine reduces stress, and creates an environment where your children feel safe, rather than having them feel rushed.

Your Children Get Out of Bed to Retrieve Objects

Is your toddler constantly getting out of bed to ask you for one more sip of water, or to hunt down their favorite stuffed animal or blanket? Certain objects make children feel secure, which in turn can help your child sleep alone.

To better help kids fall asleep faster, address any needs like these before placing your children into their beds.

Kids are Afraid of Being Alone

If your child has been sleeping in your room or your bed for an extended period, they find comfort in knowing you’re there if they wake in the middle of the night. A child begins forming sleep habits early on. Therefore, when you attempt to have them begin sleeping in their room after a lengthy period of co-sleeping, it can be detrimental to their feeling of safety and comfort.

One thing you can do for a child that is afraid to be left alone is to tell them you’ll check on them in 10 minutes.

Reasons it is Good for Your Child to Sleep Alone

As a parent, we want what is best for our children. We spend hours scouring the Internet; we talk to friends and family, and learn all the ways to make progress to begin to break unhealthy sleeping habits.

When a bedtime routine is unhealthy, and the child depends on a parent or caregiver to fall asleep, they become unable to get a good night’s sleep. So, why is it good for your child to sleep alone?

Sleeping Alone Allows for a Better Sleep Environment

Does your toddler tend to flail around the bed throughout the night? When a child sleeps sleeping alone, they have the freedom to comfortably move about the bed without the risk of falling and experiencing an injury. That’s because a toddler bed is much lower to the ground than the standard adult bed.

In addition, children sleeping in their own bed in a child’s room reduces the chance of external disturbances, which helps them to experience a good night of rest.

Confidence is Boosted

When a child has been sleeping in mom and dad’s bed for an extended period of time, they associate it with their safe space, and usually fall asleep easily. However, when they sleep in a different environment, their imagination can often run wild. As a result, a child may experience fears, like believing there are monsters under the bed, or being afraid of being alone in the dark.

But when the transition is made where you encourage your child to sleep in his or her bed, they realize they do not need mom and dad to get a good night of sleep like they once thought. Their self-confidence gets boosted, and helps them to overcome fears they once had.

Independence is Established

Children thrive on independence — but only once they have realized just how good it feels. When your toddler realizes they can comfortably sleep in their bed in their own room, it can create a sense of accomplishment that can dwindle into other areas, such as making healthy oral hygiene choices, picking up after themselves, and being able to self-soothe if they wake at night.

As a parent, once the transition begins, you will need to encourage your toddler from time to time. But, with enough time they will enjoy their newfound independence.

At What Age is it Appropriate for your Child to Sleep Alone?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the best place for a baby to sleep is in his parents’ bedroom in their own bassinet, crib, or co-sleeper attached safely to the bed until 6 months, or better yet, 12 months.

However, researchers, in a study published in 2017, revealed that babies slept longer when they slept in their own room before 4 months than babies who slept in their parent's room. Even at 9 months, these “early independent sleepers” babies slept better than compared both those who transition to their own room between 4 and 9 months, and those who slept with their parents.

Tips to Help Your Child Sleep Alone

Do you find yourself struggling with how to help your child sleep alone at night? The following tips can help to ease the stress, and reduce separation anxiety as best as possible.

Start Slow

Have you been co-sleeping or bed-sharing for several years, and looking to transition your child to their own room? Start slow and small. Do not place your child alone in a dark room on day one, and expect them not to be crying out for you or be scared.

Place a night light in your son or daughter’s bedroom, ensure they are equipped with their favorite blanket or stuffed animal, and lie down with them in their room.

Starting slowly and lying down with them shows them that their bedroom is not something to be feared at night. Begin with naps, or sleeping in their own room just one to two nights a week. They may surprise you and love their room; however, it could be a slower process to transition when you have been the center of their safe space for so long.

Create a Routine

As human beings, we thrive on routine — even smaller children and toddlers do. Setting a bedtime routine enables the body and mind to become more aware that bedtime is approaching.

Start with a warm bath, followed by tucking your little one into bed and reading a book before drifting off to sleep. It is best to avoid television or other electronic devices as the blue light impacts the ability of the brain to enter into a deep sleep.

It is important to closely follow a bedtime routine, including taking a bath each night, and getting into bed at roughly the same time. Though the presence of a parent has a calming effect, your child may experience soothing effects from a closely maintained bedtime routine.

Sleep in the Same Room, in Separate Beds

Did you dive in headfirst in sleep training by placing your toddler in their own room, alone? It likely ended in your little one crying, and climbing back into your bed during the night because they were afraid. Sleep experts recommend sleeping in the same room, but sleeping in separate beds. Doing so allows your child to experience a bit of independence, and get used to sleeping in their own room, while also having the comfort of knowing you are there.

Doing this for a few weeks allows your toddler plenty of time to become comfortable in their bed, and makes the transition into their own room easier.

Celebrate Small Victories

If your little one is spending one to two nights each week in their own bed, celebrate! When they sleep alone, even if it is only for half of the night, show your pleasure, and let them know how proud you are.

Provide positive reinforcement, such as cooking a special breakfast, or getting their favorite snack. Positive reinforcement shows children that there is a reward for sleeping in their own bed, and being a “big kid”.

Do not Punish Them for Failing to Sleep Alone

Providing a punishment for failing to sleep in their own bed throughout the night creates unnecessary stress and fear for children. It is important that only positive reinforcement is used when it comes to sleep transition.

Let Eco Terra Help!

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Never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep for the whole family!

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.