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5 essential sleep items your child’s room should have

My two kids (3 and 6 years old) climb happily into bed at night. It’s not to say that bedtime is always smooth—they don’t want to stop building towers or running laps in Superhero costumes. But as their routine unfolds and they shift modes, they don’t fight sleep. They welcome it.

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There are lots of reasons for this (more sleep secrets to come), but one is that the bedroom is conducive to sleep. Having an optimal sleep environment for your kids won’t solve tricky sleep issues in and of itself, but it absolutely will stack the deck in your favor. Here are 5 important elements that set the stage for good sleep:

Reading light and red bulb nightlights.

Bright lights before bed trick the internal clock and make it harder for kids to fall asleep. At least an hour before bed, turn off or dim overhead lights in the living room and bedroom. Keep a lamp or two on in the living room. Have a small reading light to read to your little one, or for your school age kid to read to himself.

If you’re feeding a baby in the night, for potty trips, or if your kids like having a nightlight, use one with a red bulb. This dim, warm light is less activating to the brain. Do a survey of the lights in your child’s room at night—are there any electronics with tiny lights on them? The lights on sound machines, wipe warmers, mobiles, or any other electronics can be very bright once eyes have adjusted to darkness.

Blackout shades or curtains.

My littlest is an early riser—as a baby she loved 5:00 a.m. It took consistency and time to shift her waking to 6:00 a.m., and a completely dark room was key. There are lots of reasons for darkening the bedroom: streetlights flood the room after dark, especially in urban areas; longer summer days mean there’s still light at a 7:30 p.m. bedtime; and nappers can sleep better in a super dark room.

Blackout curtains are best, but if you’ve already bought drapery, try blackout curtain liners to attach to your normal panels, darkening blinds, blackout fabric, or in a pinch, painters tape and dark garbage bags will do the trick. When you’re traveling, you can buy darkening shades with suction cups that attach to any window.

Good storage.

For an adult, having stacks of papers and piles of clothes in the bedroom can make it harder to relax; a child’s bedroom strewn with Legos, doll clothes, or homework feels the same. Sleeping spaces are for sleeping—if they make us think too much of activities and obligations, the calming association is weakened. Keep only the toys your children really play with, and have good storage bins to put them away for nap and bedtime.

White noise.

Background noise helps ensure one little person doesn’t wake the other if they’re sharing a room, or (especially in our small house) a person in the kitchen doesn’t disturb one in the bedroom. We use a fan on low, but have used sound machines too.

A low or moderate volume is best, because little ears and developing brains are sensitive—we don’t want to overwhelm them with a loud, static noise, just a low, natural, and soothing one.

The best sleeping place.

If we expect kids to sleep independently through the night, they should feel comfortable and confident in their beds. Make sure your child’s mattress is supportive, pillow is the right size (ask your child to lay down and test pillows to choose the right one), and sheets and blankets are cozy.

A blankie, lovey, or stuffed animal really helps your child transition from being with mom or dad, to kissing goodnight and feeling positive about drifting off to sleep all by herself.

Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is a psychotherapist who writes about child development and parenting. She's the co-author of the new book The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep—Newborn to School Age (Penguin Random House). Heather's writing about childhood sleep has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @TheHappySleeper.

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