How to Get Your Kids to Sleep in Their Own Beds

Lying down next to your child in bed at the end of a tiring day may bring a sense of comfort. However, this routine could potentially disrupt their ability to sleep independently. Discover effective techniques for transitioning your child out of your bed and ending co-sleeping permanently, even if your child has always been used to sleeping with you.

Co-sleeping: An Explanation

Co-sleeping refers to the act of sleeping in the same bed as your child. There is a debate about whether the term is accurate or if “bedsharing” (as opposed to “roomsharing”) would be a more precise term.

What is the reason for co-sleeping in certain families?

Cosleeping is a common practice in various regions of the globe, often due to cultural or spatial considerations. For instance, some families reside in one-bedroom houses, prompting them to share beds. Additionally, some parents opt for this sleeping arrangement as a means of fostering closeness with their children. Cosleeping is also favored by many who follow attachment parenting principles.

Is It Acceptable to Co-Sleep?

Co-sleeping was not successful for our children as they were never able to sleep comfortably in our bed. However, there are others whom I admire and trust who have opted to co-sleep with their kids and have found it to be a positive experience.

The idea of continuous co-sleeping and how it would be acceptable to me if a family were to seek my advice has prompted me to contemplate.

  • If your child is over one year old, the risk of SIDS is low.
  • The whole family is able to get a good night’s sleep.
  • There is sufficient room in the family bed for everyone to be at ease.
  • Parents are able to sleep without being interrupted during the night.
  • Both parents and children wake up feeling well-rested and are not drowsy during the day.
  • Your child is able to sleep in a different location without crying or feeling anxious, such as at their grandmother’s house or during a sleepover.

If the mentioned conditions are not fulfilled, my suggestion would be to discontinue cosleeping. In situations where a child is unable to detach themselves, they may experience separation anxiety. Cosleeping itself does not lead to separation anxiety, but if your child is unable to sleep without you and has a breakdown, it might be beneficial to encourage some level of independence at bedtime.

What is the right time to end co-sleeping?

For children under one year old, I suggest transitioning them to a crib or bassinet, ideally in your own room.

When dealing with older children (such as toddlers and above), it is important to consider the timing and approach of transitioning. Keep reading for further guidance on how to effectively make this change.

Steps to End Co-Sleeping with an Infant

For infants under three months old, the best approach is to comfort them until they fall asleep and then place them in their crib. As they reach four months old, it is advised to put them down while they are still drowsy but not yet asleep. If this proves to be difficult, it may be worth considering sleep training for your child.

What happens if my child sleeps in the same bed as me and breastfeeds throughout the night?

In my opinion, it would be beneficial to address the issue of co-sleeping initially. This will prevent your child from constantly eating throughout the night. Once your child is able to sleep independently, you can focus on gradually reducing night-time feedings.

Steps to end co-sleeping with a toddler or older child

When it comes to resolving sleep difficulties, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The approach you take will vary depending on the nature and cause of your cosleeping arrangement with your child. However, regardless of your situation, there are key factors that contribute to a successful transition. To learn more about the common reasons for unsuccessful sleep training, please refer to my article on “Sleep Training Mistakes and Pitfalls” at https://drcraigcanapari.com/2012/04/27/sleep-training-mistakes-and-pitfalls/.

Suggestions for Improvement:

Consistency is Key: The primary reason families struggle to transition their child out of their bed is due to inconsistent actions. It is important to establish a clear rule of either having the child sleep in their own bed or not. Any leniency during this process will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. It is crucial to remember that intermittent reinforcement can be a strong motivator for negative behavior. If your child occasionally sleeps in your bed and you do not see it as an issue, then there is no need to follow these guidelines.

Have a Solid Plan: In order to maintain consistency, it is essential to have a well-thought-out plan. It can be challenging to come up with a plan in the middle of the night. It is important that all caregivers are on the same page and following the same plan.

Choose a “Quit Date”: It is highly recommended to deliberately choose a specific time for this change and not to start during a busy period, such as before a vacation or when family members are visiting.

Create a Special Room for Your Child: Some children may feel anxious about spending time alone in their room. To make it a more enjoyable experience, spend quality one-on-one time with your child. Take them shopping to pick out new pajamas and sheets. Allow them to choose a new stuffed animal to use as a transitional object.

If your child consistently falls asleep in your bed every night

If your child consistently sleeps in your bed every night and this has been an ongoing routine, many families may want to stop this habit when they are anticipating the arrival of another child or when their child reaches a significant milestone like starting kindergarten. However, it is important to approach this change gradually. The reason for this is because your child may not be aware of any other way to sleep.

Remember, plagiarism is a serious offense and can have severe consequences. It is always better to take the necessary precautions to avoid it.

Impact of Separation Anxiety on Co-Sleeping

Among kids, separation anxiety is the most common type of anxiety. If your child feels scared when sleeping alone, it might indicate separation anxiety. Typically, children with this kind of anxiety will ask to sleep with a parent or have a parent close by. They may also fear being awake while their parents are asleep and request their parents to stay up until they fall asleep.

Other signs of separation anxiety can include having dreams or nightmares about being separated and facing difficulties when being separated in various situations, like at school drop offs.

If your child is going through separation anxiety, it’s recommended to discuss it with your child’s doctor.

A Strategy by Yale to Help Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed

One way to engage with your children before bedtime is by playing a game where they act out falling asleep in their own bed. This game should be performed at their regular bedtime and they can pretend to have an audience watching. To play, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that the child has a designated bed and sleeping area. In instances where children are used to co-sleeping, their bed may have been removed or repurposed. Set up the bed in the desired location with pillows and blankets.
  2. Have your child follow their regular bedtime routine, such as brushing their teeth, changing into pajamas, and reading a story.
  3. The child should then get into bed and pretend to fall asleep for a short period, usually less than a minute. It is important for them to remain calm during this time. If they become agitated, the time may be too long. For older children, they can choose the duration of this pretend sleep.
  4. Once the set time is up, congratulate your child and allow them to come back into your bed. Do not encourage them to stay longer, even if things went well. Avoid suggesting that they “just stay there,” although they are welcome to stay longer if they wish. Praise your child and invite them back to your room.
  5. Gradually increase the duration of the pretend sleep by a few minutes every two to three nights.
  6. Often, once the duration reaches 15 minutes, children are able to fall asleep on their own. If they do, leave them in their own bed and celebrate their achievement in the morning.
  7. If the child wakes up during the night, it is acceptable to invite them into your bed.
  8. Continue following this plan, gradually increasing the intervals at bedtime, until independent sleep in their own room becomes a regular occurrence. It is recommended to continue for at least one or two weeks.

The secret to helping a child sleep better is to set a specific bedtime routine that makes them feel calm and relaxed in bed. By letting the child know that they only need to stay in bed for a short period of time, it eases their anxiety and helps them drift off to sleep naturally. If a child thinks they have to stay alone in bed all night, they might end up staying awake for more than 15 minutes, which could disturb their own sleep as well as their parents. By framing the bedtime routine as a fun “game” with a set duration, the child feels less anxious and starts associating being in bed with peace and comfort.

If your child has trouble falling or staying asleep at night, gradually increasing the time they spend in bed during nighttime awakenings can help improve their sleep habits over time.

If your child consistently enters your room every night and drifts off to sleep

If your child only sleeps with you at night or has started sleeping in their own bed but still comes to your room during the night, there are some strategies you can try.

For children dealing with anxiety, a helpful approach is to gradually increase the time they spend in their own bed following a specific protocol.

To tackle sleep onset associations, it’s essential to pay attention to how the child falls asleep. These associations occur when the child falls asleep under conditions different from nighttime, often with a parent present. These associations can be subtle, like needing to return to settle the child after turning off lights. Another example is when the child repeatedly leaves the room at bedtime until a parent lies down with them.

Dealing with early morning awakenings that lead to co sleeping can be quite challenging. While it might be tempting to allow your child to sleep with you at 4 or 5 AM, addressing this behavior is important if you want it to end.
One solution that works well is to use an alarm clock with an “OK to wake” feature, setting it for 10 minutes after the child’s usual waking time and gradually extending it by 10 minutes daily.

For kids who tend to come into their parents room, offering them the choice of sleeping on the floor with a sleeping bag and pillow can serve as a helpful transition. This often results in the child naturally stopping this behavior over time once they realize it’s not as cozy as their own bed.

If the child resists sleeping on the floor and persists in disturbing the parent nightly, it’s crucial to consistently guide them back to their own room. While tantrums in the middle of the night are not uncommon among children, parents can employ a strategy of closing the door. This means leading the child back to bed and expecting them to remain there. If they get up again, parents can temporarily close the door for one minute, gradually increasing this duration if necessary. Though it may seem extreme, this approach can prove effective in certain situations.

Some other possible issues:

  • How long will this process take? It is difficult to predict, as it can vary depending on your child’s readiness for this change. It could go smoothly and only take a day or two, or it may require a slower approach for more reluctant children. Generally, I would expect it to take no longer than two weeks. If you encounter difficulties while trying to stop cosleeping, I recommend consulting with your pediatrician or a sleep specialist. Keep in mind the concept of the “extinction burst”: your child’s sleep may initially worsen before improving, and this may occur 2-3 days in.
  • What if my child becomes ill or has a nightmare? It is important to stick to your plan as strictly as possible. A brief cuddle in their own room during the night is acceptable, but bringing them into your bed for the remainder of the night may undo the progress you have made. If you are not ready to be firm on this for at least a month, it may be best to hold off for now. After your child has successfully slept in their own bed for a month, it may be okay to bring them into your bed in special circumstances (such as a high fever), but remember that you may need to reinforce the boundaries afterwards.
  • What if I am unsure if I am making the right decision? If you are unsure and convey that to your child, it can set both of you up for failure. In this case, it may be best to wait a little longer. However, if you have a plan in place and have started implementing it, I encourage you to follow through despite any doubts that may arise in the middle of the night. Give it a week before reevaluating. If you stop too soon, you and your child may have endured difficulties for no reason and potentially made it harder for yourselves in the future. Trust in yourself, you can do this.

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