First person: 5 ways I helped my son get more sleep

I was concerned when my son's childcare provider told me he was being difficult, especially before nap time. I had also noticed he was picking more fights with his brother than usual. I thought about any changes in his life and realized he wasn't adjusting too well to our new early morning routine. My son was used to sleeping in, but had to get up early every day so we could get his older brother to school for a pre-kindergarten program.

According to a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics, children who got less than 7 hours of sleep were much sleepier. The sleep-deprived children were more likely to score lower on tests and misbehave. They were scored based on their restlessness, emotions and moodiness. I know my son's daycare provider mentioned he was irritable. After my son started getting more sleep, he was like a different person. In fact, the change was literally overnight.

Getting out the energy

The first thing I did was make sure my son was exhausted by the time I wanted him to go to bed. I took him along when I exercised on a paved walking path through the woods that led to a playground. He was motivated to get to the playground. I pretended we couldn't drive to get to the park.

Eating the right foods

Throughout the day, I made sure he didn't have access to any sugary treats. Although I didn't make him lunch during the day, I didn't worry too much about that meal since it was early enough in the day. For dinner, though, I focused on foods that help you fall asleep. I found out that some foods that are high on the Glycemic Index actually help a person fall asleep in half the time. The key was to feed him the foods four hours before bed or at about 4:30 or 5 p.m. Some of the sleep-inducing foods he liked best included a bagel, watermelon, mashed potatoes, graham crackers, pretzels, red baked potato and French bread.

Winding down at night

I made sure my son took a warm bath just before I hoped he would fall asleep. I found if I had him take a bath earlier in the evening, the relaxation effects simply wore off. I changed his routine so that a warm bath was the last thing he did before crawling into bed.

Playing relaxing music

I also got in the habit of playing relaxation music after my sons were in bed. They responded best to the sounds of the ocean waves. I also made sure to close all the blinds and keep the lights in the house off except for a few nightlights. Everyone else in the family took more effort to be quiet and go to bed earlier as well.

Waking up in a more pleasant way

My last step was to wake my son up in a more pleasant way in the morning. Instead of letting his brother yell at him that it's time to get up or torture him with water in a spray bottle, I used one of the progression clocks that begin playing soft music about 15 minutes before it's time for the person to wake up. The clock also has a light that slowly begins to turn bright and brighter just like a sunrise.

All of our techniques for increasing my son's amount of sleep actually proved to be so good that he was up before the rest of the family. He took the initiative to learn how to make breakfast and take the dog out in the morning. As far as his behavior at daycare, I never heard anything but glowing reports.

More from this contributor:

Being an Overprotective Parent

Training My Baby to Sleep with 'Le Pause'

Helping a Child Who Shares Too Much