4 Tips to Help Your Gifted Child Fall Asleep

Asian mother comforting daughter in bed.

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A commonly noted characteristic of gifted children is their need for less sleep than other children. What is not so commonly noted, but commonly occurs, is the difficulty many gifted children have getting to sleep.

Why a Child May Have Trouble Falling Asleep

  • Not Tired: Yes, it could be that simple. Since some gifted children don’t need as much sleep as other children, they may just not be tired when their parents put them to bed and want them to go to sleep.
  • Need More Time Alone to Wind Down: If a child is an introvert, he or she may need extra time alone to settle down from the day. Sleep won’t come quickly as the child needs time to reflect.
  • Brain Won’t “Shut Down”: A gifted child will often complain to parents that his brain just won’t stop working. He or she will even say things like, “My brain won’t turn off” or “My brain won’t let me go to sleep.”

Tips to Help Your Child Get Sleep

Like most advice found in the usual parenting books, advice for helping children fall asleep doesn’t always work. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to try it, but don’t be surprised if your child still has trouble falling asleep. Here are some suggestions to try:

  • Focus on Relaxing Rather Than on Falling Asleep: A child can no more will himself to fall asleep than an adult can. In fact, the harder we try to fall asleep, the more elusive sleep seems to become. Instead of insisting on a specific time for lights out and going to sleep, insist on a specific time to be in bed and stay in bed, a time for quiet and peaceful activities, such as reading, looking at books, or listening to soft music. Getting out of bed is not allowed.
  • Make Bedtime Earlier: Some children need more time to wind down from the activities of the day. If a child’s usual bedtime is 8:00 with lights out at 8:30, parents can move the bedtime to 7:30 and allow the child’s brain more time to calm down. This is especially important for introverts. The time should be time alone, not time spent talking with a sibling or a parent. This can be more difficult for children who share a room, particularly if they share a room with an extroverted sibling who needs to talk!
  • Make or Buy a “Bed Tent” for Privacy: The inner life of a gifted child can make it hard for him or her to sleep, but the world outside can prevent a child from falling asleep as well. There are just too many distractions, too many sights, and sounds. To eliminate some of these distractions, parents can make a “bed tent.” Or for parents who want and can afford something a little fancier and certainly easier, ready-made tents are available. A bed tent is a light-weight, bed-sized tent whose bottom fits over the child’s bed like a fitted sheet. Bed tents have vents and can remain open or be zippered shut. They are made to look like cars, ladybugs, trains, or “castles.”
  • Supply a Brain On/Off Button: No, of course, the button won’t really turn the brain off, but sometimes a child just needs a prop – imaginary or real – to help him or her shut down the brain. Some children can imagine that their brain is like a computer and they simply need to go through a shutdown process. Some children imagine double-clicking on their “brain button.” And some children can use an old lamp (with the cord removed) as their on/off switch. Anything that clicks can function as the prop for the brain button. Even if this trick doesn’t always work, it serves well as a metaphor for both the child and the parents. And it’s just fun. Oddly enough, though, it does sometimes actually work! It can help a child calm down their brain activity.

A Few "Don'ts"

Don’t expect any of these methods to give immediate results and don’t shift constantly from one to another. You can try all of them all at once or just try some of them, whatever you choose to do, give it a chance to work. Just because it doesn’t work on the first night doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Don’t worry if your child is not getting the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age. For example, most children between the ages of one and three need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day, but a gifted child may sleep only nine hours a day. Most parents can tell when their child is tired since tired children tend to get cranky.

If your child is getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, is cranky, has circles under the eyes, has headaches and trouble concentrating, he or she is probably not getting enough sleep. However, if your child is healthy and functioning well, he or she probably just needs less sleep than the recommended amount.

Don't automatically assume your child needs less sleep. Some gifted children actually need more, not less, sleep than other children.

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  1. National Sleep Foundation. Children and Sleep.