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12 Tranquilizing Tools That Get (All 4 of) My Kids to Sleep

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When we went into lockdown last spring, my four kids spent most days bouncing off the walls, occasionally slamming their laptops shut in protest when I’d log them into “Zoom school.” (Meanwhile, I was trying to record my podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.) Bedtime couldn’t come soon enough — except then it did come and it was awful because no matter how long we all spent jumping on the trampoline during the day, the kids could sense the uncertainty and fear in the air and were suddenly too scared to sleep.

But hey, when your children range in age from 6 to 13 like mine — and two of them are twins — you tend to have some bedtime survival tools that you can call upon in moments like this. Of the products that follow, some of them, like the SmartyPants mineral formula, have been standbys in our evening routine for years and have proved effective on multiple kids. (The root of “bad sleep,” as a decade-plus of tireless research has taught me, is often anxiety, so much of this list speaks directly to that issue.) Others, like the Casper Weighted blanket and Claire’s kitty sleep mask, are newer solutions that I discovered out of desperation during the pandemic; on top of the podcast, I was putting together a book called Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, which is out this week. I dedicated it to my kids.

Whatever the super-stretchy, durable mesh layers in these pillows are, they feel so soft and squishy that they actually make the kids want to put their heads down. Which means the construction is genius, as far as I’m concerned. My husband and I have been devotees of the pillows and mattresses from the startup Purple since mid-pandemic, and the kids kept stealing my husband’s pillow. The company more recently came out with a kids’ version so we got them their own. They’re so much happier to get in bed now.

This darling story incorporates breathing and mindfulness in such a subtle way that the kids don’t even realize it. As the main character, Buddy, gets ready for bed, he turns into a robot. His mom has to press different buttons while they say goodnight to each part of his body. The text gets smaller and smaller so that as a reader, you end up whispering, slower and slower. It’s a lullaby of words with a sense of humor and effectively calms down even the most hyperactive wannabe robot.

My 13-year-old daughter may be too old for the Hatch Rest light that I use for my 6- and 7-year olds (see below), but her bedside lamp has one of these magic Hue bulbs. Right after we finish reading books, we turn off all the other “regular” lights and control this one using an app. Hers is set to a rotating color option where every couple seconds the bulb shifts to a different hue. All shades we pick are calm, sleep-inducing shades, like pale blue, which signal to her it’s time to set her dreams to the disco lights.

$23

A therapist once told me that magnesium had been anecdotally shown to help kids sleep. That was good enough evidence for me. I flipped open my laptop and went to my favorite kids’ vitamin brand, SmartyPants. (I’ve been giving the kids their multi-vitamin for years and even recently graduated to the girl and boy teen vitamins for my 13-year-old twins.) Fortunately, they had another vitamin option with magnesium–and apparently it’s a formula that also won the Clean Label Purity Award. I give these to the kids before they brush their teeth at night. Who knows if it’s the magnesium working or just a placebo effect, but adding one more step to the bedtime rituals serves to calm down the kids and get them mentally ready for sleep — if nothing biological.

At 8:00 p.m. every night in my 6-year-old and 7-year-old’s rooms, Hatch nightlights automatically turn on to their favorite color that week (right now, it’s blue for both of them) and start playing an instrumental lullaby. The sound is set to continue until 9:00 p.m. when, hopefully, they’re both asleep. (Yes, it sometimes takes that long.) You can make the lights cycle through many colors or just stay white. In the morning, at 6:00 a.m., the light turns green letting the kids know it’s okay to wake up. The kids may not listen to me about staying in bed until morning, but for some reason, when the lights and music turn on at bedtime, they definitely stay under the covers from the time I kiss them good night until they find their way into my bed in the middle of the night. (I’m still working on keeping them in their rooms until the morning wake-up. To be honest, the most effective thing for that these days is bribing the kids with Robux for their Roblox iPad games.)

This sound machine is as much for parents as for kids; the simplicity of it makes even the most fatigued, technology-deficient parent seem like a whiz. And it’s a classic: no phone, no app, no settings required to work it. You just plug it into a wall and choose from one of two speeds, and it makes an ever-whirring sound. We scatter these everywhere in my house. Recently my 7-year-old daughter was like, “I hate that sound!” But then she fell asleep.