Most adults know how it feels waking up after a poor night’s rest. Simple tasks are difficult, time drags on, anxiety is high and a lot of coffee is required. But for children, a sleepless night or two can be more detrimental. Consistent sleep is an essential aspect to early child development from both a physical and cognitive standpoint. Without it, children aren’t growing or learning at the rate they should be.
Age is the primary variable in how much sleep your child should be getting each night. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
Infants (4 to 12 months): 12-16 hours (including naps)
Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
School-Age Children (6 to 12 years): 9 to 12 hours
Teenagers (13 to 18 years): 8 to 10 hours
Parents need to establish a plan for developing healthy sleep habits in their children. These habits begin their early years, but can be altered over time as they grow older and are exposed to different types of distractions. We’ll explore some different methods below.
● Be observant. Newborns often sleep most of the day and night, averaging 16-20 hours a day. However, their sleep cycle is irregular depending on when they need to be fed, changed or nurtured. As parents, it’s important to remain observant of your infant’s needs. Typically, babies will express their desire to sleep by crying, rubbing their eyes, fussing or displaying their non-verbal cues unique to their personality. Know how to spot these signs in order to begin identifying sleeping patterns and habits.
● Proper crib use. Teach your infant that their crib is a place for sleeping – not playing with toys or laying wide awake while waiting for their parent to sing them a lullaby. Safe sleep practices for infants up to one year of age include room sharing without bed sharing. An infant under one year of age must sleep on his back in his own bed. Take them to the crib when they’re drowsy to establish the same routine for falling asleep by themselves.
● Don’t be afraid to adapt. As your baby grows older, night-time feedings can be spread out, usually around 4 months) They can sleep through the night for more than 8 hours, which allows you to as well. Once a baby begins to regularly sleep through the night, parents are often dismayed if night wakings happen again. This typically happens at about 6-9 months of age. Babies may also begin to have difficulty going to sleep because of separation anxiety, overstimulation, or overtiredness. It is important to adapt your strategies with these developmental changes.
TODDLERS & PRESCHOOLERS
● Routines and schedules are great. Make bedtime the same time every night. This helps your child know what to expect and helps him establish healthy sleep patterns. Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Establish calm and enjoyable activities in the 30 minutes right before bedtime, such as taking a bath or reading bedtime stories to help your child wind down. Whenever possible, keep morning wake up and nap time consistent to avoid confusion.
● Limit electronic use. While electronics are commonly used in most families, they should be avoided before bedtime. The light from devices can result in later fall-asleep times and shorter amounts of sleep by affecting natural melatonin levels in the brain and our natural body clock. It is best if your children should not use their electronics after a certain hour – preferably 3-4 hours before bed.
● Don’t forget: they still need sleep. School aged children need 9-12 hours of sleep. At the same time, there is an increasing demand on their time: homework, sports and other extracurricular activities. They also become more interested in TV, computers, the media and Internet as well as caffeine products. All of these factors can lead to difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and disruptions to their sleep. Sleep-deprived children can become hyper or irritable or have trouble paying attention in school.
● Consisency is key. Just like routines and schedules as toddlers, consistency with their day will help their night be smoother. Keep them active during the day with exercise, sports or other after-school activities; continue limiting electronic device use; stress the importance of proper hygiene with a nightly routine of brushing their teeth, flossing and taking a hot shower.
● Talk to them. Teens are not as likely to change bad sleep habits unless they recognize more sleep makes them feel better. Lack of sleep not only undermines teenagers’ safety and their academic performance, but puts them at higher risk for depression and obesity. Despite adolescents’ expectations of autonomy, parental influence and expectations really do help kids make better decisions about managing their time. Talk to your teens about their sleep hygiene and how changes might make them feel better.
● Routines still rule. You can see routines from infancy are still important as your children age. Stay active during the day, limit screens (even homework) to earlier in the evening, watch their snacking, dim lights in the house closer to bedtime. It’s important for your teen to go to bed as close as possible to the same time every night, including weekends within reason. If a teen’s sleep schedule shifts dramatically on the weekends—staying up most of the night and sleeping until midafternoon Saturday and Sunday—the chances of getting back to normal Sunday night are slim.
These guidelines can help you establish healthy sleep habits in your children regardless of their age! If you are seeking additional advice, don’t hesitate to contact your Capital Area Pediatrics physician. Our team can individually assess your children’s health and safety needs, and provide specific advice for ideal parenting methods. To schedule an appointment with a pediatrician, find your nearest location and contact us today!