How Can You Establish Healthy Sleep Practices for Your Child Based on Different Age/Development Stages?
Sleep is important for people of all ages. Although it might seem as if children are full of boundless energy, they need sleep as much as anyone else, perhaps even more so. The key to ensuring your child gets enough sleep and that positive sleep habits are built early in life is to establish consistent and effective sleep practices based on their needs and their developmental level.
What can you do to manage your child’s sleep and promote positive sleep habits right from the start?
First and foremost, parents and caregivers must understand that quality sleep is learned. Although you hear parents refer to their children as good or bad sleepers, the truth is every child can be a good sleeper. And parents play a significant role in this happening.
According to Dr. Chris Winter, “Sleep is a skill, not a trait. Developing good sleep habits and routine most certainly insulates for future sleep issues.”
Parents should consider themselves their child’s sleep coach. They need to create a developmentally appropriate bedtime routine, be consistent with it, and make adjustments as the child ages.
Building a Positive Bedtime Routine
For many families, bedtime is stressful and involves an increased need for discipline. This creates stress for everyone involved, which is the exact opposite of the type of feeling you want at bedtime.
The more you can do to diffuse stress and create calm, peace, and relaxation the better.
Parents can incorporate the 4 B’s of Bedtime:
- Bath time
- Brushing teeth
Families can build on this as needed, but these 4B’s offer a great foundation for a peaceful bedtime. Even on busy days when you can’t manage anything else, make sure bedtime includes these four components. Consistency is key. It not only conditions your child behaviourally to understand it is bedtime, but their bodies will also adjust and release melatonin in response to this predictable routine.
It might be surprising for parents that have struggled with bedtime for years to believe that something as simple as brushing teeth and reading at the same time every night could trigger a biological reaction in their child that makes it easier to put them to sleep, but it’s true.
How Do I Know What Time to Put My Child to Bed?
To determine the best bedtime for your child, consider how much sleep they needs based on their age. Next, count backward from the time they need to be up in the morning.
For example, if your child needs to be up by 6 am to prepare for the day and they need 9 hours of sleep based on their age, they should be asleep by 9 pm. If your bedtime routine takes about an hour, you can set bedtime and all that it entails for 8 pm. Once you implement this basic timeframe, you can adjust as needed.
As children age, it can be difficult to maintain control of their bedtime. Some older children continue their good bedtime habits and quality sleep isn’t a problem. Others abandon their practices and rediscover them later in life when they’re better able to appreciate a good night’s sleep.
If your child is struggling with bedtime and not getting enough sleep, consider the following suggestions:
- Eliminate screens at least one hour before bed. Consider making a relaxing walk, a good book, or a family board game part of the early bedtime routine.
- Schedule about 15 to 20 minutes to just relax after bedtime hygiene tasks are done. Read, listen to soft music, or meditate for a short time after teeth are brushed, faces are washed, and PJs are on.
- Create a sleep touchstone that signals the end of the day. This might be getting tucked in, snuggling with a stuffed animal, or saying a prayer. This should be the last thing done before the lights get switched off and the eyes shut.
How much sleep does your child need?
Specific sleep needs vary from person to person. You might thrive on 7 hours of sleep while your spouse needs 9 or more. Children’s sleep needs vary too, but in general, you can determine your child’s sleep needs based on their age.
- 4 to 12 months (infants): 12 to 16 hours including naps
- 1 to 2 years (toddlers): 11 to 14 hours including naps
- 3 to 5 years (preschoolers): 10 to 13 hours including naps
- 6 to 12 years (grade schoolers): 9 to 12 hours
- 13 to 18 years (teens): 8 to 10 hours
Many parents, especially those who function on 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night, are surprised to learn their children need so much sleep. This is especially true for teens. People expect babies to sleep a lot, but they consider their teenagers lazy for needing up to 10 hours of sleep. In fact, teenagers need more sleep than adults, as their bodies and brains are still consuming enormous resources to sustain growth so don’t worry if your 16 year old sleeps in after a late-night studying or enjoying time with friends.
Creating a bedtime routine and improving sleep are important for every member of the family. As you help your child build good sleep habits, work on improving your sleep schedule and routine if there’s room to do so.