More on sleep

From teens who never seem to want to get up to little kids who never seem to want to go to sleep–what’s a parent to do?Getting young children to sleep is a common problem.  First–what is a “normal” amount of sleep?  Infants sleep 16-20 hours/day–generally 1-4 hours asleep followed by 1+ hours awake.  Between 2-9 months most children will settle into a schedule of 8-12 hours of sleep with 2-4 hours napping during daytime.  Toddlers stop napping usually by age 5, many sooner (note: parents lose the “need for toddlers to take a nap” even later!)  School age children need 10+ hours to sleep.  See previous post for teens.

Good sleep habits include:

  • Regular schedule–wake up and bedtime roughly the same time every day
  • Light snack only when closer to bedtime.  Avoid chocolate which contains caffeine
  • Child’s room should be quiet, dark(dim light or hall light is acceptable) and cool(not cold)
  • Quieter activity closer to bedtime. Avoid stimulating or rough house games/play
  • A fluffy toy or blanket is always helpful

For infants and toddlers who won’t go/stay asleep on their own:

  • Standard routine to get to bed.  Rituals of a few steps only(bath, snack, story, prayers, night-night)
  • Avoid “curtain calls”–one more this or that.  You can leave a drink in the room for the child to sip as desired, for example.
  • For persistent crying, you should return to the child’s room every 10 minutes or so to “touch base” and stay for only a minute +/-.   A brief hug is acceptable but do not pick your child up out of bed (I know–this can be HARD).  For how long?  In most instances, for toddlers after 9 mo old, as long as it takes–most children will eventually settle in and fall to sleep if their crying/demands are not met with positive reinforcement responses(I compare it to “feeding the stray cat”).
  • For children who reawaken during the night–repeat the process(check every 10 min, don’t pick the kid up, etc)

You may lose some sleep for a few nights doing this until the child acclimates to the routine.  I recommend that mom’s and dad’s “spell each other”–one takes tonight, the other takes tomorrow, etc, so each one doesn’t miss too much sleep (that’s one reason that you got married!)

All of the above presupposes a healthy child.  None of this applies if we are talking about a child who may be ill–for example fever, significant cough, vomiting(although some children will voluntarily vomit for attention, so called “ruminators”–call me if you suspect this may be occurring with your toddler) .  Please note that during times of family stress/emotional disruption(even good things–the birth of a new baby is a perfect example),children’s sleep habits can be severely affected.  So if none of this is working its also time for us to talk.  There may be other issues to address.

As before, please post comments or questions for future posts, and thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “More on sleep

  1. Very helpful. Do you have any advice on breaking the nursing to sleep habit and how to help with sleep when baby still nurses overnight. When is it no longer hunger and just a habit?

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    • Danielle–it depends on your desires and the age of your child. There is nothing wrong with nursing your child “on demand” throughout the first year of life. (at least not from the baby’s perspective–you may have “other priorities.”) Less than 3 months for sure and probably less than 6 months I would still let your baby “take the lead.” Otherwise, getting baby to sleep through the night is the same as the advise on the blog–nurse him(her) in the evening before bed but stop and do something else(bath, play, prayers, whatever) and make sure baby is awake when you put him in the crib. If he cries, go back and check on him every 10 minutes or so and speak to him soothingly but firmly for a minute. Do NOT pick him up. If you “stand your ground” he will eventually settle down and fall asleep and learn to do it himself. Same thing for middle of the night awakenings. If he cries and you nurse him you are rewarding that behavior so it would be likely to persist. Remember the above only applies if yor child is in good health that night. If he is ill with fever, for example, this does not apply. Thanks for following…

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