One of the most common issues that comes up for kids of all ages is sleep. From the newborn period to the teen years, sleep is important for growth and health. And let’s face it, if the kids aren’t sleeping, the parents aren’t sleeping and that isn’t good for anyone.
For new parents, the newborn period is very much survival mode. However, by about 1-2 months it’s important to start thinking about sleep habits and routines. Establishing good sleep hygiene early on will make things easier down the road. Sleep hygiene is the term experts use to encompass recognizing tired cues, having a wind down routine to get the child ready for bed and making sure the child gets the right amount of sleep. By 4-6 months it is time to teach babies to fall asleep on their own (sleep training or self soothing) which is a lot easier if good sleep hygiene is started early. The most important thing parents can do early is to separate feeding from sleep. Have babies nurse (or take a bottle) when they wake up, then have some play time and when they start to look sleepy, wind them down with a routine like reading or singing and put them down for a nap. Babies who are sleep trained and take naps throughout the day will sleep better at night. It’s a win-win!
Having good sleep hygiene from the start will also help babies get over many bumps in the road as they grow. Anything from illness, teething, developmental changes and even a vivid imagination can interfere with sleep. It’s important to have the tools to get these kids back to sleep when they wake in the middle of the night. For the toddler and preschool aged kids, it’s sometimes necessary to revisit sleep training as they suddenly decide that they need 4 cups of water, 7 bathroom trips and 15 kisses before they can go to sleep. Also, they frequently have things like bees, dinosaurs or birds in their room. I recommend parents keep their routines the same but agree to stay in the room with their child until they fall asleep and then over time make their way out of the room as the child becomes more comfortable. It is best NOT to allow your child to fall asleep in your room. That is a much harder habit to break. For kids who end up in their parent’s bed in the middle of the night, guide them back to their rooms and again stay with them if needed. Sometimes these kids get up because they have to pee so a quick stop at the bathroom is a good idea. Keep in mind, if they are allowed to stay in your bed, they will continue to wake up and come into your room since this becomes an incentive for them.
For school aged kids and teens, the most important thing to do to ensure good sleep is to keep the TV out of the bedroom. Have them stop all electronics/screens 30-60 minutes before bedtime as the light from these screens shuts off melatonin (the hormone we all need to initiate sleep). Poor sleep in this age group is associated with behavior problems, learning problems and obesity.
For more information including how much sleep kids need, click the link on the bottom right to watch my You Tube video on sleep. If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, please see your pediatrician.