Sleep is important for all ages for proper growth and development, as well as for overall health and well being. Typically children spend one-third to one-half of their life sleeping. Sleep is when the body restores itself as growth hormones are released. Getting enough sleep is key for a healthy immune system, proper learning, and memory.
Not all children are able to put themselves to sleep. Establishing good sleep patterns start with the parents. There are many views on sleep within families and cultures. Establish the sleep patterns that are right for you and your family.
In 2008 Dr. Mindell and Dr. Meltzer published Behavioral Sleep Disorders in Children and Adolescents. They found that good sleep hygiene practices and routines were associated with better sleep in infants and children. Their findings supported the recommendation that children of all ages should fall asleep independently, go to bed early and have a well-established nighttime routine.
Dr. Natalie Barnett, an infant sleep behaviorist who runs Seven Oaks Sleep Science in New York City states, “It’s never too late to start a sleep routine, but around four months is the sweet spot.”
So where do you begin? First, start noticing the signs that your child is ready for sleep, such as yawning, rubbing their eyes, and getting fussy. Most experts recommend teaching your child to recognize when they are getting sleepy and laying them down while they are still awake for both bedtime and nap time. Allowing your child to get sleepy is the best way to start establishing a routine. Encouraging your child to be active during the day will help them in establishing a natural wake/sleep cycle.
How can I establish a routine for naps and bedtime?
The key to establishing a good routine for naps and bedtime is having other regular routines, like feeding and activities. It is important to make sure your child is fed and has a clean diaper before they start showing signs of being tired, and this is where scheduled mealtimes come into play.
Keep in mind that not all children are the same and neither are their sleep behaviors. What works for one of your children may not work for another. Once you find what works for your child, consistency is key. Many experts state that having the same routine, whenever possible, for naps and bedtime is best.
When establishing your routine consider the American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment.
Plan ahead and don’t over-schedule. Pay attention to what times your child generally gets sleepy and plan your activities accordingly. Children sleep better when they have a consistent place to sleep.
Ease into sleep time by slowing down the activities when your child shows signs of being tired. Allow your child to unwind. This can be done by adjusting the lighting, cuddling, reading to them, or playing soft music. Make sure their sleep area is free from distractions, such as toys.
Establish a bedtime, which will help your child physically and mentally prepare for sleep. It may be tempting to be more flexible on weekends, but it makes it harder for your child. Keep in mind this will continue to change as your children get older.
Set a good sleeping space, a cool dark room free from distractions is best for sleeping, both at bedtime and nap time.
Avoid screen time before nap and bedtime. The light from the screen interferes with the natural sleep cycle. For younger children opt for stories or soft music. For older children, encourage them to read, listen to soft music, draw, or mediate as part of their routine.
For preschool children and older, consider making a bedtime chart that includes 4-6 of some of the following:
- Getting into pajamas
- Going to the potty
- Brushing teeth
- Reading a book
- Cuddle time
Most important, keep things simple, quiet, and consistent so it is not overwhelming to you or your child.
How many hours of deep sleep should a child get?
The amount of sleep your child needs is different based on their age as well as where they are in their physical growth cycle. As children get older they will sleep less during the day and longer at night. Between 4 and 6 years of age most children will stop taking naps. Sleep need and patterns vary from child to child so the chart below is just a guide.
How can baby sign language support my child’s sleep patterns?
Children can sign before they can speak, therefore your child communicate they are ready for sleep with a sign. Signing can help reduce the frustration that lack of communication can cause younger children. As you start creating your child’s sleep routine you can sign as you speak. When you change them into pajamas sign ‘PAJAMAS‘. Other signs that can be helpful with your routine are ‘BRUSH TEETH‘, ‘BOOK‘, ‘STORY‘, ‘READ‘, ‘BED‘, ‘BLANKET‘, and ‘GOOD NIGHT‘,
With toddlers you can model bedtime routines during dramatic play with a favorite stuffed animal or doll. Making the signs for ‘BED and ‘SLEEP’, show your and tell your child that Teddy is tired and wants to sleep now. Put him to bed and read him a story. Have your child leave the room with you. Explain that it is nap or bed time for Teddy. Take the time while way from Teddy to reinforce that you will always come back when sleeping time is over, then go back in to wake up Teddy. Then you can practice signs like ‘GOOD MORNING‘ and ‘AWAKE‘
We started using Signing Time with our daughter from birth. Her first sign back was “sleep” at 9-months-old. It has made napping and bedtime so easy with her. We know when she is tired and wants to be laid down. ~ LeeAnn
Behavioural Sleep Disorders in Children and Adolescents Jodi A Mindell,1,2PhD, Lisa J Meltzer,3 PhD
About sleep Raising Children
Newborn-Sleep Patterns Standford Children’s Health