Ever have one of those days where your child wakes up on the wrong side of the bed? On those days, your little one will act out, become easily frustrated, and even throw a temper tantrum (or two) while you stare longingly at the clock as you count down the minutes to nap time or bedtime.
When it comes to kids’ sleep, both quality and quantity are equally important. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 12-16 hours of sleep a day for infants (birth to 12 months), 11-14 hours a day for ages 1-2, and 10-13 hours a day for children aged 3-5 years. When children don’t get the amount (and quality) of sleep they need, it directly impacts their daily cognitive performance in school as well as in daily life.
One night of poor sleep won’t create a long-term problem for your child, but if it seems like every night is a “rough” night, it may be time to consider a new approach to bedtime.
How To Encourage Healthy Sleep
You’ve probably been advised over and over on the importance of establishing a routine for your child – and that advice likely started about three minutes after you delivered him. You hear it so much because it’s true, a routine is essential to healthy sleep habits. Once your child is past the infancy stage, a firm bedtime will help his little body set a biological clock. Over time, you’ll start to notice him showing natural signs of sleepiness as bedtime approaches. You can help him anticipate bedtime by following the same routine every night – bath, lotion (using a scented lotion will eventually develop an association between the smell and bedtime), PJs, bottle/drink, story, and lights out. Before you know it, bedtime will be a breeze and he will be sound asleep before you even have a chance to sit on the couch to relax.
If your child suddenly decides he no longer wants to nap, implement a “quiet time” rule. Eventually, toddlers start to refuse nap time, even when they are clearly exhausted. To remedy this (and to give yourself a break), tell your tot that even if he doesn’t want to sleep, he still needs to go to his room to quietly play. Make sure furniture is anchored to the wall so that he can safely play alone (while you watch him over the baby monitor) and if his body needs rest he will likely doze off at some point. Set up his bedroom to encourage sleep by keeping the temperature comfortably cool, hanging curtains to block out sunlight, turning on a white noise machine, and keeping TV and tablet screens out.
You can also help promote quality sleep by keeping your child active throughout the day. Remember when you were a kid and were exhausted after a day of swimming at a pool or lake? The same will be true for your kiddo – no matter what the physical activity is. Ride bikes, run around the yard, dance in the kitchen, or play hopscotch. Do whatever you can to wear your little one out so that when bedtime rolls around, he won’t even have the energy to ask for a second (or third) cup of water before he falls asleep.
No matter what, don’t beat yourself up over your kid’s sleep habits. It may only take a few minor changes to get your child on track for optimal sleep. Of course, if you’ve tried everything you can think of and there has been no change or if you think your child is suffering from sleep deprivation be sure to consult a physician.