One of the most common concerns of parents is maintaining their children’s sleep schedule. They may have difficulty getting their kids to sleep, or children may awaken frequently during the night. Getting their kids into bed and having them stay there become a nightly challenge.
Getting enough sleep is essential at any age. Tips on helping your children get the required amount follow.
Establish a Nighttime Pattern
Nighttime routines are as equally important as daytime routines. A regular bedtime hour helps your kids fall asleep, stay asleep and awaken rested and refreshed.
This is especially important because when children of all ages don’t sleep, they may be irritable, easily frustrated and, at times, may appear hyperactive. We know from research that children who don’t sleep a sufficient number of hours per night are more likely to have a difficult time paying attention in school, have mood changes and may even experience weight gain. It is clearly important to establish a regular routine for each child and, in fact, doing so can help take the stress out of bedtime, too!
There are no hard-and-fast bedtime rules. Every child is unique and may have different needs for a sleep routine. What’s most important is to build a routine that works for your family and keeps everyone on task. In order to establish a routine, you should know how much sleep each child needs. Current pediatric sleep hours for each age-group recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine follow.
* Infants 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
* Children 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
* Children 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
* Children 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
* Teens 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
Additionally, it is essential to understand circadian rhythms, which are important for all living creatures. Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark. These rhythms begin to develop at about six weeks, and, by three to six months, most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle. By two years of age, most children have spent more time asleep than awake. Overall, kids will spend 40 percent of their childhood asleep.
Suggestions to improve not only each child’s sleep routine — but your entire family’s — follow.
Role-Model a Healthy Sleep Routine
Establish a sleep routine that benefits all family members. Plan a strategy that works and is supported by another adult, if present, in the home. Set a daily routine focused on a regular, consistent bedtime, and stick with it. A good litmus test that your routine is working is that kids fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes of getting into bed, awaken easily in the morning and are not nodding off late in the afternoon. Most importantly, you should model healthy sleep behaviors by getting a good night’s sleep, too!
Make the Bedroom a TV-and Tech-Free Zone
Multiple studies confirm that once TV is on in the bedroom, it is turned off later than it should be, limiting sleep hours. Additionally, artificial light exposure between dusk and the time you go to bed makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), melatonin — a natural hormone that helps you fall asleep — is reduced in the presence of blue light emitted from TV, cell phones and other technology devices. Reducing melatonin levels makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. The best practice from an early age is to avoid technology in the bedroom.
Set the Right Sleep Environment
Important to a good night’s sleep — for infants, children and adults — is setting the right temperature. For optimal sleep, it is important to keep the temperature cooler and constant. Bedrooms should be kept at a slightly lower temperature than the living space rooms, ideally between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the NSF recommends that you consider investing in a humidifier during the colder months and/or a dehumidifier during the hotter months, depending on your climate, for a healthier sleeping environment. For good sleep for all, keep bedroom humidity levels around 50 percent year-round. Most importantly, silence is the best sleep aid. Noisy neighbors or a noisy house may keep children awake, so using a white noise machine or soothing quiet music to lull kids to sleep may be helpful.
Deal With Sleep Troubles
Signs of sleep struggles may indicate a problem to take to your healthcare provider. If your child has trouble falling asleep, wakes up frequently at night, snores loudly, has trouble breathing or has loud and heavy breathing while asleep or stalls and resists going to bed, consult your provider. If your child demonstrates behaviors such as being overtired, sleepy or cranky during the day, be sure to schedule an appointment with your provider.
Serve Bedtime Snacks
Sometimes a snack an hour before bedtime will help children sleep. Extra fruit or vegetables or foods that combine protein and carbs — such as toast with natural peanut butter, or cereal and milk — form amino acids that act like tryptophan, the chemical that makes you feel sleepy after a turkey dinner. Other foods that aid sleep include yogurt, cheese and bananas.
A predictable bedtime routine is likely to calm your kids (and you!), and help them drift off to dreamland more peacefully.
Christina Calamaro, PhD, CRNP, is a practicing PNP and a researcher in sleep and pediatrics.