The importance of sleep for children
Establishing and maintaining a bedtime routine for your little one is worth the struggle that it can sometimes be. There is so much learning to be had during the hour before the lights go out that really shouldn’t be missed. Bedtime is also a daily opportunity to build and nurture your relationship with your child. There’s something about a quiet, dark room that invites conversation.
Why is a good night’s sleep good for your children?
Sleep is an essential part of everyone’s routine and an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle. Children who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behaviour, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health, with research telling us that kids who don't get enough sleep on a consistent basis are more likely to have problems at school and develop more slowly than their peers who are getting enough sleep.
How much sleep your little one needs depends on their age – you know your little ones better than anyone, but the National Sleep Foundation* recommends the following:
- Newborn (0-3 months) = 14-17 hours
- Infant (4-11 months) = 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years) = 11-14 hours
- Preschool (3-5 years) = 10-13 hours
- School-age (6-13 years) = 9-11 hours
*These ranges are for total sleep including at night and during naps. These are broad recommendations and that an hour more or less may be appropriate for some children. Parents can benefit from using these guidelines as a target while recognising that a healthy amount of sleep may vary among children or from day to day.
What can I do if my children aren’t getting enough sleep?
According to the National Library of Medicine, it is estimated 25% of young children deal with sleeping problems or excessive daytime sleepiness. Helping children sleep often starts with creating a bedroom environment that is peaceful, quiet, and comfortable. Having an appropriate mattress and minimising distractions, such as from TV or other electronic devices, can make it easier for children of any age to get consistent sleep.
Establishing healthy sleep habits, including a stable sleep schedule and pre-bed routine, can reinforce the importance of bedtime and cut down on night-to-night variability in sleep. Giving children an opportunity to use up their energy during the day and to unwind before bedtime can make it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
Bedtime Do’s and Don’ts
Repetition and structure help children feel safe, with bedtime declaring that the day is over. There is no absolute right way to set up a bedtime routine. Some children like to hear a bedtime story, others may want to talk about their day, and some may just want some time alone to relax before they can go to sleep. As long as your child falls asleep easily and sleeps all night, then your bedtime routine is likely working well.
Be consistent. Your bedtime routine may change over time, as your child gets older, but it should be fairly consistent from day to day, starting at the same time and going in the same order. For example, a toddler's bedtime routine might start at 8pm and include a bath, putting on pyjamas, getting into bed and reading a bedtime story.
Offer some choices. Your child can't choose when to go to bed, but you can let them have some power in their bedtime routine by letting them have a choice over which pyjamas to wear and which books to read – this can help them feel a part of the process and minimise any unwanted tantrums.
Check noise and light in your child’s bedroom. A quiet, dimly lit space is important for good sleep. Check whether your child’s bedroom is too light or noisy for sleep. Blue light from televisions, computer screens, phones and tablets might suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness. It probably helps to turn off these devices at least one hour before bedtime and to keep screens out of your child’s room at night.
Eat the right amount at the right time. Make sure your child has a satisfying evening meal at a reasonable time. Feeling hungry or too full before bed can make your child more alert or uncomfortable. This can make it harder for your child to get to sleep.
Allow stimulating activities before bed. Especially if your child has trouble falling asleep, you should usually stop stimulating activities 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, such as playing video games, watching TV, or talking on the phone.
Create poor sleep associations. Rubbing your child's back until they fall asleep, having music playing, or keeping the TV on can mean your child will need help if they wake up later on in the night.
Give caffeine before bed. Keep in mind that in addition to soda and tea, caffeine can be a hidden ingredient in other foods, including coffee-flavoured ice cream and chocolate, etc.
Putting a bedtime routine in place that works for you and your child, is going to be beneficial to all parties involved. It can take a few weeks, but a positive bedtime routine will improve settling problems, decrease the number of times your child calls out to you at night, and lead to better parent-child relationships. A well-rested child is a happy child!