Forty percent of your child’s life will be spent in sleep and for many of you it probably feels like another 40% of their lives are spent trying to get them to sleep. There are a number of factors that inhibit a child’s rest but regardless of the day’s activities or anxieties, your can help you child relax.
As children develop, their sleep changes. Toddlers need between 12-14 hours of sleep each night and nap between 1-3 hours each day. Nighttime fears and nightmares develop during this age and can persist throughout childhood.
Preschoolers need to sleep for 11-13 hours and lose their need to nap by age 5. As preschoolers become more aware of the world around them, they can work themselves up and have difficulty finding sleep.
As children enter school age, they need less sleep but still much more than adults, about 10-11 hours each night. Increased school responsibilities and interests in television and other screens can inhibit normal desires for rest in children during this time. Sleep problems are prevalent at this age and can range from sleep anxiety to night terrors.
Luckily, you as a parent have plenty of tools to help you get children to sleep. The 5 tips below will maximize your child’s sleep and keep you rested and sane.
- Set a Sleep Schedule – If 10 years as a public educator taught me anything it was that children thrive on schedules. Set a definite sleep and waking time appropriate to your child’s developmental age. Preschoolers who are put to bed at 7pm should be woken around 7 or 8am the next day (12-13 hours). School age kids who wake at 7am to get ready for class should go to bed around 8 or 8:30 each night (10-11 hours of sleep). Keep these times consistent by adhering to your sleep schedule and limiting access to wake-distractions such as TV and information screens before bed.
- Create a Relaxing Routine that ends in the room where the children sleep. In an interview with Psychology Today, Maureen Healy suggests soothing sounds such as soft music or Tibetan Singing Bowls to help create a relaxing routine. As an educator, I suggest reading a story-time book such as Dreamy Desert or Sleepy Safari to set the mood for bed. You can make a collection of bedtime stories to only read before sleep. These should be calm, peaceful books that encourage positivity and rest (no monsters, wild adventures or cliff-hangers before bed).
- Set a Sleep Environment. All humans, children and adults, sleep best in cool, dark and quiet environments. Set the temperature slightly lower than normal and use only soft lighting such as a nightlight. Put your children in bed before they fall asleep and keep their environment consistent throughout the night. If they wake, their surroundings will be familiar; this will allow them to return to sleep without intervention from you.
- Teach Healthy Sleep Habits. Teach your children about sleep and the importance of rest. Let them know that everybody needs sleep and set a good example. Children learn most, especially in the formative years, by observation. Be respectful of your own sleep routines and your children will follow suit.
- Finally, Limit Anxieties. Leave at least 30 minutes between bedtime and screen use. That means no TV or computer systems right before bed (except as a reading device for calming stories and poems). Instead, encourage reading, drawing, or keeping a journal. For small children, quiet play makes a great sleep-time transition. Feel free to use security items such as blankets, night lights, or even squirt bottles filled with “monster spray.”