There’s nothing quite like parenthood to remind us that sleep is a beautiful thing. Whether we never seem to get enough or our children resist it at some point, most of us find ourselves valuing sleep more than ever once we start a family.
Indeed, new research shows that new parents face up to six years of sleep deprivation. But most of us don’t need researchers to tell us that sleep is vital to our overall well-being or that it affects everything from our health to our ability to learn. You know firsthand that a lack of shut-eye can have a significant effect on your mood, behavior, alertness and performance.
If these aren’t compelling enough reasons to commit to healthy family sleep habits, consider this: Studies reveal that sleep plays a significant role in childhood brain development and obesity prevention.
Prioritizing sleep is clearly important for children’s health and well-being, so it’s worth considering advice on how to facilitate it. Here are five tips for establishing healthy sleep habits for your little ones:
- Establish healthy sleeping habits early. Habits in general are hard to break, so establish a healthy sleep routine for your child from day one. It could help you avoid some of the classic bedtime battles down the road.
- Know the recommended amount of sleep for your child’s age. In committing to a healthy sleep routine, it helps to know just how much sleep your child needs. The answer varies by age, but overall we know that children need more than the seven to eight hours recommended for adults. The average for newborns can range considerably, starting as high as 18 hours a day and gradually decreasing over time. Below are the average hours of sleep children ages 0-5 need per day. Keep in mind that these averages take into account both nighttime sleep and napping.
- 0-2 months: 10.5-18 hours
- 2-12 months: 14-15 hours
- 1-3 years: 12-14 hours
- 3-5 years: 11-13 hours
- Foster sleep independence. We all hit periods of light sleep when we wake several times during the sleep cycle. For children who have not mastered the ability to fall asleep independently, each of these light sleep periods leaves them awake and unable to fall back into dreamland without a bottle, rocking chair, car ride or other common “crutches.” Learning to fall asleep independently, without the need for food, drink or other external sleep aids, is a valuable skill. Some children come by it naturally, but others can take some time to learn it. Often, a child who never learns to fall asleep independently will engage in both bedtime battles and naps that are no more than 45 minutes to an hour.
- Get into a rhythm. Young children benefit from consistent and predictable routines. Sleep routines are no exception. Not only does a regular bedtime routine — like bathing, brushing teeth and reading books — make bedtime more predictable for parents and children alike, but it also makes good sense by taking advantage of your child’s biorhythms and sleep-wake cycles.
- Combat naptime resistance. Children need and benefit from naps well into the preschool years and beyond. And while your toddler may sleep only 10 hours at night, the extra couple of hours of napping during the day helps him meet his recommended daily dose. If only getting young children to nap were as simple as doing the math. Unfortunately, this equation often gets more complicated once you factor in naptime resistance. To combat this, focus your efforts on creating a soothing naptime routine that includes a quiet, conducive place to lie down with limited distractions. Regular napping — even for extended naps of three hours or more — does not usually interfere with young children sleeping well at night.
Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for all of us, but even more so for children because sleep directly affects both mental and physical development. Ensuring your little ones get enough rest will help them reach their full potential.
Looking for more parenting tips to encourage good bedtime habits? Check out these resources: