Little child sleeps soundly cuddled with her teddy bear

Helping Your Child Develop Healthy Sleep Habits

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 during their childhood, most parents find themselves valuing sleep more than ever before.

This is actually good, as sleep is vital to our overall well-being. Parents increasingly discover just how important sleep is – for both their children and themselves – because it impacts everything from our health to our ability to learn.

You likely know firsthand that, regardless of age, a lack of sleep 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: new studies now reveal that sleep actually plays a significant role in childhood brain development, the formation of lasting memories and obesity prevention.

Prioritizing sleep is clearly important for children’s health and well-being, so it’s worth considering how to facilitate it. Following are five tips for establishing healthy sleep habits in your little ones.

  1. sleep infographic for childrenHealthy sleep habits start 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!
  1. Know the recommended amount of sleep for your child’s age group. In committing to a healthy sleep routine, it definitely 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 7-8 hours recommended for adults. The average for newborns can range considerably, starting as high as 18 hours a day and gradually decreasing over subsequent years. 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 months – 1 year: 14-15 hours
    • 1-3 years: 12-14 hours
    • 3-5 years: 11-13 hours
  1. 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 any of the 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. Quite often, a child never learning to fall asleep independently can lead to both bedtime battles and naps that are limited to no more than 45 minutes to an hour.
  1. Get into a rhythm. Young children benefit from consistency and the predictability of routines. Sleep routines are no exception. Not only does a regular bedtime routine – like bathing, teeth brushing and 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. For more tips of creating a bedtime routine for your preschooler, check out this post by early childhood specialist Lynn Louise Wonders.
  1. Combat naptime resistance. Children need and benefit from naps well into the preschool years and beyond. And, while your toddler may only sleep 10 hours at night, the extra couple of hours of napping during the day help 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 lay down with limited distractions. Regular napping – even for extended naps of 3 hours or more – does not usually interfere with young children sleeping well at night.

Looking for more parenting tips on how to encourage good bedtime habits? Read this post from Dr. Mary Zurn.