Children need quality sleep for healthy mental and physical development. And the sleep habits that children form early on can lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep. As a parent, you want to support healthy sleep for your children, offering the support and resources kids need to develop good habits and get a good night’s sleep every night. Here’s what you need to know and how you can help support healthy sleep for your children.
What Parents Need to Know
Sleep problems are common and they may not go away: According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleep problems are not unusual in childhood. But if they’re not properly managed, they may persist, as 21 percent of children with sleep problems in infancy continue to have problems through 36 months of age.
Sleep problems can decrease quality of life for the entire family: Sleeping well is as essential for children as it is for adults. Sleep problems are associated with impaired functioning, decreased quality of life, disrupted parent sleep, maternal stress, and even marital discord.
Sleep is different at every stage: Children have different sleep needs that change as they grow up. Newborns don’t yet have circadian rhythms, so they have irregular sleep patterns. Most infants get to a regular sleep and wake cycle by three to six months. At the newborn stage, babies need up to 18 hours of sleep every day, including up to nine hours of sleep during the day. At two years, your child’s total sleep requirement drops to 14 hours or less with two or fewer hours of naptime. By school age, children get down to needing 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night with no need for regular naps.
Parent support is key: As a parent, you’re in charge of making sure children get access to the sleep they need with a healthy sleep environment. You’re responsible for helping them establish good sleep habits and helping them understand how important sleep is.
What Parents Can do to Support Healthy Sleep
Create a healthy sleep environment: A healthy sleep environment lays the foundation for a good night of sleep. Ideally, your child’s room will be cool, quiet, and dark with an appropriately sized mattress. Avoid distractions, such as excessive toys in your child’s bed or a television in the bedroom.
Develop a consistent bedtime routine: A bedtime routine that you repeat with your child night after night is a helpful tool. With a bedtime routine, your child learns to expect what will happen before bed. Their internal clock will respond to the bedtime routine, becoming sleepy as you go through the steps that lead them to bed. Your routine can be as simple as a bedtime story or as complicated as a bottle, bath, massage, songs, books, and more. What matters is that you repeat it consistently (ideally at the same time every night) to help signal that bedtime is approaching.
Read books every night: Bedtime stories are an essential part of any bedtime routine. Reading before bed every night offers a bonding opportunity, cognitive benefits, improved literacy rates, and an emotional connection to reading.
Avoid pitfalls that can interfere with sleep: There are a number of pitfalls that can make it difficult for children to get the quality sleep they need. Screen time, stress, even caffeine and large meals before bed can be a problem. Put an end to screen time at least an hour before bed. Be careful with caffeine, avoiding excess caffeine consumption and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon. Watch out for over scheduling. Your child’s schedule should be open enough that they can get to bed on time without worrying about staying up late to complete activities or homework.
Set a good example: You can tell kids about good sleep all you want, but the best way to teach them about healthy sleep habits is to set a good example. By school age, children will likely notice your sleep habits. Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep so that you’re modeling healthy sleep habits.
Get help with sleep disorders: Children may experience sleep disorders that interfere with healthy sleep. While some disorders such as night terrors and sleep walking tend to resolve themselves with age, others like sleep apnea can be more serious and require intervention. If you’re concerned your child may have a sleep disorder, don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician.