As you grow into adulthood, you realize the benefit, as well as the pure privilege, of sleep. As a child, you couldn’t think of anything worse. Why would you want to sleep when you could be playing? All kids have a serious case of FOMO, but we, as grown-ups, know that it’s vital that our kiddos get a good amount of snooze time. Your child needs sleep (and lots of it!) to be both happy and healthy.
So, let’s explore why your little one needs to be sleeping a lot (probably more than you realize) and how you can easily help them snooze. As a sleep consultant, I know several simple solutions that can help your child get the sleep they need to grow and thrive. Cause it’s darn hard to sleep when you don’t want to!
How Sleep Benefits Your Child
BENEFIT #1: Better overall health
For parents, our top priority is keeping our kids healthy. But did you realize how interconnected good sleep and health are? It’s incredible! Studies have shown that children who get adequate sleep have better overall mental and physical health. Also, not getting enough sleep can lead to childhood obesity, high blood pressure, and depression in older kids.
When your little one sleeps well, it boosts their immune system and is critical for growth. Somatotropin is the hormone that fuels growth, and 80% of it is released while your child sleeps. Your baby will triple their birth weight during their first year, and they need a lot of sleep to do this!
BENEFIT #2: Improvement in moods
Apart from the obvious fact that a tired child will be cranky throughout the day, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Sleep deprivation in adults is linked to depression. So it shouldn’t be surprising that children showing signs of irritability and being withdrawn also struggled with sleep problems.
BENEFIT #3: Aids development
Childhood is filled with discoveries, first-time experiences, and constant learning. Whether your child is an infant or a preschooler, every day is a new day. The way our children keep up with this constant stimulation is to experience and understand it. This is how they grow and developmentally! It’s been proven that adequate sleep improves learning, memory, language development, and overall cognitive development in children.
So now that you know the tremendous benefits of sleep for your child’s health, moods, and development, you might be wondering HOW you can actually get your little tyke snoozing great. I’ve helped over 35,000 families get their little ones sleeping great, so I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.
Sleep Tips for Babies and Kids
Baby (0-12 months)
Wrap ‘em up.
My number one tip for newborns is: swaddle. Not in a loose blanket which can be a safety risk, instead use a swaddle with velcro or snaps like the SwaddleMe. Newborns enter the world knowing only the womb, a safe and contained space. Your baby needs to feel safe and secure to relax enough to sleep, and a tight swaddle does the trick! My years working as a neonatal nurse taught me that newborns love being swaddled. In fact, we were required to swaddle all babies in the NICU!
Keep a consistent schedule.
One of the easiest ways to help your baby sleep well is to have them sleep at the same time each day. By doing this, you’re setting their body clock. Your baby doesn’t understand you telling them it’s time to sleep, but their body will relax on cue when sleep comes at the same time each day. Aim for consistent naps and bedtime every day.
Sleep train, if needed.
Sleep training is the process of teaching your baby to sleep independently. This is important because a baby that can fall asleep on its own at bedtime can also resettle back to sleep during the night without any help like rocking or holding. Once your baby reaches 5 months old, they develop the ability to learn to sleep independently.
Sleep training isn’t needed if you and your little one are sleeping fine! But if you’re struggling with never-ending night wakings or a baby that can’t nap longer than 30 minutes, sleep training can be a lifesaver! My gentle sleep training program allows you to pick a comfortable method and is customizable for your baby’s age and personality. Sleep training does NOT have to mean cry it out! You can do it in a way you’re comfortable with.
Toddler (1-2 years)
Keep that daily schedule going.
I repeat this because it’s essential. In addition to helping your toddler sleep well, a consistent daily routine also reduces tantrums and meltdowns. Toddlers are adorable little control freaks that need to know (and approve) anything occurring in their day. Throwing surprises at your toddler daily (like a different bedtime, a new nap space, or even the color of their utensils) can throw your tyke into a mental tailspin. Save yourself some emotional bandwidth by offering lots of consistency in your toddler’s daily routine.
For example, your toddler’s nap is at noon every day in his bedroom after reading Goodnight Moon. Despite his insistence otherwise, he craves the stability and security found through a consistent daily routine. Otherwise, life becomes too overwhelming.
Offer a lovey.
Separation anxiety is a normal phase of development. Our children become more vulnerable when they’re growing and learning new skills, so they cling to loved ones to feel safe. Preparing for sleep marks a clear time when your toddler will be away from you. That’s why going into their bedroom or putting on pajamas can make them start wailing.
Offering a lovey (or stuffed animal) is the perfect solution! A lovey provides comfort and security for a toddler who’s feeling nervous or unsure about being alone. It’s a “buddy” they can snuggle with, which will help them relax and fall asleep easier. After your child’s first birthday, it’s safe as long as there are no small parts that can be pulled or bitten off.
Keep the crib until 3 years old.
Unless your toddler is repeatedly climbing out, the crib is the surest bet for safe and uninterrupted sleep. So try your hardest to keep it until age three! Toddlers lack the cognitive maturity and impulse control to stay in a bed without boundaries. This poses a safety risk when parents are sleeping and cannot supervise their little ones. Having your child safely contained in a crib gives you peace of mind and improves their sleep because there are fewer distractions to get into!
3-6 Years Old
Offer a night light.
Once your child asks for it, especially if bedtime fears arise, it’s fine to introduce a soft night light. Around three years old, children develop a vivid sense of imagination which can make darkness feel scary. Use a soft night light (it can be in the shape of something positive and familiar, like a ladybug or a football). Plug it in behind furniture to keep the light dim.
Investigate bedtime fears.
Do an inventory of your child’s favorite movies and books to see if any scary characters might be triggering bedtime fears. Have an open conversation and encourage your child to share the particulars of what’s scaring them so you can help reassure them. Things that seem mundane to us can be overwhelming for a child who’s still discovering the world.
The best way to do this is by ensuring your child is sleeping enough. At this age, children need 10-12 hours of night sleep. Chronically overtired children are more prone to nightmares. To encourage adequate sleep, restrict screen time two hours before bedtime. Avoid foods that are highly processed or sugar-laden. And make sure your child gets outdoor physical activity every day.
6-10 Years Old
Limit screen time.
A year of lockdowns and online school caused most of us to throw our screen time restrictions out the window. After carefully limiting screen time for our toddlers, we often overlook the fact that our 7-year-old has watched everything on kids’ Netflix!
Screen time, especially in the evening, impairs the ability to fall asleep easily. It also replaces physical activity and creative play during the day, both of which help tire out our kiddos. Consider limiting your child’s screen time to less than two hours daily and none at all in the evening to help them get the sleep they need. And start a rule prohibiting phones, tablets, and TVs in your child’s bedroom. Screens in the bedroom can lead to isolation, less physical activity, and poor sleeping habits. (See source here.)
Watch the diet.
Sugar seems to be a component in most processed foods these days. And some kids (like mine) are more sensitive to the ingredients in processed food and have a hard time falling and staying asleep.
If packaged food comprises most of your child’s food every day, start swapping them out with fresh foods. Ditch the granola bar in favor of fresh strawberries, peaches, or avocado. Avoid mac and cheese from a box, and instead, whip up your own and include fresh peas and carrots.
Talk through bedtime fears.
Kids are learning big life concepts at this age, and it’s common to see worries and fears surface at bedtime. For example, my seven-year-old will seem fine during the day, then suddenly, at bedtime, have a meltdown because she had a fight with her best friend at school. We also discuss death (a lot) at bedtime because children start to understand mortality at this age and have many questions.
Allow time and space at bedtime to discuss events happening at school, in the home, or in your extended circle that could be worrying your little one. Taking time to talk them through and reassure your child can be the difference between a good night’s sleep or an unsettled one.
On a final note, good sleep habits now will stand the test of time, and see your child sleeping well in adulthood too. And, we all know how welcoming a good night’s sleep is for us. Do it for the adult they will become one day.
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