There’s a joke among parents that at bedtime, kids turn into dehydrated philosophers who need another hug. Children simply refuse to go to bed, asking numerous questions and telling endless stories, asking for water or a snack, and constantly finding an excuse to get you back in their room.
But while this behavior can be cute, sleep deprivation is not. Anyone who has dealt with a toddler who’s missed a nap knows that lack of sleep is one of the main ingredients of crankiness. But sleep deprivation can affect kids beyond their mood.
The Importance of Sleep for Kids
Baby sleep hours are different from adult sleep hours. While the usual advice for adults is seven to nine hours a night, babies and toddlers should get more than that: Newborns should be getting about 16 hours a day (8 hours at night and a total of 8 hours of naps during the day); this number gradually goes down as the months go by. Toddlers (aged 1 to 2) should be getting 11 to 14 hours, pre-schoolers should be getting 10 to 13 hours, and school-age children from 6 to 13 should be getting about 9 to 11 hours.
As you’ve probably experienced, a lack of sleep can really affect one’s energy, focus, and mood. For kids, sleep is important as it promotes growth, keeps their hearts healthy, may help manage weight, and helps increase their attention span. But given the nightly struggling with your little philosopher, you might be wondering how to make kids sleep.
Tips to Encourage Sleep
Sleep tips for kids vary slightly from age to age but it’s important to have a proper bedtime routine to signal sleep and to have an environment that’s conducive to sleeping, no matter what age. The U.S. National Sleep Foundation outlines specific tips for each age group:
While napping is essential for newborns, it’s still best to encourage them to sleep less during the day. Expose them to light, noise, and activity during the day.
In the early days as you’re still getting to know your little one, you may have to write down sleep details—how your baby acts when he or she is sleepy, the typical times the sleepiness sets in. This keeps you from having to guess when the baby is due for a nap and prevents meltdowns when they reach the fatigue point.
Other guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation’s specific guidelines: Put the baby down when drowsy, not when asleep. And place the baby on his or her back with the face and head clear of blankets and other items that may suffocate them. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers this the safest sleeping position for babies.
Babies are essentially still fetuses in their first three months, so some experts recommend mimicking the environment within the womb by swaddling them and playing white noise, which is said to be similar to the noise in utero. Read on to learn some adjustments you might have to make when it comes to four-month baby sleep and beyond.
Babies 4 to 11 months of age should be encouraged to be self-soothers. This means they can fall back asleep on their own, without any assistance from you, say in the form of rocking or patting their backs. This may require you to take a step back from your baby and not respond to their every little cry. It’s easier said than done, but it will be good for both of you in the long run.
By this age, the National Sleep Foundation advises creating a consistent and enjoyable bedtime baby sleep routine. This could include a warm bath and a short baby massage, for example.
Toddler sleep can be tricky as they’re learning to exert their will and their independence, and factors like an increased desire to socialize can keep them from wanting to go to bed—try to get an excited toddler to go to sleep when there’s a guest over for dinner and you’ll understand!
The National Sleep Foundation stresses the importance of sticking to a sleep schedule and setting limits that are “consistent, communicated, and enforced.” While it’s difficult to say no to those puppy-dog eyes, you have to maintain authority and not give in to their adorable requests to stay up a little longer.
PRE-SCHOOLERS AND BEYOND
As their imagination develops, kids may have more nighttime fears. Sleep walking and night terrors or sleep terrors also become more common at the pre-school age. Again, it’s important to enforce a consistent sleep schedule and to have a relaxing bedtime routine. You can have your child drink a glass of warm milk before bedtime (but make sure to leave enough time for them to go to the bathroom before bed to avoid nighttime accidents). Warm milk before bed benefits include an increase in the production of serotonin, which has soothing effects. Make sure he or she sleeps in the same room every night, without distracting gadgets (like a television).