Sleep is essential to the well being of everybody in a family, but anybody with a newborn can tell you that good sleep habits aren’t something we are born with. It is our job to teach our children how to go to sleep and stay asleep. The key to raising well-rested children is to remain consistent in establishing healthy routines that encourage sleep.
Different age groups typically have their own unique sleep issues. Below are some tips on how much sleep children need and how to help them sleep. Keep in mind that how much sleep a child needs varies from child to child. The key is to learn how to read your child to see if they are getting enough sleep. Ironically, tired children don’t act tired the same way we do — instead they can become hyper, disagreeable, and exhibit extremes in behavior.
Newborn to Six Months Old
(Typically need 16 to 20 hours of sleep a day)
Newborns are still developing their internal clocks so they don’t have a predictable sleep pattern. They get hungry quickly and generally wake up to be fed every two to five hours. At three months babies’ sleep pattern will start to change and they will start sleeping about five hours during the day and 10 hours at night. At this stage about 90% of babies can sleep six to eight hours in a row.
During this period it is important not to respond the second your baby starts to cry or make noises. Babies have a habit of being noisy sleepers. Wait a few minutes to make sure they are awake and give them the opportunity to try to fall back asleep by themselves. If your baby continues to cry, step in to see what is wrong. When changing or feeding your baby at night, do things quickly and with as little stimulation as possible. Keeping the lights off and doing things quietly can help teach your baby that nighttime is for sleeping.
Even though your baby is still young, start establishing a consistent bedtime routine now. Try to teach your baby to fall asleep in an environment that will be consistent throughout the night. This helps babies put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. If they are used to falling asleep in your arms while nursing, they will need that same environment to fall back asleep later.
Six to Twelve Months Old
(Typically need three hours of napping and 11 hours of sleep at night)
At this age when babies wake up in the middle of the night you can start to wait about five minutes for them to go back asleep before responding. When responding to babies in the middle of the night rub their backs and speak soothingly, but try to avoid picking them up, turning on the lights, playing with them or feeding them. (However, when babies are sick they need to be picked up and comforted.) If your baby doesn’t settle down, leave and then repeat the crib-side visit after another five minutes. After a few days babies typically learn how to put themselves back to sleep. If your baby continues to wake up five to six times a night, talk to your doctor.
One to Three Years Old
(Typically need a total of 10 to 13 hours of sleep)
A combination of separation anxiety, the desire not to miss out on anything, and pure toddler stubbornness can make bedtime a challenge at this age. Following the tips below can help with the bedtime blues.
• Find your toddler’s sleepy time. When does your toddler start to get sleepy in the evening? Once you notice a consistent trend, make this the regular bedtime.
• Naps. Some toddlers need them and some don’t. Watch your child for signs of being overtired to see if a nap is needed.
• Avoid overtiredness. Contrary to what many people assume, babies and toddlers don’t sleep as well when they are overtired.
• Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine can help children relax and prepare for sleep. A good routine should be about 15 to 30 minutes long and can include things like reading, bathing, and listening to soothing music. Avoid any stimulating activities right before bedtime.
Although most toddlers are sleeping through the night, it is not uncommon for teething, nightmares or dreams to wake up your child. When this happens, hold and comfort your child until they calm down. Once calm, encourage your child to go back to sleep as quickly as possible.
Four to Five Years Old
(Typically need a total of 10 to 12 hours of sleep)
Generally preschoolers no longer need naps and sleep about 10 to 12 hours per night. Naps can be substituted with brief quiet times when your child can rest.
Nightmares can still be a problem during this stage. Helping your children learn how to deal with nightmares can go a long way. It is a good idea to come up with items that can help relax your child at night in case they wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Things like a flashlight, a book or special CD might work well.
Six to Twelve Years Old
(Typically need a total of 9 to 10 hours of sleep)
Children at this age are often busy with school and other pastimes. Bedtime can be a great time to visit a little with your children individually and learn more about their day and any concerns they might have. Although older children don’t need as much sleep as they used to, they definitely need enough sleep. Watch your children for any signs that they might not be getting enough sleep.
(Typically need a total of 8 to 9.5 hours of sleep)
During puberty teens actually need more sleep, but over-packed schedules can often lead to sleep deprivation. Teens also experience a change in their sleep pattern that makes their bodies want to stay up later. The resulting lack of sleep can lead to things like inattentiveness, loss of short-term memory, and delayed response time. This can be deadly when combined with things like driving. As a parent, try to help your teen establish a consistent bedtime seven days a week that allows for at least eight to nine hours of sleep.
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