By Ms. Beth, Early Childhood Parent Educator
Do you have questions or concerns about your child’s sleep? Is bedtime a hassle for everyone? Does your child wake up several times a night? Does your child no longer want to take a nap? Following is a list of suggestions to improve your child’s sleep:
- Your child should go to bed within an hour of the same time every night. And should get up within an hour of the same time every morning. That way you are setting a sleep pattern.
- Have a bedtime routine: bath, read a story, drink of water, etc. This will signal to your child that it is time for sleep.
- Help your child create his / her nest (comfort object, blanket, temperature and light in the room, etc.)
- No screen time (TV, video, computer) after supper. The light from these screens turns on a portion of the brain and makes it hard to fall asleep.
- No exercise after dinner. (This may include roughhousing.) Exercise raises the child’s body temperature, which also makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Naptime completed by 3 PM. Sleep after 3 PM makes it hard to fall sleep at night.
- No caffeine. Caffeine can stay in a child’s body for up to 8 hours.
- Put your child to bed sleepy, but awake. If your child falls asleep in your arms and wakes up later in his/her crib it will be more difficult for him/her to fall back asleep by him/her self.
Does your child give you cues as to when s/he is tired? Some children rub their eyes, slow down, yawn, etc when they are getting tired. It is easier to know when to put these children to sleep. Other children give very few cues or the cues come so close to the optimum time for sleep that you may not have time to get your child into bed before s/he is overtired. And if they are overtired, it is much harder for them to fall asleep. Many of us as parents have put our children to bed at a later time hoping that they will sleep later in the morning, only to have it backfire on us. Our children take much longer to fall asleep, they may wake during the night and they awake at their usual time in the morning.
If you have difficulty deciding when your child is ready for sleep, try putting your child to bed for naps and night time 15 minutes earlier. Do this for several days and see if their sleep is improved and the process goes better for you and your child.
If your child starts waking at night, try to determine what has changed in your child’s life. Is she getting teeth? Is he learning to walk? Has preschool just started? Does the new childcare do naps at a different time? You may want to keep a journal for a week or so to see what might be influencing your child’s sleep. The journal should include: wake up time, meals, naptime, activities during the day, exercise and bedtime. The best solution for night time waking (that can’t be altered by other means) is to go to your child’s room, reassure the child that s/he is okay, pat their back, etc and leave. It is okay to check back in 10 minutes if the child is still crying and then again in 15 minutes, etc until the child falls back asleep. This process can be very upsetting for both parents and children, so it may take some time to be comfortable with it.
This is a very brief overview about sleep. Much of the information I have shared is taken from Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and her book, Sleepless in America: Is This Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep?