Sleep is a vital element in any child’s daily routine. It is important to establish healthy sleep patterns/ routines to encourage success and independence with falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as promote optimum functioning during awake hours. Below are several suggestions for nourishing healthy sleep habits in your little one.
- Stick to the same bedtime daily. There are obviously going to be exceptions with traveling, special events, etc., which is understandable, but sticking to the same timeframe is ideal. Children who follow a consistent timeframe/schedule are more likely to fall asleep without a struggle.
- Respect naptime for the younger ones as well. Toddlers (1-3 yrs.) need between 12-14hrs. of sleep over a 24hr. period, including nighttime and a nap or 2 during the day. Preschoolers (3-5 yrs.) typically need between 11-13hrs. of sleep over a 24hr. period, including 1 daytime nap.
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Engaging in calming activities 30 min. prior to bedtime is recommended. For example; taking a bath, reading a book, playing a quiet game, singing a song, etc. (For toddlers/ preschoolers, make sure you place clear limits on the number of books, songs, etc. Also, allow them to make choices around bedtime, providing him/her a sense of control around the process- i.e which book to read, which pajamas to wear, etc.). It will be very helpful to follow the same nightly routine (same activities/ order) when you are away from home as well- toddlers, in particular, love consistency.
- Limit food and drink prior to bedtime – particularly high sugar and caffeinated items, for obvious reasons! Limiting liquid intake for toddlers and preschoolers before bed will also deter waking in the night to use the bathroom or having an “accident” in bed.
- Ensure a quiet, cool, dark bedroom environment comfortable for sleeping. A dim night light is a good idea. Soft music and sound machines can be helpful for calming, but be careful as your child can become dependent on these external cues for falling asleep, and if they waken in the night, they may have a harder time falling back to sleep on their own.
- On a similar note, tuck your child in bed in a sleepy but awake state. It is very important from an early age (infancy even) that you encourage your child to fall asleep on his/ her own each night. You may want to consider not rocking, nursing, singing them to sleep, etc., again, so they’ll learn to settle themselves back down, should they awaken in the night.
- If your child (older toddler/preschooler) wakes in the night due to a nightmare or other bothersome issue, and seeks you out, it is ok to comfort him/her, but once calmed, it is important to return the child to their own bed. Offer a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, etc. to help the child fall asleep again independently.
The abovementioned suggestions/ strategies have proven very helpful in establishing healthy sleep habits in little ones. However, if significant sleep-related concerns arise, including if your child seems to have trouble breathing, snores, stops breathing while sleeping, or if your child has unusual nighttime behaviors, unexpected/ numerous awakenings, significant nighttime fears, or you feel your child’s sleep concerns are affecting daytime behavior, contact your pediatrician.