Sleep. It’s something we all need in order to be healthy, to grow and develop, and to survive. So, why can it be so tough to get our children to do? We’ve had several questions recently about ways to get children into good sleep routines. First, if this interests you, I highly recommend that after reading this post, you go straight to the bookstore, library, used book store, whatever and check out this book:
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
This is what truly helped me when I was struggling with my own children. (It kind of changed my life, actually). Let me also preface by saying that parenting books are not Bibles; you are your child’s best advocate. I loved the science and research offered in this book. It helped me to realize how very important sleep was for my child which helped my perspective when we were struggling with routine.
The first part of figuring out sleep for your children is realizing just how much they need…
“What?! My two year old needs 14 hours of sleep?! She’s only been sleeping 10!”
First, understand that the chart above is an estimate and it is a total of sleep (adding both naptime and night time). Also, when I first began my mission for sleep for my children, I soon realized that (1) they were not getting the amount of sleep that they needed and (2) the more they slept, the more they slept.
Structure and Routine Yep, the absolutely toughest thing (for some of us) in parenting but also the absolute most important. Children thrive on routine and structure in their day, their brains need it, their sleep needs it!
So, give your child a bedtime and stick to it. All three of my children have specific bedtimes and they directly correlate to their age. My 6 year old needs (has-to-have-or-will-throw-major-meltdown-tantrums-during-the-day) 11 hours of sleep. Her bedtime is 7:30. This is not the most convenient for me (and causes me to miss out on some of my older children’s activities) but I know that Margo needs it to thrive, to be healthy, to do well in school, and to be happy. So that is what I do. My oldest is 12 and in middle school and while she would like to be up til very late at night, she has a bedtime of 9:00. Her body is growing too and sleep is just as important for her as it is for her sister.
Once you figure out your child’s bedtime, stick to it! Then, concentrate on routine. Children’s brains need routine in order to thrive. So, bath, book, bed, prayer? Whatever works for you all, do it and do it every night. Once my children were in bed, they sometimes had a hard time staying there. Dr. Weissbluth shares (in his book) some great and simple rules that I used to say to my children each and every night and often, they repeated back to me:
1. Stay in bed
2. Lay very still
3. Close your eyes
4. Go to sleep
Yes, it all sounds so very simple and it is… and it works. It may not work the first night or the third night but when bed time, routine, and the rules are consistent, you will eventually begin to see results. Be consistent. Be firm. Be unemotional. (If your child climbs out of bed 20 times one night, show no emotion and put him back in bed, safe, and repeat your four rules). It can (will) get exhausting and emotional but remember that your child needs it, you need it.
Please, feel free to comment with specific questions that you may still have regarding your child’s sleep and we will do the best we can to help.
May 2, 2013 at 1:36 am
May 2, 2013 at 1:37 am
Wow, I didn’t realize we needed so much sleep. 🙂
May 6, 2013 at 7:30 am
I had no idea that such young kids needed that much sleep. It kind of drives me to search what adults need because there are days where I get only a couple of hours of sleep. Do you think it goes out the window for what adults need sort of?.. I guess if parents stick to routine like your saying is a good thing for the kids to get used to. I have always put our kids to sleep super early because it gives us adults a little extra time to do things that we can’t while the kids are awake. Great share here. It’s cool to see little studies like this.
May 11, 2013 at 5:25 am
It’s wild how much sleep little ones need. My niece is four and getting to the stage where she won’t take naps. Do you think it’s wise to still push for naps if the child doesn’t want one?
May 13, 2013 at 8:13 pm
For most children, naps begin to disappear after the third birthday. If she’s refusing, she may no longer need that afternoon nap. My own children gave up naps by three years old and I accepted that but I also still gave them quiet, rest time each afternoon. The other factor that is important to remember is that she still needs between 11 and 13 hours of sleep. Her bedtime may need to be moved up even earlier in order for her to receive all the sleep that her body needs.