Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health.
A to Zzs: Helping Your Child Fall and Stay Asleep
Keeping up with the demands of a growing child is enough to make any Mom tired, but life can be exhausting if your child doesn’t get enough sleep.
As an adult, you need anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to be at your best. Children, on the other hand, need even more or they can quickly become grouchy in the morning, irritable at school and resistant or restless at bedtime.
The good news is you can help your child get the sleep they need, and you can learn to recognize the red flags that mean it’s time to talk to your child’s pediatrician.
Sleep is so much more than rest for the body. During sleep, the unconscious brain gets busy making sense of everything that happened the day before. We organize, file and make sense of what we saw, heard, smelled and felt while awake.
How much sleep does your child need?
The younger the child, the more sleep they need. Adequate sleep time is especially important for school children whose brains are always absorbing knowledge and new concepts.
Children’s daily sleep needs fall within a range which changes during childhood. For example, a newborn needs 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day while teens require 8 to 10 hours.
Exactly how many hours a child needs at each stage varies and is determined by a variety of factors including genetics, family and environment. Other factors, such as screen-time and late extra-curricular activities, will also affect sleep.
How to recognize if there’s a sleep problem.
The most obvious sign is fatigue. If your child is especially groggy in the mornings, seems to have less energy during the day or remains awake long after bedtime, they’re probably not getting the sleep they need.
Most infants start sleeping through the night by six months of age. About that time they also should start learning to self-soothe and fall back asleep without being fed or held.
As children grow they will gradually need less sleep, but if it takes them more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or if they wake multiple times per night there may be a problem in their sleep routine. Other signs of inadequate sleep can include suddenly struggling in school or frequently get sick.
What you can do.
As tough as it is for working parents to get their kids (and themselves) to get a good night’s sleep, there are three simple ways you can help your child get enough sleep.
Infants can learn to self-soothe at night. It’s best if your child learns to fall asleep without the need for a bottle or a pacifier. And if they wake up and cry during the night they can learn to self-soothe and fall back asleep without Mom and Dad, which means you’ll get more sleep and be better rested the next day.
The power of routine. As soon as possible establish an evening routine that your child associates with bedtime, such as bathing, soft music and reading to them. When they’re a little older you can let them choose a favorite stuffed animal or soft blanket to hold and cuddle. As your child gets older, stick to their bedtime as much as possible so their body gets used to falling asleep at that time.
Forbid devices and screens for at least an hour before bedtime. Electrical activity in the brain automatically cranks up from the intense light emitted by modern devices and screens, a process that hampers your brain’s own process of falling asleep. Banning screens before bed makes it easier for your child to wind down and fall asleep faster.
The tactics that work for your child will evolve as your child grows. But if you’re intentional and consistent with routines, your child will will be well-rested – which means you’ll be better rested, too!
Want to learn more? You can hear more from Dr. Brown and Dr. Lucas on Our Lady of the Lake Children’s health Podcast, ParentingU. Listen to a full episode all about sleep here.
Dr. Brown is board certified in pediatric sleep medicine and general pediatrics. Dr. Lucas is board certified in general pediatric medicine and her specialties include early childhood, obesity prevention, breastfeeding and ADHD. They both work with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health.