Healthy Sleep Habits for Children

There are many things that we, parents, can do to help our children fall asleep easier and sooner, stay asleep and have healthy sleep habits.

These are basic and simple things that will help with this:

  • Consistent daily routine – Keep to a regular daily routine— waking time, meal times, nap times, play times, TV time… will help your child to feel secure, relaxed and comfortable, and help with a smooth bedtime.  Children like to know what to expect, and not have the stress of wondering what’s going to happen next.
  • Exercise and fresh air – Make sure your child has interesting, stimulating and varied activities during the day, including physical activity and fresh air; so she can burn up energy, exercise her body and mind, and be looking forward the wind down time at night.
  • Consistent sleep schedule – We have said this many times. It is essential for your child to have a clear and consistent schedule. Her wake up time and bed time should be the same every day, regardless of the circumstances (weekend, holidays…). We don’t expect you to have a set time (ie. 7:14am), but you should have a clear window, 10 minutes up or down and be consistent. Therefore, if your bedtime is 7pm, sometimes your child might go to bed at 6:50pm and others at 7:10pm, but that’s all the wiggle you should allow.
  • Loving bedtime routine and wind down time – Plan quiet time before bedtime every night for approximately 30-60 minutes. This means that the activities take place 1 hour before bedtime should be calming, and enjoyable. This might include: taking a bath, getting a massage, listening to quiet music, reading a book, singing lullabies… Try to be consistent with your bedtime routine. This quiet time activity need not all take place in the child’s bedroom but it should culminate there such that the last 10-15 minutes are in the bedroom where the child will sleep. The bedtime routine should be a time for you to interact with your child in a way that is secure and loving, yet firm. Spend some special time with your child, let them know you love her and you are going to be there for her. Please, avoid TV watching, homework, video game playing and other exciting activities. Never use sending your child to bed as a threat. Bedtime needs to be a secure, loving time, not a punishment.  Your goal is to teach your kids that bedtime is enjoyable, just as it is for us adults.  If the feeling around bedtime is a good feeling, your child will fall asleep easier.
  • Appropriately full stomach – You should guarantee that your child has a heavy dinner, at least 1 hour before going to bed, so she will not wake up hungry in the middle of the night. You can also provide a light snack or cup of milk right before bedtime (remember to brush their teeth after this). Eating too much right before bedtime or much earlier might interfere with your child’s sleep quality.
  • Sleep-friendly bedroom – Your child’s bedroom should be quiet, safe (baby proofed, no cords, hard corners, accessible electric outlets, no loose sheets…), secure (allow for security blankets if your child needs them, display a picture of the family…), adequate temperature (68° F – 75° F), happy (bedroom should not be used for super exciting activities or for time outs, in order to avoid bad sleep associations, however, it should be used for calming, enjoyable activities besides sleeping), and dark (a nightlight is acceptable for children afraid of a dark, but make sure it’s not too bright).

Remember, consistency, calmness, trust and reassurance are essential in helping your child become an independent sleeper.

Sources: Cleveland Clinic research, University of Michigan research

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Sleep Needs By Age

Sleep is probably the most discussed aspect of baby care. As we mentioned in a previous post, sleep is essential for babies and children’s development. The quality and quantity of a child’s sleep has a direct impact in his growth, development, awareness, happiness and overall wellbeing.

Many of you have written us asking about how many hours of sleep children and babies need. This is a general guide, every child is different and certain developmental milestones and personal and family-related circumstances might influence the amount of sleep they need.

Age Total Sleep Hours Comments
Day-Naps Night Total
0 – 1 Month 5 – 7 10 – 13 15 – 18 §   Preemies may need more sleep.

§   Newborns usually wake up every 2.5 to 4 hours; since that’s the longest their tummies can go between feedings. Therefore, do not expect newborns to sleep those 10 hours straight at night.

§   Newborns sleep most of the day, so ‘naps’ are not really so. They happen often and not necessarily at the same time every day.

2 – 4 Months 4 – 5 10 – 12 14 – 16 §   A more regular sleeping pattern usually emerges around the 2nd or 3rd month of life.

§   The longest sleep periods are from 4 to 8 hours.

§   Naps are usually 3 (morning, midday and afternoon).

§   Between 3 and 4 months of age, formal sleep training can begin.

§   Establishing healthy sleep habits is a primary goal during this time.

5 – 6 Months 4 – 5 10 – 12 14 – 16 §   The longest sleep periods could last 10 to 12 hours at night.

§   Naps decrease from 3 to 2 and increase in length.

§   Establishing healthy sleep habits is also a primary goal during this time.

7 – 9 Months 2 – 4 12 – 13 14 – 15 §   The longest sleep periods could last 10 to 12 hours at night.

§   Naps are 2 per day.

9 – 12 Months 2 – 4 12 – 13 14 – 15 §   The longest sleep periods could last 10 to 12 hours at night.

§   Naps are 2 per day, and one of them starts to shorten.

13 – 18 Months 2 – 3 11 – 12 13 – 14 §   Some children lose their morning nap during this period.
19 Months – 2 Years 2 – 3 10 – 12 12 – 14 §   Children lose their morning nap if they haven’t done so yet.
2 – 3 Years 0 – 2 11 – 13 11 – 13 §   Most children drop their final nap by the time they are 3 years old.
3 – 5 Years 0 – 1 11 – 12 11 – 12 §   Children usually transition from their cribs to a toddler bed at around 3 years old if they haven’t done so. Remember to be patient and know that some sleep re-training might be needed due to this change.

§   Remember to maintain a clear bedtime routine.

5 – 11 Years 0 10 – 12 10 – 12 §   Children should continue with their healthy sleep habits.

§   Bedtime routine has probably evolved, but must still be present; children still need a wind down time.

§   Do not bring a TV into your children’s bedroom, do not allow them to fall asleep with the lights on, do not allow them to play with the computer right before bedtime.

12 – 18 Years 0 8 – 10 8 – 10 §   Sleep is as essential for teenagers as it was when they were children.

Sources: Smooth Parenting research and experience working with families; WebMD; American Association of Pediatrics; Gina Ford’s Books; Dr. Weissbluth’s Books.