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Health & Parenting

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Preschoolers and Sleep: Expert Advice

How to handle naps, bedtime power struggles, and more.

Sleeping Through the Night

Preschool-aged children have active imaginations, so it's no surprise they awaken easily during the night either from bad dreams or just because they're frightened. Experts say what can help make bedtime less scary and more manageable is to ensure that the child's nighttime sleep environment is one that is quiet, dark, and without a TV.

"We know children will naturally wake up a few times during that night, just like adults do," Swanson says. "We get ourselves back to sleep so quickly you don't even remember."

But it's unusual for preschool children to frequently get up in the middle of the night or want to get out of bed. If you're up with your child in the middle of the night, you can soothe him back to sleep, but do not offer snacks or comfort food in the middle of the night. "Do not reward this behavior," Swanson says.

What's critical is that children maintain their sleep architecture, a term experts use to describe the different stages of sleep, which include the rise and fall of brainwave activity levels and eye movement as people move through phases of sleep.

One of the most restorative phases of sleep is delta wave sleep, the deepest kind of sleep where you don't move a muscle. Parents have often seen their kids conked out, stone-still in their car seats snoozing away. That's delta sleep.

Children who have healthy sleep habits also have solid sleep architecture. "Children who are chronically sleep deprived have changes to their sleep architecture," Swanson says. And that can affect their abilities to get a good night's sleep.

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Reviewed on June 09, 2010

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