When it comes to sleeping, children are a bit like cats -- both do a lot of it. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, by age 2, children have spent more time sleeping than awake. Throughout childhood, kids will spend about 40% of their time asleep. Sleep is vital for a child's mental and physical development.
Of course getting a child to bed -- and getting her to stay there -- can be difficult. And when kids don't get enough sleep, they have a harder time controlling their emotions, and they may be irritable or hyper, which is no fun for anyone. Kids who are chronically sleep-deprived are more likely to have behavior problems, have difficulty paying attention and learning, and be overweight. So although it's not easy, it's important to do all you can to help your child get the sleep she needs.
Regular schedules and bedtime rituals greatly impact a child's ability to get sound sleep and function at his best. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits helps your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and awake rested and refreshed. Good sleep habits can also help take the stress out of bedtime.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for bedtime, and every child is different based on his or her temperament. What's important is to develop a routine that works for your family -- and to stick with it. The following suggestions are a good place to start.
1. Make sleep a family priority.
Set regular go-to-bed and wake-up times for the entire family and be sure to follow them -- even on weekends. You can tell that children are getting enough sleep when they fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes of going to bed, wake up easily in the morning, and don't fall asleep during the day.
2. Deal with sleep difficulties.
Signs of sleep struggles include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing during sleep, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. Sleep difficulties can be seen in daytime behavior as well. If your child seems overtired, sleepy, or cranky during the day, tell your child's health care provider. Causes of sleep difficulties may be as simple as large tonsils and adenoids, which can be determined during a routine examination.
3. Work as a team.
It's important to discuss and agree on a sleep strategy for your child with your spouse or partner beforehand and work together as a team to carry it out consistently. Otherwise, you can't expect your child to learn or change her behavior.
If you are starting a new sleep routine for your child, make her part of the team by explaining the new plan to her if she is old enough to understand. For a young child, try using a picture chart to help your child learn the new routine. Changing clothes, brushing teeth, and reading a book can easily be shown through pictures.