Regardless of age, regular schedules and bedtime rituals greatly impact our ability to obtain sound sleep and function at our best, and the same goes for children -- even more so. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits helps your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and awake rested and refreshed. It may also prevent future sleep problems. Good sleep habits can not only take the stress out of bedtime, but can help make it the special time it should be for you and your child.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for sleep behavior, and as always, there is individual variation. Your child is unique. If your routine is working, then it is probably best for you. That said, some approaches work better than others, and the following guidelines have been shown to be effective.
1. Make sleep a family priority and part of your daily schedule, advises the National Sleep Foundation. Determine how much sleep each family member needs and ensure that they get it. Discuss any sleep problems with your child's doctor. Most are easily treated.
2. Learn to recognize sleep problems in your child. According to the NSF, you should look for things like difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. These sleep problems can be evident in daytime behavior such as being overtired, sleepy, or cranky.
3. Consistency. As in all aspects of parenting, consistency and follow-through are key ingredients for success. Without them, you just can't expect your child to learn or change behavior.
4. Teamwork. If you are co-parenting, it is important to discuss your strategy beforehand and work as a team. If you are beginning a nighttime program after having some difficulty with your child, explain your new expectations, if your child is old enough.
5. Set a regular bedtime and wake time. This sets and aligns expectations for both you and your child and allows you to plan the bedtime routine accordingly. Otherwise, you may have a tendency to slip and slide late into the night. In addition, this helps keep your child's internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, on a 24-hour cycle. Since our normal daily rhythms are around 25 hours, we would tend to drift out-of-sync with the 24-hour day, if it were not for external cues like a set bedtime, a bedtime routine, lightness, and darkness.