One of parenting’s toughest challenges begins at birth: How to deal with baby’s often unpredictable, seldom convenient sleep schedule. And issues around sleep may persist for years. The headline of a National Sleep Foundation report hints at the stakes involved: “Marriage Problems Linked to Poor Sleep in Toddlers.”
But don’t despair. Whatever their age, there are strategies that can help children become successful sleepers.
Here are a few best practices for bedtime sanity:
You’ll get plenty of advice on this topic, but the consensus seems to be to let the baby sleep when he or she wants to (and try and do your own sleeping at the same time). You may find it helpful to keep the baby in rooms with plenty of light during the day, and have it dark at night, to foster a normal circadian sleep rhythm.
Also, you should put your baby or young child to bed when they’re drowsy but not yet asleep. This will help them learn to fall asleep on their own, which they’ll need to do when they wake during the night.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Children this age may sleep as much as 12 hours per night or more, and take at least one nap during the day. If they seem to be outgrowing the daily nap, they may still benefit from some quiet time in the afternoon without distractions like music or video.
This is also a good age to begin establishing a nightly routine—and sticking to it. One of the most important sleep practices for both kids and adults is consistency. Some parents like to have bath time about an hour before bed, followed by a winding-down period with favorite stories or songs. If the child is especially sensitive to sound, a white-noise machine (or an ordinary fan) may be soothing. And many young children will fall asleep more easily with a security blanket or beloved stuffed toy.
As part of your by-now well-established routine, banishing electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime is a wise move for this age group. Aim for 10-11 hours of sleep per night, but don’t stress if your child seems to function well with less. As in other areas of life, finding which sleep habits work best for your child should take precedence over general guidelines.
Sleep deprivation can be a real issue with teens, as busy schedules and a desire to be “more adult” can lead to later and later bedtimes. If your teen uses Saturdays and Sundays to catch up on missed sleep, a vicious cycle can begin, with Monday mornings finding them unprepared for an early wake-up. Try to have teens go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day, even on weekends, with a goal of nine hours per night. And promote good lifelong sleep habits by making them responsible, to the extent they’re able, for their own AM and PM routines.