As a doctor for children, I often talk about sleep during wellness and sick visits.
Sleep is an important life skill. It teaches children how to calm themselves and rest. Parents have an important role in helping children to healthy sleep habits. Improved amount and quality of sleep affect children’s behavior and abilities to think.
Below I will discuss some tips that parents can practice for healthy sleep habits.
- Decide with your family when is a good time to start sleep training.
- Decide how many hours of sleep your children need. Infants sleep for 12-14 hours. Hours decrease gradually as children get older. On average, children need 10 hours of sleep. If they nap during the day, do not forget to account for nap time to the total daily sleep time. For example; 2 hours nap in the afternoon will leave your children with only 8-10 hours of sleep at night. That can be a reason why children go to bed late at night or wake up very early and refreshed.
- Talk to your children about (tonight’s plan). For example “we will take a bath, read a story, and then it is bedtime”. Change the language based on your children’s understanding. Young children would benefit from (first…then strategy). For example “first we take a bath then we read a story”. Use picture books to share stories about sleep.
- Use a reward system. Rewards can be increased or spaced out. Rewards can be an activity the children will enjoy, for example spending play time with parents, or reading a favorite book together.
- Do not get discouraged quickly if some attempts are not successful. Experimenting is a key. Some plans do not work the first time or at all. Try different things. For example, some children may prefer bedtime stories and some may prefer bedtime song. Other different options parents can try; white noises, a night light, a security object/blanket or all of them.
- Avoid high affect games or TV before bedtime. Bath and stories can help to relax your children.
- Remind your children that bedtime is soon. For example “5 more minutes to bedtime”. Some children do not tolerate transitions quickly. You can use a fun or colorful alarm clock as a reminder.
- Increase their Melatonin Dark room, with no TV or electronic devices.
- Create sleep associations. Children like their routines. It is ideal if they go to sleep in similar conditions every night (same bed, room, lights off etc.).
- For younger children, put them to bed semi-awake. Allow time for them to calm themselves. This way they learn to go back sleep if they woke up the middle of the night.
- If your children cry in the middle of the night, attend to their needs. Comfort them, but avoid picking them up or bringing them to your bed.