How much sleep a child is getting can be a real cause for concern for parents. Sleep is so important for healthy development in babies and children and it would be a dream if things went smoothly in this department. As an adult I really value my sleep, but sometimes children don’t feel the same way and there could be any number of reasons for this.
My first baby slept beautifully. It was like he read the textbook on ‘how should babies behave’ before he arrived. I have a distinct memory from the hospital when he was born, where I had fed and changed him, and popped him in the crib to go and wash my hands. I was looking forward to sitting back down and having a cuddle with him, but by the time I got back he was fast asleep. It very much set the scene for things to come.
The girls have both had some issues with their sleep routines, and it’s taken a calm attitude and consistent approach to get them into good habits. Some babies and children struggle with falling asleep, and the whole concept of losing consciousness can feel quite strange to them. At some point in your child’s life you might be faced with some challenges around getting them to bed, but having a good strategy will benefit both you and your child when it comes to overcoming these issues.
How Much Sleep Should My Child Get
A common question that parents ask is how much sleep should my baby or child be getting. I do firmly believe that babies and children are individuals when it comes to things like this, but there is also a healthy amount of sleep they should be getting. As a guide this is how much sleep your little one should be getting in a 24 hour period:
0 – 3 Months Old – 14 to 17 hours
4 – 11 Months Old – 12 to 15 Hours
1 – 2 Years Old – 11 to 14 Hours
3 – 5 Years Old – 10 to 13 Hours
6 – 13 Years Old – 9 to 11 Hours
14 – 17 Years Old – 7 to 9 Hours
Helping Babies To Establish A Sleep Routine
It’s safe to say that newborn babies don’t really have a bedtime routine. They need to feed regularly as their stomachs are so tiny and will probably only sleep 2 or 3 hours at a time. Sometimes they will sleep less than that, and breastfed babies often cluster feed during growth spurts and it might not feel like they sleep at all.
There is no point in trying to establish a sleep routine during this phase, but there is value in bathing baby at the same time every evening and helping them to understand the difference between day and night. This will help no end when a more established pattern of sleep begins to emerge.
If your baby is having trouble going to sleep, using a soothing baby bath may help calm them so they feel ready for sleep. In the early days you may find they prefer to lay on you than the sleep in their moses basket or rocker. They are used to the comfort of the womb and the constant sound of your heartbeat, and getting to sleep without these ‘aids’ can be a challenge. If you have a baby comforter, place it on your chest for a while so that it smells of ‘Mum’, and this might help baby get to sleep in their cot.
When it comes to babies, or children for that matter, if you have tried everything and baby is still struggling to get to sleep, talk to your health care professional. If baby cries a lot, or is pulling their knees up to their tummy they maybe experiencing colic for example. You can get products to relieve these symptoms, but do seek medical advice first.
How to Get a Toddler to Sleep
By the time your child is a toddler, hopefully a sleep routine will have emerged but even the best laid plans can go out of the window when small people are involved. When my children have struggled with getting to sleep, the first thing I look at is their daytime naps. They might be getting a little bit too much sleep in the day, and cutting back nap time can be a very effective way of helping sleep to get to bed at night. Start with reducing naps by half an hour and see if that makes a difference.
Having a good bedtime routine in place will also help with getting your child off to sleep. An hour or so before bedtime start dimming the lights and thinking about turning off the TV or tablets as a signal that it’s time for bed. Taking a bath, and then snuggling down for a bedtime story is a great way of winding down for sleep.
If you suspect your toddler is feeling a little anxious about the dark, a bedtime night light can be a great distraction. All of my children have had one at one time or another, whether it’s a light or a bedtime toy, but either way they can be incredibly effective.
How to Cope With Disruptions in a Child’s Bedtime Routine
If disruptions in bedtime routine can be avoided, that’s great, but it’s not always possible. My children are young enough for us to maintain the bedtime routine whether it’s school time or the holidays. We find that if they don’t go to bed at the regular time, they can become very upset. Over tired children can be very difficult to do anything with, and getting them to bed can be a very stressful affair.
Older children expect to be allowed to stay up later during the holidays and this can be quite a challenge for parents when it comes to going back to school and establishing the routine again. A few days before they are due back to school, start to get them used to going to bed at the usual time again. This may mean setting some parental controls on the computer or tablet, and leaving mobile phones downstairs so they can’t be used in bed. Getting them up in the morning will also help in establishing the correct time to go to bed.
Common causes of disruption in a young child’s bedtime routine can be when they are unwell or if they have been experiencing nightmares. If they have been poorly, and this has effected their sleep, as soon as they are feeling better it’s time for them to sleep in their own bed and get back to the normal routine.
If your child is experiencing nightmares, providing them with comfort and reassurance is going to be key in helping them settle back off to sleep. When they wake up from a nightmare, the emotions they experienced in the dream can still feel very real. Talking to your child about what nightmares are and that they aren’t real will help them to process what they have experienced. Their favourite teddy bear could stand guard and help keep the bad dreams away so they can get back to sleep.
If they are worried about their nightmares coming back, make a magic dream spray with some lavender, witch hazel and water, and spray it around the room at bedtime. The relaxing aroma will help them drift off thinking happier thoughts.
Final Thoughts on the Bedtime Routine
Whatever problems your child is experiencing with getting to or staying asleep, it probably is just a phase. Stay consistent with your approach and have patience as things may not change overnight. A common problem is that a child isn’t sleeping in their own bed, but for me it’s the one that worries me the least. There will definitely come a point when they do not want to sleep with their parents anymore.
Whatever problems you are experiencing with your child’s sleep, I hope you found these tips both comforting and reassuring. If you have any other tips you would like to share with parents who are experiencing these issues please do leave them in the comments below as I’m sure they will find them helpful.
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