Course Notes: Sleep Strategies

In Tuesday’s post, we explained that sleep is essential. We can’t function without it. We know this already, but it’s way easier said than done, especially when it comes to our kids. But here’s the thing… Sleep is just as important as personal hygiene. You wouldn’t skip a shower (for too long) or stop brushing your teeth regularly. Ergo, the term sleep hygiene.  

Sleep hygiene is a series of behaviors and environmental setups that focus on improving the quality and quantity of sleep. As your child ages, these habits may change and evolve.

Newborns (0-3 months) = 14-17 hours of sleep daily. Typically, they wake for 1-3 hours at a time before falling back to sleep.

  • Remember that their circadian rhythm is not fully developed, but you can help reinforce it by exposing them to sunlight during the day and dimming the lights in the evening.
  • Put them to bed when they’re tired, rather than when they’re asleep.
  • Keep a quiet environment in the evenings. Lights off (or dim) during nighttime feedings.

Infants (4-11 months) = 12-15 hours of sleep a day. Although their circadian clock is up and running, they may take up to four naps a day, lasting between 30 minutes to 2 hours.

  • Soft speech and gentle touching before leaving the room may help alleviate separation anxiety (don’t get them out of bed as it might make it worse).
  • Keep lights off if they wake at night to help them fall back asleep without assistance.

Toddlers (1-2 years) = 11-14 hours of sleep per day, including naps. One daily nap is typical by the time they’re 18 months old.

  • Start establishing a bedtime routine to prep and relax them for bed. This might be a warm bath, putting on their jammies, and reading to them.
    • Give them choices during bedtime, like what pjs to wear or what book to read.
    • Avoid activities that will rile them up.
    • Remember to be patient, but firm. Your little one may not understand the new habits at first, and may challenge them until it becomes routine.

Preschoolers (3-5 years) = 10-13 hours of sleep daily. Naps may continue to occur, but will most likely stop by 5 years of age. 

  • Sleep issues arise around this time
    • Nightmares – offer gentle reassurance and help them back to sleep
    • Night/sleep terrors – ensure their safety and keep them in bed, if possible
    • Sleep walking – safety proof their bedroom and install an alarm; also, studies have shown that waking them up a half hour before their regular sleep walking event occurs has been useful
    • Restless leg syndrome – instill good sleep hygiene and stretching before bed; the efficacy of iron supplement use is still to be determined for kids

School-Age Children (6-13 years) = 9-11 hours of sleep a night.

  • Their sleep routines mimic those of adults. Make sure that they are practicing good sleep hygiene.
  • If possible, have them do homework assignments and other activities in other rooms instead of their bedroom.

What Makes for Good Sleep Hygiene?

Consistency. This means that bedtime and wake up calls happen at the same time, including weekends and vacation. Yes, that can be difficult to achieve. But, if their sleep/wake cycle has not been established, how can they enjoy their time off if they’re sleepy throughout the day?

Avoid large meals before bed. Heavy meals engage the body’s metabolism, resulting in difficulties falling asleep. Additionally, that much food can make your kid feel uncomfortable to lie down. Instead, a light snack (like warm milk, pretzels, popcorn, apple slices, etc) can appease evening food cravings without interrupting sleep.

Watch caffeine intake. Before you ask, “What young kid consumes coffee or soda daily?”, caffeine can be found in snacks, cereals, treats, and beverages that have chocolate or are coffee-flavored. Try to limit (or avoid them altogether) after lunchtime.

Maintaining a balanced schedule. When you’re overworked and overscheduled, you are stressed. Stress can lead to staying up late, ruminating over details or being so overtired that you can’t sleep. Same thing happens to kids. Make sure their schedule allows for times of rest and play.

Resist late afternoon naps. Long naps later in the day can affect your child’s sleep cycle, making it harder for them to sleep at night.

Calming activities. These include, but not limited to: taking a bath/shower, reading, stretches, breathing techniques, or listening to chill music. These have all been shown as helpful tools for bedtime. Sleep aids like sound machines, night lights, or their favorite stuffed animal or security blanket may also help.

Create a relaxing environment. Try to make the bedroom an inviting atmosphere for sleep. That means a decluttered room, quiet or soft ambient sounds, cooler temperature, soft lighting to be dimmed down, and shades/blinds to block out light at night.

Reduce nightly screen times. Blue light from TVs, tablets, and phones is said to suppress the production of melatonin that aids in sleep. The current recommendation is to cease screen time an hour and half before bed.

Can’t sleep? Get out of bed. Sounds counter-intuitive but lying in bed awake may intensify the problem. Allow them to engage with another relaxing activity for a bit before trying to doze off. Keep in mind that sleep should not take longer than 30 minutes after completing their bedtime routine.

Next week, we’ll delve into common questions about sleep aids from swaddles to melatonin intake and everything in between. Stay tuned 🙂

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Children and Sleep |
Children and Sleep | Sleep Foundation
Schafer-Clay, J. (2022, March 7). The Sensory and Sleep Connection: Evidence-Based Strategies to Promote Better Sleep for your Pediatric Clients. Retrieved from  Seminar.

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