Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Young Child’s Sleep

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Strategies you can use now.sleeping-baby

Remember those days when you would get ready for bed, crawl under your nice warm blankets, lay your head on your perfect pillow and drift off for a solid eight hours of blissful sleep? Once kids come into your family, it seems like sleep becomes a long-lost memory. But you’re not alone—according to pediatric sleep expert Dr. Jodi Mindell, about 20 to 30 percent of children from birth to preschool age have trouble falling and staying asleep.

The most common sleep disturbances parents consult me about are frequent night waking, early morning waking, short naps and difficulties falling asleep. These problems are frustrating for families and can cause exhaustion and stress in the home.

But don’t give up hope! There are many simple strategies you can implement to get your child’s sleep on the right track. Sleep is like a puzzle; by working on each piece, you can move towards an improved night’s rest. Here are my ten favourite sleep tips for families of young children.

Create a baby cave.

Light has the largest effect on our sleep hormones. Light tells our body to be awake and darkness tells it to go to sleep. Make sure the room your child sleeps in is very dark so that it’s sending the right message. Aim for complete darkness if you can.

Use white noise.

The constant static of white noise helps babies up to 4 months old feel safe because it reminds them of being in the womb (which is far from quiet!). For older children, it provides a consistent sound that can help extend sleep cycles as well as block out disturbing noises from outside the bedroom.

Establish a healthy bedtime routine.

A healthy routine allows your child to relax and get ready for sleep. The cues used should be the same each night and include things that your child enjoys. For example, your routine might consist of a bath, a lotion massage, pajamas, a book, a song and then getting into bed.

Create a healthy nap routine.

Your child’s body also needs cues for nap time. Your nap routine should be a short version of your nighttime routine, with the last couple of steps the same. It might include a diaper change or trip to the potty, a book, a song and then getting into bed.

Use a security object.

Having a lovey, such as a favourite stuffed animal or blanket, is a great way to encourage security in your child’s bedroom. It becomes the object that allows your child to feel safe during sleep.

Establish an early bedtime.

Infants and children naturally begin producing sleep hormones in the early evening. Getting them to sleep while this “sleep window” is open can prevent many bedtime battles. The awake-time chart in the sidebar  shows the maximum time your child should be awake between sleep periods. Use it as a guide for how long after the last nap your child should be going to bed for the night.

Regulate naps.

Late naps can lead to late bedtimes. For children 3 months and up who take more than three naps a day, have the last nap end by 5:00 p.m. Once your child is taking just three naps, have the last one end by 4:30 p.m. When your child is down to two naps, the last should end by 4:00 p.m.

Prevent overtiredness.

It might seem counterintuitive, but keeping your child from becoming overtired improves sleep. To prevent overtiredness, aim for an awake time ten minutes less than the maximum shown in the awake-time chart.

Have just one place for sleeping.

It’s not always easy in our busy lives, but having a consistent sleep environment allows for more restful sleep. Just as adults like to be in their own beds, so do babies. If you need to have your baby sleep elsewhere, try to make it during the last nap of the day instead of during the earlier, more restorative naps.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep.

Most importantly, make sure your little ones are getting the sleep they need. The sleep-time chart in the sidebar  is a good guide. Please note that every baby is different, and yours may need a little more or a little less.

A good night’s sleep doesn’t have to be just a fond memory from your life before children. With these tips, your baby—and you—should sleep better!

 

Awake-Time Chart

Age Maximum awake time
0–1 month Duration of last sleep up to 40 minutes
1–2 months Duration of last sleep up to 45–60 minutes
2–3 months Duration of last sleep up to 60–80 minutes
3–4 months Duration of last sleep up to 60–90 minutes
5 months 2 hours
6–7 months 2½ –2¾  hours
8–9 months 3 hours
10 months until transition to one nap 3–4 hours
Once on one nap 4½ –5½  hours

Sleep-Time Chart

Age Total sleep (hours) Nighttime sleep (hours) Nap hours Number of naps
0–2 months 16–18 8–9 7–9 see notes
2–4 months 14–16 9–10 4–5 4
4–6 months 14–15 10–11 4–5 3 or 4
6–9 months 14 10–12 3–4 2 or 3
9–12 months 14 10–12 2–3 2
12–18 months 13–14 11–12 2–3 1 or 2
18–24 months 13–14 11 2 1
2–3 years 12–14 10–11 1–2 1
3–5 years 11–13 10–13 0–1 0 or 1

Notes:

  • Newborns cycle through sleep/wake periods fairly evenly over 24 hours.
  • A four-nap pattern usually emerges at around 4 months.
  • By 6 months, a three-nap schedule is beneficial.
  • Make the transition to two naps at around 9 months.
  • The transition from two naps to one typically occurs around 15 months.

Hailee Schollaardt is a certified maternity and child sleep consultant. Her business, Nurturing Sleep Solutions, is based out of Sexsmith, Alberta. She lives with her husband, 2½ -year-old son and 4-month-old daughter. Family-photo

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