Sleep tips for kids

Sleeping preschooler sucking his thumb

Unaltered image. Summer, Flickr. CC license.

As our children grow it’s no surprise that their sleep needs change. Along the way, sleep challenges often surface at one time or another. With a look at sleep norms by age and a few tips for dealing with sleep battles, here’s looking forward to a restful night ahead for everyone.

How much sleep does your child need?

The best rule of thumb is that a happy, healthy child is usually a well-rested child. With that in mind, some suggested norms are as follows:

  • Babies under 4 months often sleep 16 – 18 hours/day, which is usually evenly divided between day and night.
  • After 6 months of age, a baby’s sleep rhythms gradually become more predictable. A baby should eventually be able to sleep between 8 – 12 hours at night in addition to typically taking a morning and afternoon nap.
  • Most babies combine their two naps into one single nap between 12 – 15 months.
  • Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 will sleep 12 – 14 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • Preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 usually sleep 11 – 14 hours per day and drop their naps by 5 years of age.
  • School-age children between the ages of 5 and 12 need 10 or 11 hours of sleep.
  • The average adolescent will sleep about 9 hours a day as their sleep physiology changes.

Tips for a better night’s rest by age

Newborns – 1 year

Most people encounter challenges at one time or another during a baby’s first year. With developmental milestones, teething, and tripling birth weight all in one year, not to mention the occasional cold or other illness, it’s no wonder that this can be a challenging time for sleep. That said, with some simple steps you can help your child form a good sleep foundation.

  • Safe sleep is the prime focus.
    • Always put your baby on their back to sleep.
    • Make sure even if they are sleeping away from home that they are still in a safe sleep environment.
  • Nightlights, white noise and a consistent sleep schedule are very helpful.
  • Self-soothing is the foundation for good sleep at this age.
  • The ideal time to sleep train babies is between 4 and 6 months of age.
    • Choose a method both partners are comfortable with and, most importantly, be consistent.
    • Teaching your child to self-soothe can be difficult but will pay dividends in the long-term.

Toddler sleep

As you move out of the newborn stage, separation anxieties can surface again and the bedtime battles can persist.

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule and routine.
  • When toddlers stop napping, a quiet time of about 30 – 45 minutes is still helpful for most children.
  • Be consistent with the routine; toddlers can be very specific and it often helps to have the same number of books read, the same amount of songs, etc.
  • Try not to give attention to bedtime whining.
  • Avoid adding steps to the routine at the child’s request after saying goodnight.
    • For example, “But Mom I need some water.” Respect the wish the first night, but the next night offer a sip of water after brushing teeth instead of after saying goodnight.
  • Comfort kids in their room instead of inviting them into yours.

School-age children

School days are long and a good night’s sleep is helpful to meeting the academic demands of the school year.

  • A consistent bedtime during the week and weekends is helpful. Avoid changing weekend bedtime by more than 30 minutes if possible.
  • A 30-minute downtime free of electronics before sleep is helpful.
  • A bedtime routine is still essential at this age and consistency can make falling asleep easier.

Teens

Teens are often busy with a full school schedule, after school activities and work, so it’s no wonder that teens often feel tired in their first class of the day. The tips below can help them to get more rest and feel brighter in the morning.

  • Ideally, get 8 – 9 hours of sleep at night.
  • A consistent sleep schedule is helpful.
  • Keep bedroom free of distractions, make it a comforting and quiet place.
  • Avoid electronics in the 30 minutes before bedtime and avoid caffeine after the early afternoon.
  • Exercise at any time of the day promotes better sleep.

As your child moves through the different developmental stages, good sleep can be a constant. For more tips on the benefits of sleep and parent-focused tips, please see my March article.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of a toddler and newborn and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

1 Response to “Sleep tips for kids”


  1. 1 Michelle Henry November 15, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Really informative post! I think in addition to these great tips, a quality mattress is crucial. Thanks for sharing!


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