Sleep: it’s relaxing, essential and a bit mysterious. Mastering your own sleep is hard enough — when you add in helping little ones get a full night, it basically becomes an art. We created this guide to help you sort through the clutter of information and learn the essentials about children and sleep.
Healthy Sleep at Different Ages
How to figure out the magic amount of sleep for your little ones? The National Sleep Foundation has a helpful chart that shows how sleep duration should change with age. The “rule of thumb” recommendations are:
- Newborn: 14-17 hours (This is based on an irregular schedule where the sleep period may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.)
- Infant: 12-15 hours
- Toddler: 11-14 hours
- School Age (6-13 years old): 10-13 hours
Earlier Bedtimes Are Better Bedtimes
As you calculate sleep hours, bedtimes, and your child’s age group, here’s something else to keep in mind: Researchers in Australia have found that children achieved better health not by sleeping longer but by going to sleep earlier. That means it’s not only important for children to get the right amount of sleep but also to have the right bedtime.
It might be hard to tuck your child in early and miss out on more time with them in the evenings, but there is a silver lining. The earlier you put your children to bed, the more time you get to hang out with your spouse, kick back with a glass of wine, whatever it is you like to do in the evenings.
What is Quality Sleep?
We’ve talked about the importance of sleep quantity, but what about quality? Quality sleep is uninterrupted and allows your child to move through all the necessary stages of sleep. Quality of sleep is just as important for your child’s sleep hygiene as quantity —and it can be affected by everything from sleep disorders (like night terrors and sleepwalking) to naps. If this is something you’re concerned about, here are a few things to consider:
- Is your child taking age-appropriate naps?
- Are there ways you can adjust and manage your child’s sleep schedule?
- Is a sleep disorder causing disruptions to your child’s sleep?
Worried something is off? Speaking with your pediatrician can clear up any questions you may have.
Creating the Perfect Bedtime Ritual
Most children thrive on routine, so a good ritual is the perfect way to set the stage for a good night’s sleep.
Here’s an example of what a healthy routine might look like:
- Have a light snack at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Pro tip: the ideal bedtime snack is one that’s high in protein and low in sugar, like a spoonful of almond butter on a cracker.
- Take a bath. Try to make it less about splashing and toys and more about winding down and relaxation.
- Put on pajamas.
- Help your child brush their teeth. If this is hard, look for fun apps that turn oral care time into a game.
- Read a story or practice meditation in bed. Stories are a classic nighttime routine but practicing meditation or mindfulness is another great way to get your child to relax.
- Make sure the room is quiet and at a comfortable temperature. The recommended room temperature for children is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Give your little one one last tuck in, say goodnight, and leave. Then focus on your own nighttime ritual!
In addition to routines, it’s also important to have some bedtime “ground rules.” Keep the same bedtime every night and the same bedtime environment (e.g. light and temperature) all night long. While you’re at it, try to train your child to be able to fall asleep independently. Help them form positive associations with sleeping, so that it’s something they want to do rather than something they have to do. Remember: by helping them build healthy habits now, you’re setting them up for a life time of quality sleep.
One More Thing: Limit Screen Time at Bedtime!
Many of us get into a nightly routine of playing games, reading books and watching shows on our own tablets and phones. It can feel quite relaxing, but it may not get us ready for a quality night of sleep. The Director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center recommends putting children on a “light” diet by limiting the use of electronics before bed. This means reducing the screen light that has a “wake up” effect on our brains. Another study found that a television in a child’s bedroom can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to more belly fat, higher triglycerides and the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Now that’s a compelling argument for keeping the TV elsewhere.
If your child isn’t getting enough sleep, then you probably aren’t either. Helping them form healthy habits means the whole family will get more peaceful sleep.
We hope this comprehensive sleep guide leads to many relaxing bedtimes. If you have any other questions, tweet us at @lullysleep and we’d be happy to help!