Sleep Help for Parents
Sleep is an extremely important phenomenon; equally important for both adults and children. Most of our organs won’t function well without sleep. Sleep is important for your child’s growth, memory, language learning, execution of a function, cognitive development and pretty much every other function of the brain (and body) that you can think of.
How much one should sleep has always been a matter of debate. It can be a challenging subject, especially for new parents, who don’t know what to expect.
Sleeping deprivation is turning into an epidemic. Not only adults but even children are sleep deprived in the 21st century. As a parent, you must make sure your child is sleeping well and is rather not that difficult. The good news is that you can manage to help your child have a good night’s sleep with some changes in their routine. In this article, we will discuss what sleeping pattern you can expect at different age groups, and what you can do make a healthy night-time routine for your child to help them sleep well.
But first, since the length of sleep is always in question, let’s see what the average sleep requirement at different age groups.
Sleep required for different age group
The average sleep requirement for your kid, including nap time, is as follows:
– Infants <1 year: 14 to 17 hours
– Toddler: 1 to 3 years: 12-14 hours
– Pre-schoolers: 3 to 6 years: 11-12 hours
– School going, Pre-teens: 7 to 13 years: 10-11 hours.
– Teens: 14 to 17 years: 8-10 hours.
But it’s important to note that these numbers are just an average and not the rules. You might see a difference in your own child’s sleep cycle. Your child may need an hour more or less compared to this chart. Therefore it’s important to notice your child’s behavior and sleep pattern to prepare a schedule based on their requirement.
The way you can monitor whether your child is getting enough sleep or not is by noticing their performance the next day. A few symptoms of sleep deprivation are:
- Refusal to get out of bed in the morning.
- Grogginess in the morning.
- Irritability and anger, even with a slight provocation.
- Temper tantrums.
- Daytime sleepiness/ napping.
- Inattention to what you are saying.
- Inability to focus and concentrate.
Keep an eye on these symptoms; these may be indicative of sleep deprivation in your child.
Now let’s have a look at what you can expect in different age groups.
Infants <6 months of age:
During this phase of life, your child is going to spend most of the time sleeping. Sleep is extremely essential for the basic growth at this stage. Your child may sleep up to 17 to 18 hours a day, divided between day and night.
At this point, the circadian rhythm of the child is not yet developed properly, so expect multiple nighttime awakenings, especially if the majority of sleep is done during the day.
Another cause for frequent nighttime awakening at this point is hunger. Your baby’s small belly can hold up to 4-5 hours’ worth of milk at once. Usually, your child will spontaneously wake up after 4-5 hours of last feed, especially in the initial few weeks. As your child grows the frequency of nighttime awakenings will reduce.
Nearing 6 months, your baby will start feeding more at once, and will be able to sleep through the night, with maybe one or two awakenings during the night for feed or diaper change.
6 to 12 months of age:
At this age, the circadian rhythm is completely developed and melatonin starts functioning at the right time of the day. At this point, your child will most likely start sleeping through the night.
Most likely your baby will not need night-time feeds. If at all they get up at night– not needing feeds or diaper change– let the baby adjust a little by themselves. They may settle down themselves and back to sleep on their own, without you need to attend them. Letting the baby settle on their own will help them learn self-soothing, and will help them learn to sleep on their own in your absence. Therefore, do not rush to pick them up to soothe them, as this will hinder learning the same.
If your child is sick, in that case picking your baby to soothe them is recommended.
If your healthy baby is not able to self-soothe, go to them but do not indulge with them too much. Do not pick them up to comfort them. Just rub their back and talk to them in a soothing manner for a bit. Do not switch on the lights or operate electronics near them while waiting for them to fall asleep.
This is also the age when the child starts noticing your absence. So, separation anxiety kicks in. This is totally normal and there is nothing to be worried about. Again, it’s important that you do not over-indulge with your kid for it because that will prevent them from learning to sleep on their own. Over time they will learn that even though you are not visible, you are still around. Eventually, with consistency, they will learn to self-soothe.
Ideally, put them on their crib before they fall asleep and let them fall asleep on the crib itself, rather than putting them on the crib after they are already asleep. This will help them link their crib with sleep-time.
Toddlers and Pre-schoolers:
As the development continues to happen, the child starts exploring the world. So, at this stage kids might refuse to go to bed simply because they don’t want their exploration to end. Therefore, it’s essential that you set a strict bedtime. Your kid will never want to go to bed, and so you have to be assertive.
Separation anxiety may still be there in some children but they should fade away as the child grows up.
Toddlers may nap for 1-3 hours a day, but it’s okay if they don’t want to sleep in the day time. Don’t force them to sleep. However, a few hours of quiet time during the day is necessary, even if the kid doesn’t sleep during this time.
At 1-3 years of age, the kid starts dreaming actively as well, and that could be one of the reasons why they wake up. Teething can be another reason for waking up at night. They may have nightmares and other fears like the fear of “monsters”. It is essential that you listen to them and comfort them. But you should encourage them to go back to sleep as soon as possible.
Pre=schoolers may give up napping altogether; that is totally normal. But, again, even for them a few quiet hours are recommended, even if they don’t sleep during this time. They may also start going to bed earlier than their toddler-days, as they are no longer napping in the day time.
Encourage your kid to have an active day so that they are tired enough to smoothly slip into sleep at night. Switch off the TV and other electronics 2 hours before bedtime. Also, avoid too much activity in the evening or near bedtime. This will overstimulate your kid and interfere will sleep.
Having a night-time routine will help them recognize that it’s time to sleep. Keep the night-time routine short and sweet. It can be 5 to 30 minutes long, involving activities like bathing, brushing teeth, reading a story, etc. This will help their minds prepare to sleep.
School going and pre-teen:
Don’t be surprised to see sleep issues suddenly popping up at this age group. This is the time when the kid starts going to school and school-related activities like homework and extra-curriculums will demand extra time from them. On top of that, kids start indulging with TV and electronics more. All these factors combined usually cause a sleep disturbance at this age.
Lack of sleep will show up as the various signs of sleep deprivation and their behavior.
This is a phase where kids have to learn the importance of sleep, how to manage everything and still get enough sleep. To help them it’s essential that you encourage them to have a set bedtime, especially during school-nights.
Now, this is the time when a kid starts functioning at the level of an adult (to some extent). Teens usually need 8 to 10 hours of sleep, but it’s less likely that they are getting that amount of sleep. The school work and other commitments increase, demanding more time and energy. Not to mention, these days everyone is so hooked on social media. Having a cell-phone can prove to be a curse.
Extra work at school, a part-time job (if they have any), and extra exposure with the blue light from the screens disturb the sleep to a great extent.
A lack of sleep at this age group will most likely show up as anger and a problem in the school. Reduced attention and memory will further hurt their academic performance.
Certain drugs can cause issues with sleep as well. It’s important that notice any sudden changes in their normal behavior, and have strict talks against the use of drugs.
The key, again, is to have a routine. The teen should set a bedtime for themselves (it’s less likely they will listen to you at this point and go to bed at 9), but kids that were taught to follow a schedule are more likely to stick with some kind of schedule when they are teenagers. It’s a good idea to switch off the wifi at night so that they don’t overindulge with the screens and delayed bedtime because of it. Keeping an eye on the type of friends your kid has is essential as well. Encourage your kid to get at least 9 hours of sleep each night.
Here’s How You Can Help Your Child With Sleep:
1. Have a set schedule:
With the above discussion, we can conclude that the most basic thing about having a good night’s sleep is to have a routine. It doesn’t matter how old your kid is; whether 6 months old or 10 years old, a fixed bedtime is recommended.
It’s rather difficult for infants less 6 months to have a controlled bed-time because circadian rhythm is not developed until 3-6 months of age. Therefore, infants <6 months of age might sleep during the day and stay up during the night. But even then it’s a good idea to start having a bedtime routine. Over time this will help your baby understand that night time is for sleeping. No age is too early to establish a simple bedtime routine. The sooner you start, the better it is.
Have a routine before bedtime like bathing, brushing, reading, singing, etc, and done in the same order every night conditions your child’s brain that it’s time to sleep now.
Make sure that you put your baby in the crib before they fall asleep so that they know that crib equals sleep. Let them fall asleep by themselves if in case they wake up at night unless your child is sick.
It is important that you teach them the importance of sleep.
2. Keep it sleep-friendly:
Just like we adults need a comfortable place to sleep, so do babies. Make sure that the bedroom is set up in a way that is sleep-friendly. Comfortable mattresses and pillows are essential, and so is the appropriate temperature.
Dim down the light before bedtime. Avoid any loud noises or loud talks at night that might disrupt your kid’s sleep.
Encourage your child to follow the night time routine; participate with them when they are younger. If they have a comfort-stuffed toy they like to sleep with, let them have it.
Avoid any caffeinated drinks and heavy meals before sleep. Also, asking your child to empty their bladder before is a good habit.
Avoid heavy meals and spicy meals at night for older kids. This may cause GERD and may disrupt sleep.
Also, if your child gets scared easily, it’s a good idea to not watch horror movies at night. This may cause nightmares and disrupt their sleep.
3. Do not overstimulate:
Avoid overindulging with your baby if they get up at night. Avoid talking to them, playing with them, turning on the lights, speaking too loudly, etc when you attend your baby at night for feeds or diaper change. This will stimulate them and make it difficult for them to go back to sleep.
Older kids should be discouraged to have a lot of activities right before bed. Avoid too much sugar at night as well, as that may cause over-stimulation as well.
As they grow up, children tend to delay their sleep. Discourage this habit. Delaying sleep in older children can lead to the production of cortisol, which in turn can make sleep induction even more difficult. Sleep deprivation, therefore, can lead to poor sleep.
4. Feed the baby well before sleep:
Poor feeding can be one of the reasons for your baby’s frequent nighttime awakenings. Many babies fall asleep while they are being fed. So your baby’s satiety is not met in this case and they are more likely to wake up within a few hours of sleep. A good way is to feed your baby before they start showing any signs of sleepiness.
If in fact your baby wakes up hungry, feed them properly.
5. Switch off the TV and other electronics:
TV and other electronic devices are a big culprit for sleep deprivation these days even for kids. Therefore it’s essential to monitor their use by your kid. The blue light coming from these devices makes our brain think that it’s still day time and it continues to keep us alert.
Therefore, switch off the screens 2 hours before bedtime. This will cut off the unnecessary blue light exposure and will help your child’s brain to wind down.
Turn off the wifi if you have older kids in the house with their own personal smart devices. This will help prevent binge-watching YouTube and other social media that might disrupt their sleep.
6. Be assertive:
Your kid is going to not obey you. They might not want the exploration to end. But you have to be assertive with them regarding bedtime, especially to younger kids.
At a young age they are still learning to have a schedule, and the more times they repeat it, the better they get at it naturally. Soon their body will automatically induce sleep at the set bedtime.
Therefore, you as a parent have to make sure that they follow their routine.
Also, children who have a set routine will continue to have a better sleep-habits when they grow older as well. So the more they implement when they are kids, the better it is, and the fewer sleep issues they will have in the future.
7. Have a sleep log:
Sometimes parents get very obsessive regarding the numbers that are given in the “recommended sleep” section. Please note that those numbers, as mentioned above, are just an average. Your kid may need a little less or a little more sleep than that.
Also, sometimes parents worry because they feel that their child is not getting enough sleep when in reality they are. To be 100% sure regarding how much sleep your child is getting, having a sleep log is beneficial. You can note down the time your child sleeps, how much they sleep, how many times they wake at night, and other sleep-related patterns may become apparent in it. This will make it easier for you manage your child’s sleep cycle.
If you notice a serious derangement in your kid’s sleep cycle, consider taking this log to the pediatrician as well. It might provide some good clues to the doctor.
8. Keep an eye on signs of sleep deprivation:
Signs of sleep deprivation may not be apparent easily. They, however, build up and become visible over time– especially in older kids.
Notice any change in sleep pattern, behavior and school performance– they all are likely to deteriorate.
Also, attend to your child’s specific complains. If they complain that they are not able to sleep well, take that seriously and try to find out the cause.
9. Address any sleep issues
Lastly, it’s important to address any real health issues.
While most night awakenings are normal in growing age and decrease with age, some children may have some serious issues like sleep apnoea, insomnia, snoring, restless leg syndrome, night terrors, sleepwalking, bed-wetting, etc. These issues should be brought to the attention of a pediatrician.
Conditions like sleepwalking and bedwetting don’t need treatment. If your child sleepwalks, make sure to make their room safer– lock the windows, remove sharp objects, lock the doors, etc. Sleepwalking usually disappears as the child grows. To avoid bed-wetting train them to go to the toilet before bedtime. Children usually grow out of these issues with time.
Conditions like sleep apnoea can point to a more serious issue and may need specific treatment depending on the cause. For children, one major cause of sleep apnoea and snoring is hypertrophied adenoids or enlarged tonsils. These may need surgical intervention in case of recurrent infections.
Certain conditions like autism are also associated with poor sleep. This would require special attention too.
Excessive crying at night can also indicate some kind of health issue. If your baby cries a lot for no apparent reason, it’s best to bring that to the pediatrician’s attention too.
It is important that you teach your child the importance of sleep so that they value sleep and make an effort to get enough sleep as they grow older. It may need a little patience from your side, especially if you have a newborn that stays up during the day time and stays wide awake at night. But with consistency, you can help your child have a good night time routine that promotes healthy sleep, both quality and quantitatively.