While it may be difficult to get your children to sleep at night or for naps, it is crucial that they are well rested for their growth and development. Children who don’t get enough sleep tend to get sick more often, perform worse in school, and have more behavior problems than those who get at least the recommended number of hours every night. The sleep habits your child develops before the age of five are a big indicator of how well he or she will sleep as an adult.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that newborns need between 16 and 18 hours of sleep every day. That number drops to 12 to 14 hours a day for toddlers, 11 to 12 hours a day for preschoolers, 10 hours a day for school-aged children, and 9 hours a day for teenagers. Adults, including the elderly, can typically get by on 7 to 8 hours of sleep every day.
How to Encourage Good Sleep Habits
There is a big difference between knowing how many hours of sleep your child needs and him or her actually getting it. This is one issue that parents and children are frequently at odds over, especially in the early years. Not only does your child need rest for his or her own well being, you need a little bit of time to yourself at the end of a long day. Unfortunately, this is when many kids tend to push their parents’ buttons the most. They whine, cry and try just about any trick in the book to avoid going to sleep for the night. Younger kids especially seem to have a great fear of missing out on something exciting.
While stalling tactics at bedtime are frustrating, establishing a clear sleep routine helps your children know what to expect when nighttime comes. A typical routine for a preschool child could include enjoying a light snack together, brushing teeth, taking a bath, putting pajamas on, allowing your child to choose a story for you to read, checking your child’s room to ensure it is dark enough for sleeping without being scary for him or her and adjusting the thermostat if necessary. After you have done all of this, it’s time to kiss your son or daughter goodnight and leave the room.
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Have a Goal of Independent Sleep
Eventually, you want your children to put themselves to bed with little prompting or help from you. This can be difficult to achieve if you regularly allow your kids to sleep with you. They come to associate sleeping with the physical presence of mom or dad. It’s also important to consider the risks of sharing a bed with a child, such as strangling or suffocation. When children get used to going to sleep on their own, they are better able to use their self-soothing skills to get back to sleep after awakening during the night.
When your child is sick or injured, he or she naturally needs your comfort and presence in order to feel better. However, it’s important to reinforce the message that you expect independent sleep at all other times. When you go into your child’s room over every little whimper, it could be a very long time before you sleep through the night again yourself. He or she knows this gets your attention and will likely increase the behavior if you respond inconsistently.
Types of Sleep Disorders in Children
Many children struggle with sleep problems that can disrupt their wellbeing. As parents, it is important to understand the different types of sleep disorders in children and what you can do to help them get the rest they need.
There are several common types of sleep disorders experienced by children. The most common are insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and restless leg syndrome (RLS). Insomnia is when a child has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. OSA occurs when a child’s breathing is blocked while they are sleeping, resulting in poor quality sleep. RLS causes a child to experience an uncomfortable sensation in their legs at night that makes it difficult for them to stay still and fall asleep.
Another less common but more serious type of disorder is narcolepsy, which involves daytime drowsiness and brief episodes of falling asleep during normal waking hours. A doctor should be consulted if your child displays any symptoms of narcolepsy or any other sleep disorder.
Treating Sleep Disorders in Children
The treatment for each type of sleep disorder will vary depending on the underlying cause. For example, if your child has RLS, the doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine before bedtime or avoiding activities that stimulate the legs like running or playing sports too close to bedtime. If your child has OSA, the doctor may suggest using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine when they go to bed at night to ensure their breathing remains unobstructed throughout the night.
For many children with mild cases of insomnia, establishing healthy habits such as going to bed at the same time every night and limiting screen time before bed can help improve their sleeping patterns over time. If these attempts fail to alleviate your child’s issue with insomnia then medication may be prescribed by the doctor as well.