This week, March 2nd – 8th, is National Sleep Awareness Week. The National Sleep Foundation uses this week for public education and awareness to promote the importance of sleep. And, interestingly, the week closes with most Americans losing one hour of sleep as Daylight Savings Time begins.
It almost feels like someone wanted to play a prank on parents, doesn’t it? All kidding aside, how much sleep your child gets is critically important to his health and behavioral well-being. While that may seem obvious, many of us have so much packed into our days that we may not notice the connection between our child’s erratic sleep habits and their daytime behavior.
This week, I want us to take some time to think about how much sleep our child really needs and how we can help our children get the sleep they need.
Be Aware of Your Child’s Behavior Cues
1. Does your child fall asleep almost every time she is in the car?
2. Do you have to wake her up practically every morning?
3. Does your child seem cranky, irritable or overtired during the day?
4. On some nights, does she seem to crash and burn, often much earlier than her usual bedtime?
5. Does your child often wake for the day before 6:00 a.m.?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions your child may not be getting enough sleep.
The New Recommended Sleep Guidelines
Recently, the National Sleep Foundation convened an 18-member, multidisciplinary panel to conduct a rigorous, scientific update to the recommended sleep durations for all ages across a normal lifespan.
This report recommends wider appropriate sleep ranges for most age groups for healthy individuals. Want to know if your child is getting enough sleep? Take a look at the range for your child(ren) to be sure they are getting enough sleep on a regular basis:
● Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
● Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
● Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
● Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
● School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
● Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
● Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
● Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
● Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
We All Need Sleep To Function (And Not Be Fussbudgets!)
We all need adequate sleep to function. But our children are dependent on us as parents to provide a flexible schedule, positive sleep environment, and sleep coaching when necessary to develop lasting sleep habits.
When we don’t do this for our child, we risk harming proper development that could cause temporary, and possibly long-term, side-effects. If your child doesn’t regularly get enough sleep, or gets it erratically, you may notice some of these characteristics:
● shortened attention span
● difficulty coping with changes or transitions
● extra clingy
● insecurities about relatively simple things (like choosing clothes)
● inability to play independently (in an age-appropriate way)
● zoning out
A tired child will experience more emotional meltdowns and can even be more resistant to naps and settling down at bedtime. That is because good sleep breeds good sleep (and bad sleep – or unhealthy amounts of sleep – do not lead to better sleep later).
Are You Positive Your Child Is Getting Enough Sleep?
If you are unsure how much sleep your child is actually getting, consider keeping a sleep journal of all naps, wake times, and bedtimes. Do this for a full week and look at the average amount of sleep your child is getting each day. Does it fall into the recommended range for his age?
Even if her sleep does fall within the recommended range, do you still see signs of inadequate sleep? If you do, you may need to adjust her sleep routine to fit in an extra 10 – 15 minutes/day. This could be as simple as moving bedtime just a bit earlier.
Once your child is out of a good rhythm of healthy sleep they will need some help to get back into a healthy routine. It’s okay to revisit The Shuffle for a few days if you need a refresher.
Time Flies, Especially When You’re a Parent
A well-rested child usually has a consistent bedtime routine as well as consistent meals, naps, and snacks. Children thrive on regular habits and daily routines.
Some of the parents I work with are dedicated to a set bedtime routine and almost never keep their child out of the home in the evening or up too late. These parents learned to protect their child’s sleep in order to avoid the consequences of too many missed naps and bedtimes. Let’s face it, no one wants to endure meltdowns and tantrums at Target.
They really do pass quickly and you have an opportunity to establish a healthy, consistent sleep routine that helps your child feel more secure and stable and sets them up for optimum learning and development. Babies and toddlers are learning all of the time even though they are not “in school” yet!!
This may mean saying goodbye to late nights out for the time being (or hiring a trusted sitter).
Say Goodbye To Cranky Kids
I know that you can’t be perfect all of the time. Heaven knows I certain am not! That being said, there are a few extra things that you can do to ensure that your child is getting as much quality sleep as possible:
● Make sure your child is napping well for his age.
● Rely on your flexible routine, which should include a consistent meal and sleep schedule.
● Look for early signs of tiredness: eye-rubbing, yawning, glazed-over eyes, and general crankiness.
● Make sure your baby’s room is dark, devoid of distractions and noises, and at an appropriate temperature for sleeping (which is usually between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit).
● Help your child prepare for bedtime with a consistently calm, relaxing routine each night.
● Be sure your child is exposed to sunlight each day and in a dimly lit room before bed in order to help his body naturally produce melatonin.
● Eliminate any screen exposure (such as tablets, e-readers, and smart phones) an hour before bedtime each night.