New moms and dads face many obstacles once they leave the hospital and take their babies home. Parents often find that sleep schedules are a significant challenge, and one that won’t necessarily vanish as children grow older and become more independent.
Adequate sleep is important for any age group, but especially so for developing children. When kids do not get enough sleep, they have a harder time controlling their emotions and they may have difficulty paying attention and learning. Despite that need for sleep, bedtime seems to be the one time during the day when kids seem especially needy and resistant to settling down. It’s typical for behavior issues to be more prevalent when separation from parents is imminent, like it is at bedtime. Parents who emphasize consistency with their children’s sleep routine may find that their infants, toddlers and school-aged children don’t put up too much of a fuss at bedtime.
- Establish a bedtime that works. Figure out how much sleep your child needs and make sure they get to bed early enough to reach that goal each night. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers aged-based sleep guidelines that can be accessed at www.aap.org. Parents magazine says children’s internal clocks eventually will adjust to the routine if the routine follows a natural and consistent pattern.
- Start winding down. About an hour before bedtime, begin to scale back activities and anything that can rev up energy levels.
- Signal that bedtime is close. Give children a verbal warning or follow a similar routine each day. For young children, signals such as a relaxing bath, songs, hugs, or other physical cues can indicate that bedtime is coming.
- Reinforce structure. Consistency is essential. Talk about routines at other times of the day, and then implement other structured events. This teaches kids to recognize routines throughout their day, making kids more likely to embrace them at bedtime.
- Offer a snack. Some children need more than three meals a day. A light snack before bed can help them stay sated through the night. Good ideas include whole-grain cereal with milk, graham crackers and milk, or a similar carb/protein combination.
Repetition and patience are often necessary as parents try to initiate bedtime routines for their children.