Your Child Needs Sleep
Infants and Sleep
- Respond immediately to your infant’s cries, whether they’re during the day or the middle of the night. The definition of “sleeping through the night” for a baby is five to six hours, not the eight or more adults often get. Some children are physically capable of sleeping through the night around three to six months of age, while others will not be able to for another several months.
- Remove your infant from overly stimulating places when she’s exhausted. Sometimes babies get so caught up in the activity around them that they just cannot go to sleep unless they are in a quiet, dark place.
- Provide comforting sleeping items for your child. Some infants prefer to be snuggled up tight in a blanket. Others need a pacifier. Learn what helps your infant to get to sleep.
Toddlers and Sleep
- Once toddlers get a “big kid” bed, it means they can easily crawl in and out of bed. Toddlers can wander around the house in the middle of the night (either awake or as sleep walkers), so ensure their safety by keeping doors locked and installing childproof gates so they don’t fall down stairs.
- Teach your toddler to stay in her bed or bedroom during sleeping times—even if she’s not tired.
- Help your toddler choose which comfort items he needs for sleeping, such as a blanket or stuffed animal. Some toddlers need several stuffed animals tucked in right next to them.
Preschoolers and Sleep
- Night terrors and nightmares are common for preschoolers. They might wake up in the middle of the night, terrified of monsters under the bed or lurking in their closets. Take your child’s fears seriously and help him calm down.
- Teach your preschooler how to comfort herself, such as snuggling with a stuffed animal or having a “power flashlight” she can turn on to scare away the monsters.
- Set firm boundaries. If your child asks for a second glass of water, tell him it’s the last one. If he asks for a third, do not respond.
- When your preschooler does well with sleeping and bedtime routines, say so. Children like to hear when they’re doing things well.
Elementary-Age Children and Sleep
- Typically, this is the easiest age when it comes to sleep issues, but some kids are more prone to sleeping difficulties than others. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep (most kids this age need 8 to 10 hours a night).
- Be aware of sleep problems that are caused by stress, such as being picked on by a bully at school or the fear of missing the bus in the morning.
- Be sensitive to how your child responds to sleepovers, whether they’re with family members or friends. Some have a hard time sleeping away from home. If this is the case, be empathetic—suggest to your child that she may want to wait until she’s a bit older before she tries another sleepover.
Young Teenagers and Sleep
- Due to their biological development, a lot of young teenagers become night owls. Negotiate with your teen about bed times and rituals to help him sleep. (Don’t be surprised if he wants to listen to music while going to sleep—music that you may not find relaxing.)
- Keep in touch with teachers and other adults who see your child during the day to make sure she isn’t nodding off or dragging through the day.
- Place limits on sleepovers. Some young teenagers think they can do them every night during the summer—or every weekend night.
- Talk to your teen about how he feels when he’s well rested and when he’s exhausted. The more he can identify differences, the more likely he will learn how to get enough sleep.
Older Teenagers and Sleep
- Although high school students are much more independent, they’ll often cut corners on sleep. While you can’t force your teenager to sleep, you can talk about the importance of getting enough sleep, creating sleep rituals that help her slow down and get to sleep, and turning off the cell phone, computer, or any other devices that can keep a teenager up all night (or wake them in the middle of the night).
- Older teenagers may become interested in sleepovers after taking a hiatus from them. Make sure you know what’s going on (and where they’ll be). Some teenagers claim to be sleeping at a friend’s house, when in reality they’re somewhere else.
- If your older teenager is exhausted, let him sleep in on weekends and days off from school. Some older teenagers don’t get out of bed until 3 in the afternoon, driving their parents crazy. Talk with other parents—you’re likely to discover that a lot of teenagers are doing the same thing.