Maybe your child is three years old. Maybe they’re nine. But chances are, they’ve mastered a refrain which turns out to be the bane of your nightly existence: “I don’t want to go to bed!”. Indeed, bedtime for kids doesn’t get so much easier.
Kids are, of course, seemingly inexhaustible balls of activity. Much like the Energizer Rabbit, they keep “going and going and going.” While they should have ideally gotten all that excess energy out of their systems during daytime activities and play, the fact is that children simply don’t wear out as easily as we wish. They’re still developing their own internal rhythms and their own biological clocks. And each clock unfortunately runs at its own pace.
But bedtime for kids isn’t just a question of your own personal frustration. It can lead to serious health problems. Recent studies have shown that children between the ages of 3 and 7 without sufficient sleep are more prone to develop severe issues with attention, memory and emotional control as they enter adolescence and pre-adolescence. Not only that, but there are strong indicators that irregular sleep patterns put children at a high risk for obesity and other health concerns.
Putting your kids to bed at the appropriate time doesn’t have to be a losing battle. But it needs to be a priority. And there are some guidelines to be aware of. If you’ve ever felt challenged by setting a sleep routine for your child, here are some things to take into consideration.
How Much Sleep Does My Kid Need?
It’s convenient to think your child’s sleeping habits are a question of temperament. But there are certain standards both pediatricians and sleep specialists have agreed upon as being optimal for infants, toddlers and older children:
- Infants (ages 0-3 months): 14-17 hours daily
- Infants (ages 4-11 months): 12-15 hours daily
- Toddlers (ages 1-2 years): 11-14 hours daily
- Preschool children (ages 3-5): 10-13 hours daily
- School-age children (ages 6-13): 9-11 hours daily
While these numbers are approximate (and for younger children won’t always be in one continuous cycle), they’re still a reliable table to measure against your kids. While half an hour more or less is not a significant cause for concern, if you notice either drastic increases or decreases in these amounts you may want to discuss it with your pediatrician.
What Are The Symptoms Of Poor Sleep For Kids?
The key to noticing the occasional night of poor sleep and a more serious underlying condition is consistency. If your child has had an action-packed day, they can be alternately restless or exhausted. There’s no predicting how stimulation will affect your kids, so if you notice inconsistencies after an eventful day, don’t be alarmed—it’s actually quite healthy.
But there are definitive signs of sleep struggles which (if they occur regularly) you may want to discuss with your pediatrician. These can sometimes include difficult or labored breathing, difficulty falling asleep, erratic snoring, violent resistance when it comes to bedtime, and waking up frequently in the middle of the night. There can be psychological and physical roots behind these symptoms, but keep in mind that sleeping behavior both reflects and influences a child’s behavior while awake as well.
How Can I Make Putting My Kids To Bed Easier?
Keep Distractions To A Minimum An Hour Before Bed
The supposedly sage advice you heard from your mother about kids needing to wear themselves out no longer applies—especially in an age of nothing but distractions. Remember that children are still getting accustomed to the world around them. Too much stimuli frequently encourages both curiosity and restlessness. Give them some time for their bodies to gradually wind themselves down before putting your kids to bed.
Give Them Security In The Dark
Nightmares are fairly common for children, and even constant ones aren’t necessarily cause for alarm. But they can wreak havoc on your kid’s nerves as well as your own, particularly once you realize you can’t be there to soothe their fears every second of the night. A security object such as a teddy bear, a favorite blanket or a nightlight is perfectly healthy to reassure your child there’s nothing to be frightened of. If you are using a nightlight, however, a word of caution. Use an extremely dim bulb to avoid keeping your child awake.
Let Them Snack Before Bedtime
Unlike adults, children need more than three square meals a day. It provides them with all the energy they need to face the day. Ironically, snacking before bedtime not only has the opposite effect of energizing them, it has the added bonus of encouraging their metabolism! But make certain they snack healthy and it’s not too large of a snack. Avoid preprocessed and high sugar junk food both before bed and throughout the day. Whole-grain cereal with milk, toast or fruit are always excellent choices prior to bedtime.
Dress Them Properly For Bed
This means more than helping them with their pajamas. It also means choosing the right pajamas for their room temperature as well as the right amount of blankets to cover your child up with. Remember that children generally have much higher body temperatures than adults, and will often kick the covers off their bed if they’re too hot. Keep their room temperature moderately cool (not cold!) and ensure that it remains consistent throughout the day.
Transform Bedtime Into A Routine
One of the easiest ways to ensure a consistent natural sleep cycle for your child is to establish a regular pattern before bed. This can include everything from light chores and brushing their teeth to reading a bedtime story or giving them ten minutes to play. Setting up a routine helps consciously remind them that it’s time to wind down and helps establish a consistent pattern for their subconscious minds to follow.
Need more at home tips for your child? At Handprints Childcare, we work together with families to establish a mutual sense of trust and respect. With fourteen different locations throughout greater Texas, our specialists are here for you and your family. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit us at handprintschildcare.com or call (214) 484-1018