Parents look forward to teaching their babies to walk and talk, but few think about teaching their child how to sleep. Sleep disturbances are very common in children, and they shouldn’t be ignored. The good news is that most sleep problems can be solved. Here are some tips in helping your child develop good sleep habits at an early age.
The First 6 Months:
During the first few weeks of life, babies usually sleep 16 to 17 hours a day, in chunks of 2 to 4 hours at a time. By 4 to 6 weeks, babies begin to sleep longer at night, with longer wakefulness periods during the day. Between 4 to 6 months old, most babies will sleep 6 or more hours per night, and by 6 months old, almost all babies should be able to sleep through the night. Here are some suggestions that may help your baby (and you) sleep better at night:
- Help your baby differentiate between day and night. During the day, encourage your baby to stay awake for longer periods to cuddle, play, and bond. Open the blinds to let daylight in, even when he/she is sleeping. Expose him/her to normal levels of daytime noise, even when taking a nap. If he/she is in a super quiet environment, he/she may become sensitive to noise, and every little noise will awaken him/her. At night, put your baby to sleep in a calm, quiet, darkened room. During middle of the night feedings and changings, try not to wake or stimulate him/her too much so he/she can easily fall back to sleep.
- Put your baby into the crib at the first signs of drowsiness. This seems to be the hardest thing for new parents to do—teach your baby to fall asleep on their own. It is best to let your baby learn to relax and settle himself/herself to sleep. If you always rock him/her to sleep or let him/her fall asleep while nursing, sucking on a pacifier, or drinking a bottle, then he/she will need this stimulus to get back to sleep when he/she wakes in the middle of the night. Putting your baby in their crib while still awake will prevent this problem.
- Don’t rush to the crib every time your baby whimpers—wait a few minutes and see if he/she falls back asleep without attention. At about 3 to 4 months, babies should be able to sleep in longer stretches of 5 to 6 hours. Babies, like older children and adults, have several periods of arousals and waking throughout the night. Let your baby learn to comfort himself/herself and fall back to sleep. If he/she continues to cry, check on him/her, but avoid turning on the light, playing, picking up, or rocking him/her, and then leave the room. If he/she continues to cry, wait a few more minutes and then recheck with the same approach. Make sure he/she is not ill or soiled. If the middle of the night crying becomes a significant problem, you may want to refer to Dr. Richard Ferber’s popular book, Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems, or discuss this with your Pediatrician.
Your Toddlers and Preschoolers:
Toddlers experience many stages from independence with learning to walk, to separation anxiety, to oppositional behavior, where “No!” is the usual response. It is no wonder that many parents find their toddler’s bedtime one of the hardest parts of the day. It is common for children at this age to resist going to sleep; however, remember that toddlers and preschoolers still need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Here are some tips to help your toddler develop good sleep habits:
- Establish a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Toddlers are creatures of habit. They thrive on routine—not only bedtime routine, but also regular schedules for meals and snacks, nap times, and other activities that fill their day. Start establishing a pleasant bedtime routine between 9 to 12 months old. This routine may include a warm bath, cuddling, singing, and/or reading. This quiet period will help your child wind down from his busy, active day, and will help your child understand that it will soon be time to go to sleep. Limit watching TV and playing video games before bedtime in the older kids as well.
- Make sure your child is comfortable. Check the temperature in the room and dress your child accordingly. Attend to a drink of water or potty time before bedtime, so that he/she doesn’t use them to avoid going to bed. Your child may feel more secure with a nightlight, a favorite blanket, or a teddy bear. These comforting objects may help him/her fall asleep.
- Try not to return to your child’s room every time he/she complains or calls out. When your child calls out, try these tactics:
- Wait several seconds before answering. Your response time should be longer each time to let him/her know that it is time to sleep.
- Reassure him/her that you are there. If you go to the room, make the visit brief and boring. Do not turn the light on. Gently pat him/her and say it’s time to go to sleep. Make the time between each visit longer.
- Move farther from your child’s bed every time you go to reassure him/her, until you can do this verbally without entering the room.
Getting your child to sleep through the night can be challenging, but with time and your pediatrician’s help, you and your child will sleep better and will be well-rested in the morning.
About our guest blogger:
Dr. Pawitta Kasemsap is a Pediatrician and Lead Physician with DaVita Medical Group. She practices out of the Rio Rancho clinic location and is loved by her patients and their families! Dr. Kasemsap has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from New Mexico State University, and completed her Medical degree at UNM. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the New Mexico Medical Society. Dr. Kasemsap has been with DaVita Medical Group for over 15 years.