Bedtime troubles are very common at some point in most children’s lives. This often disrupts the household, and it prevents a child from getting the amount of sleep they need. This can also affect a child’s performance at school.
Just in time for back to school, check out the following guidelines to help establish good sleep habits for your children.
Sleep recommendations by age
Please note these recommendations are only guidelines and not every child will follow them.
Age 1 to 2: 10 to 12 hours at night, one to four hours during the day
Age 3 to 5: 10 hours at night, up to one hour during the day; the child may outgrow a nap at this age
Age 6 to 11: 10 hours at night, no daytime nap
Tips for establishing good sleep habits
- Older babies and children should have a nap time and bedtime schedule.
- Limit screen time to no more than two hours per day, including time spent in front of smart phones, tablets, computers and TVs. Screens should be turned off at least two hours prior to bedtime.
- Start a quiet time, such as listening to quiet music or reading a book, 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. TV or other digital screens should not be a part of the quiet time.
- After quiet time, follow a bedtime routine, such as a diaper change, going to the bathroom and brushing teeth.
- Set a time limit for quiet time and the routine so it does not drag on and your child knows what to expect before bedtime.
- Say goodnight, turn off the light and leave the room.
- Security objects, such as a special blanket or stuffed animal, can be part of the bedtime routine.
- It is important for children to be put to bed awake so they learn to fall asleep themselves.
What if my child won’t go to sleep?
Young children can easily fall into bedtime habits that are not always healthy. These suggestions can help when a child does not want to go to bed or is having trouble staying in bed:
- If your child cries, speak calmly and reassure him or her, “You are fine. It is time to go to sleep.” Then leave the room.
- Do not give a bottle or pick up your child.
- Stretch out the time between trips to the room if your child continues. Do not do anything but talk calmly and leave.
- Your child will calm down and go to sleep if you stick to this routine. It may take several nights for your child to get used to the new plan.
- If your child is used to getting a large amount of milk right at bedtime, start to cut down the amount of milk in the bottle by 1/2 to 1 ounce each night until the bottle is empty and then take it away completely.
- Sometimes children get out of their routine of night sleeping because of an illness or travel. Quickly return to good sleep habits when things are back to normal.
Older children sometimes go through a stage when they revert back to bad sleep habits or develop new problems. Here are some tips to help parents with older children who have problems going to bed.
- If your child gets out of bed, take him or her back to bed with a warning that the door will be shut (not locked) for one or two minutes if he or she gets out of bed.
- If your child stays in bed, the door stays open. If your child gets out of bed, the door is closed for two minutes. Your child can understand that he or she has control of keeping the door open by staying in bed.
- If your child gets out again, shut the door for three to five minutes (no more than five minutes).
- Be consistent. Put your child back in bed each time he or she gets out of bed.
- When your child stays in bed, open the door and give your child praise (for example, “You are doing a great job of staying in bed. Goodnight.”).
- Your child can be rewarded by earning a star on a calendar for staying in bed all night. You can give a special prize for a certain number of stars earned.
If you think your child might have a sleep disorder, talk to their pediatrician about having a sleep study.