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Sun, 22 Jan 17
We’ve all heard that sleep is important for our children. But what does quality sleep look like? Why do they need it? And how can we help them get it? Here are the basics according to our resident sleep expert, Kim West LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®, author of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy.
Let’s start with why children need sleep. Here are three basic reasons:
Short-term – Both children and adults who don’t get a full dose of sleep can feel the effects the next day. You may feel sleepy or irritable and find it hard to concentrate – your child might be extra fussy or fragile, lethargic or, on the other extreme, unusually wired and bouncing off the walls.
Long-term – Simply put, sleep is brain-building time. Kids’ brains are developing fast, and they need lots of time to process the constant stream of new experiences that comes at them, from babyhood all the way through puberty. Regular low-quality sleep will affect not only a child’s mood but also their ability to learn and their overall health.
You! – As a parent, you play an absolutely critical role in your child’s life and development. When your children sleep well, you can too, and the whole family is happier and healthier.
You should aim for both quantity and quality:
Quality sleep is age-appropriate – The amount of sleep a child needs changes with age and kids need a lot: newborns need more than 16 hours of sleep per day, a 3-year old still needs 12 hours of sleep, and so on. You can find a helpful chart here. Individual needs can vary but according to Kim, 95% of children need within one hour of the recommended amount of sleep. If your child is regularly getting less than that, it’s time to take a look at some habit/schedule changes.
Quality sleep is uninterrupted – Newborns naturally have short sleep-wake cycles and need to be fed and changed during the night, but older babies, toddlers, children, and adults should all aim for long stretches of uninterrupted sleep in a comfortable, quiet location. That said, both children and adults experience normal cycles of light and deep sleep, and it is quite normal for us to periodically become more aware of our surroundings, move around, or even to go to the bathroom during the night – and not remember any of it in the morning. What isn’t as healthy is fully waking up between sleep cycles, because it takes our brains and bodies a long time to settle back down again.
How, of course, is the million-dollar question. If this were easy, there wouldn’t be countless different books, experts, and “methods” on how to get your child to sleep! Kim herself has lots of great advice on her website, and offers a sleep coaching service for parents who could use some expert help. We regularly post good advice on this blog, too. But even here there are some basic principles to keep in mind.
Learn the basics – Here’s some good news: if you’ve read through this blog post, you’re well on your way! The devil is in the details, of course, but understanding how much and what kind of sleep your children need is the first big step to making sure they get it.
Take notes – The second big step is taking stock of the current situation. Start by keeping track of when and how long your child sleeps, so you can figure out where changes need to be made. The schedule tracking in the Evoz Smart Baby Monitor app makes this easy!
Teach your child to fall asleep on her own – Teaching this critical skill using “The Sleep Lady Shuffle” is the centerpiece of Kim’s sleep training method. Once your baby is old enough (at least 6 months old; most babies are ready by 8 months), she can learn to fall asleep on her own. This skill is critical not just at bedtime, but precisely because of those sleep cycles we mentioned earlier – once your child knows that being drowsy and semi-awake in bed is no cause for alarm, he can drift back to sleep on his own between sleep cycles, resulting in better sleep for both him and you.
Foster good habits – Another great way to ensure both you and your children regularly sleep well is to find a routine that works and stick to it. Get to bed on time, discourage early waking, and make sure that the sleep environment is quiet, comfortable, and at the right temperature. The same thing applies to nap times.
And, hang in there! – There will inevitably be times when the schedule goes awry, developmental leaps lead to sleep regressions, other changes in the family throw things off…and just regular bad days. Courage, parents! Whatever the trouble is, it won’t last forever. Stay the course and keep up the good work – you’re doing great.
Disclosure: This blog post contains contextual affiliate links. Evo Inc. may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.