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Sleep and Bedtime Habits

Getting your child to sleep is not always easy! We share some of the sleep basics and things that can help you and your little one.

Two children sleeping in their beds

Why is sleep important for kids?

When your child sleeps, their body is able to recharge so they have energy to do all the things they’re supposed to do when they’re awake.

Sleep is important for your child’s brain development. The changes in your child’s brain at this age helps them to learn and understand all kinds of things about the world around them. 

As your child’s brain develops they will become better at handling their emotions and responses to people and situations. 

For example, you may have noticed that your child is grumpier than usual if they haven’t slept enough! Just like adults, if kids don’t get enough good quality sleep it could make them feel irritable and more prone to getting upset.

Sleep cycles and stages of sleep

Knowing about sleep can help you understand if your child is getting enough. Here we give you a refresher on the basics of sleep.

Sleep cycles:

  • A ‘sleep cycle’ can be either light sleep or deep sleep. Each sleep cycle can last 90 to 100 minutes.
  • Babies and children tend to wake up after a sleep cycle and sometimes call out or need help settling again. 
  • Some kids may fall asleep quickly while others might fidget for 20 minutes or longer before falling asleep.
  • You can usually tell if your child is in a deep sleep when they look peaceful and restful. Also, it’s very hard to wake them up if they’re in a deep sleep. 
  • Try to put your child to sleep early because the deepest sleep happens before midnight.

Sleep stages:

  • Sleep is made up of three different stages. Deep sleep occurs in the later stages of sleep.
  • Stages 1 and 2 - Periods of light sleep from which a child can easily be awakened.
  • Stages 3 and 4 - Periods of deep sleep where it's more difficult to wake kids up. Kids will often feel disoriented for a few minutes after waking
  • REM - Known as REM sleep because of the rapid eye movements that occur during this stage. Breathing becomes rapid, heart beats faster, and limb muscles don't move. Vivid dreams can occur during this stage.

How much sleep does your child need?

When your child grows and moves through different stages of development the amount of sleep they need will also change. Sleep cycles tend to get longer as your baby gets older.

Here is a guide on how much sleep is needed for different ages:

Newborns (1 - 2 months)

10.5 to 18 hours a day, with a lot of waking up in between

Infants (3 - 11 months)

9 to 12 hours during the night plus 2 or 3 longish sleeps during the day or short naps of about 40 minutes during the day

Toddlers (1 - 3 years)

12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period; this might include a longer sleep at night plus a nap during the day

What are the average preschoolers' sleep habits?

When your child grows and moves through different stages of development their sleep habits may also change.

Here’s a guide on what you can expect:

  • They may need between 11-13 hours of sleep at night or in combination with day time naps
  • Nightmares or night terrors may happen due to a preschoolers developing an imagination
  • Separation anxiety may occur during the night but usually stops around the age of four
  • Toileting issues may occur at night as preschoolers transition from nappies to underwear

Sleep tips for kids

Every parent has their own way of dealing with things. Finding what works best for you and your child is what matters most. Here are some ideas that may help with sleep:

Set a regular bed time and follow a predictable routine

Have quiet time one hour before bed with dimmed lights

Get to know your child’s signs of sleepiness

Try putting your child to bed when they’re drowsy and let them fall asleep on their own

Try keeping naps during the day to 1-2 hours so you avoid a delayed bedtime at night

Minimise exposure to screens (TV/technology/smartphone/tablet) before bed

Have a comfortable room temperature and clothing – not too hot or too cold

Practice safe sleeping by putting your child on their back with face and head clear of blankets, toys etc

If illness is affecting child’s sleep then see your GP for help 

Use security objects to help with separation anxiety and nightmares

If your child gets out of bed instruct them calmly yet firmly that it’s sleep time

Reward sleeping through the night eg. sticker charts

Bedtime routines can help

Routines help your child to ‘wind down’ and become sleepy and ready for bed. It signals that the day is ending and helps the body release hormones that help with sleep.

Having a bedtime routine helps your child get to sleep more quickly and have good quality sleep. 

Here are some things you might like to try as part of a bedtime routine: 

 

  • Have a bath
  • Clean teeth
  • Play soft music
  • Read books or tell stories
  • Dim the lights
  • Say the final goodnight

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Meg Nagle and ParentTV answer your questions on baby sleep patterns.

Nightmares and night terrors

Nightmares and night terrors can be scary for both kids and parents.
Here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Nightmares are very common for preschoolers but they will eventually outgrow them
  • Offer hugs to comfort them and reassure them that it’s not real and that they are safe
  • Night terrors are not as common as nightmares and a child may have their eyes open during night terrors but they are actually still deeply asleep
  • During night terrors a child may scream, thrash, call out, or even get out of bed
  • Wait close by until they become calm again or until you can safely settle them back into bed – it’s best not to wake them
  • A child usually won’t remember a night terror and will easily fall back asleep

Who can help?

If your child has persistent sleep problems it’s important to seek professional help.

There are many services available to help you with sleep concerns. Some of these include:

Figuring out sleep can be tricky

Settling and waking problems are really common, especially with children under three years old

This content was last reviewed 03/05/2018

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