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How many hours of sleep do children need (and how can they get it)?

healthy sleep habits for kids
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Got a tired toddler who just won’t settle down at night? Read on for expert tips on healthy sleep habits for kids!

Sleep, PLEASE………..Go to SLEEP!

OK: Everyone else’s kids are good sleepers, or so it seems. So how come your little angel is still running around like the batteries never wear out whilst you are snoring on the sofa? I’m not talking about babies, but those kids who just don’t ever seem to get tired. Sound familiar?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that toddlers and children should on average sleep between 11-14 hours per night. We know how important good quality sleep is, and new research is emphasising its effect on many bodily systems and why good ‘sleep hygiene’ is essential, but it’s not easy when someone won’t follow the rules.

child sleeps with teddy bear

Being a parent is challenging, but being a very tired parent is even more challenging. Here are some thoughts for those of you dealing with 2-9 year olds who are not good sleepers. To get a happy sleeper research suggests:

  • They need structure, routine and clear expectations. This means developing routines that don’t involve you as a parent when your child has gone to bed. The Happy Sleeper offers some good advice: first of all, keep the bedroom a quiet place, not full of simulation. When sleeping is an issue, it helps if there is a clear message that a bedroom is for sleeping in and nothing else. Take out the toys, bin the bright duvet and hide the technology for starters.
  • The optimal bedtime for children aged 2 to 6 is between 7.00-8.00 pm, but we know that this can be difficult to fit in with family routines and lifestyles. So make sure the bedroom is cool (16-18 degrees), quiet, low light and free of distractions. “Sleep hygiene” means that parents are consistent and keep to the established routine. Make sure the bed has soft and light bed-linen

little girl sleeps

  • The bedroom is not a ‘naughty’ area. Never use the bedroom as a place to go when your child has behaved badly. This sends negative messages about the room. The bedroom is a single-function place for young children; a place of very low stimulation that is safe and encourages sleeping.
  • Don’t allow screens (including TVs, phones or iPads) in the bedroom. I recommend reading Sue Palmer for more on this, but research shows that this kind of stimulation keeps you more awake both mentally and physically.

toddler storytime

  • Wind down for about 40 minutes before going to bed and have a calm pre -sleep activity that is the same every night, like a story to read together. This means a ‘real’ storybook, not a screen, mama!
  • For children who really struggle with sleep, social stories can be useful. If your child has / possibly has Autistic Spectrum Disorders, this site might help.
  • Keep a Sleep Diary, as this can help identify patterns.
  • If your child comes into your bed, be impassive. Return them to bed with no positive or negative response and try to avoid eye contact. Take them back every time.

Finally, mama, make sure everyone involved (including helpers, other caretakers, even older siblings) knows the routine and keeps to it. And – I know this is easier said than done – don’t worry. Up to 30% of children experience a sleep problem at some point during their childhood. This may take a few days — hang in there. Because mamas need their sleep, too!

Lead image sourced via Pinterest. Image #1, #2 and #3 sourced via Pinterest. 

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