by Kelley Jilek
Sleep is one of life’s necessities, yet many of us neglect its importance. We try to function without the recommended eight hours of slumber each night for adults, and young children require far more sleep! Experts recommend that toddlers and preschoolers sleep 11-14 hours in a 24 hour period (including naps). Unfortunately, sleep problems are a common parenting challenge. Children of all ages can experience sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) claims that young children are not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can have disastrous effects on young children: hyperactive behavior, inattentiveness, learning difficulties, behavior problems, and greater incidence of illness can result.
Set the stage for lifelong healthy sleep habits early in life. Consider the following suggestions:
- Develop a consistent, calming bedtime routine and follow it every day of the week. Choose a reasonable bedtime and schedule routines leading up to that time, such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading a story, and finally, tucking into bed.
- Address fears and calm anxieties. As children get older, the things they imagine become more elaborate and fears become very real. Allow your child to drift off to sleep with a nightlight or lamp. Honor her requests for you to check under the bed or in the closet. Separation anxiety may also be a concern for your child. Reassure her that you will always be nearby.
- Like adults, young children can suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome, night terrors, sleepwalking, insomnia, snoring, and sleep apnea. Pay attention to symptoms that may indicate sleep-related disorders, and consult your child’s doctor about anything questionable.
- Avoid “sleep stealers.” The NSF explains that caffeine, television, excess weight, and daily schedules that are too busy often make it difficult for your child to obtain quality, restful sleep.
- Don’t rely on iPads to bring on sleep. Avoid using electronic devices containing backlit displays. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that melatonin (sleep hormone) levels drop after using such devices. Offer your child “real” books to read to wind down instead.
Sleep challenges may come and go as your child passes through various developmental milestones, and sleep behaviors will likely change as he grows. Adjust bedtime routines as needed, but maintain the basics of a calming course of activities leading up to your child ultimately drifting off to sleep independently. If your child sleeps soundly through the night, you have a far better chance of doing the same yourself. Quality sleep is important for the entire family!
For more information, go online to sleepfoundation.org.