Ten steps for a peaceful bedtime
- Know how much sleep a child needs.
- Baby: 14-18 hours
- Toddler: 11 hours (plus a 2-hour nap)
- Preschool: 11-12 hours (plus a 1-hour nap)
- Kindergarten: 11.5 hours
- School age: 10-11 hours
- Adolescents: 9.25 hours
- Adult: 8.25 hours
- Look at your daily routine. A good night’s sleep begins in the morning, with the decisions you make. Establish a regular wake time and maintain it within a 30-minute window seven-days-a-week. Establish regular meal times. Meals set the body clock. Get outside for exposure to morning light and exercise. Establish a regular bedtime.
- Protect naps and do not wake your child from naps. A tiny toddler, less than 19 months of age typically still needs two naps every day. The first a mere two to two and a half hours after awakening. The second about three hours after the first one ended. Older toddlers are ready to go down about four to four and a half hours after wake time. Preschoolers will last an average of five to six hours before they are ready for their nap. Miss the window for a nap and the odds are high your child will get a second wind and not sleep.
- Know the sleep cues. There are three levels of sleep cues. Level one, red around the eyes, droopy cheeks, a glazed look is when to put babies under nine months to sleep. Level two includes the yawn, eye rub, stumble, little difficulty listening, or remembering rules – but still happy and indicates when to put down all other children. Do NOT wait for the second yawn. If your child is wild, crying, nothing is right and can’t settle she has hit level three and is overtired. Begin your routine earlier.
- Simplify your bedtime routine so it can be completed within 20-30 minutes. Observe closely after bath and reading is your child calm or more alert? If these activities alert complete them earlier in the evening or day. A sample routine is a bedtime snack, toileting, teeth brushing, pajamas, one book, or no book, cuddle, kiss, hug, prayer if you choose, and good night. When you hit the window for sleep your child will fall asleep within 25-37 minutes. If it is taking longer, look first at your daily routine – move bedtime earlier, or later as needed.
- If your child is “wired,” slow down the routine, but maintain the steps and the order of the steps. Do not “add” more.
- If your child needs touch, such as a back rub, or you near her, feel free to do so. Establish the limit that if she is lying down you rub her back, or lay next to her. If she gets up, you go and sit at the door. She can still see you, but for you to come back, she needs to lie down. Remove all toys from the room. Once she is settling easily you can gradually shorten the time you stay. If you choose to co-sleep and everyone sleeps well, it’s working for your family.
- Avoid electronics. The light and stimulation from electronics can trick your child’s brain into thinking this is time to be awake. Even infants and toddlers, who are not watching, are affected by the light and movement on the screen.
- Know your child’s cry. Some children do cry before falling asleep. But the cry is not one of escalating distress. Instead, it is a de-escalating, letting go. If it goes on for more than five minutes or begins to escalate go back and offer comfort.
- If your child has been falling asleep easily and suddenly is not, know this is a red flag that something is up. Stop and think what could be causing her to feel stressed? Is she near her birthday or half birthday and going through a growth spurt? Has fighting between parents increased? If this is the case expect to provide more soothing calming for her to sleep. This is not forever; it’s for now, during this stressful time. Addressing the feelings and needs behind sleep disruption will allow your child to fall asleep peacefully.
Source: Kurcinka, Sheedy, Mary, Ed.D. Ten Steps to a Peaceful Bedtime for Your Spirited Child
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- Know how much sleep a child needs.