Sleep needs vary across the lifespan and vary between individuals and families. Every child and family is different.
Published: October 1, 2018
By: Carol Muse Evans
We’ve all been there – having a child who cannot sleep, and being a sleep-deprived parent as a result. Nothing about it is good, and in fact, it can be quite bad. It can affect the whole family, even the child’s siblings.
“Sleep is crucial to the health and wellness for everyone from our first day of life and throughout adulthood,” according to Rachel Ashcraft, OTR/L, of Child’sPlay Therapy Center.
“Quality and the right quantity of sleep are necessary for growth, memory, emotional regulation, attention, mental and physical health.”
Elizabeth Luke, MD, FAAP, of Children’s of Alabama, adds, “A good sleep schedule sets up a child for success and overall health. “A healthy sleep schedule is very important…health benefits include building a strong immune system and helps overall optimal health.”
“It’s common for parents of young children to have sleep deprivation or problematic sleep behaviors in the night, but when it begins to interfere with your health and wellness, and your sleep deprivation becomes unbearable, you should check in with your child’s pediatrician,” says Tonja Bizor, a certified sleep sense consultant and owner of Tonja B’s Sleep Consulting. It’s bad for the child and the parent.
Sleep needs vary across the lifespan and vary between individuals and families. Every child and family is different. The following are general guidelines. As always, ask your pediatrician if you have questions about what’s right for your child, Ashcroft says.
HOW MUCH SLEEP?
The child will more than likely be setting the sleep schedule in months 1-2, Bizor, Ashcraft and Luke say. The job of those first two months is for bonding and establishing to the child that their parent(s) are here to meet their needs. “Newborns can have 3 to 5 night wakings each night, Bizor adds. In the first two months, babies will sleep 20-22 hours a day, Luke says.
The amount of time a child sleeps changes from as early as two months, Ashcraft says, to 4 months to one year, Luke says. Do not get discouraged or worry if your friend’s 3 month old is sleeping through the night and yours still wakes every few hours, Ashcraft adds. During this time, you may be able to start encouraging a sleep schedule for your child. A sleep schedule does not mean to leave a child to cry for hours but you can start working towards trying to keep them awake during “wake” times and encouraging a sleep routine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has listed recommendations for ages 4 months through adolescence. Children 4-12 months should sleep 12-16 hours per every 24 hours (including naps). Every child will be different how long they can go between nighttime feedings but this is the age that longer sleeping periods during the night should start to develop. Predictable routines will mean a lot to your baby during this time and will become especially important as he/she grows, Ashcraft says.
But if your child won’t sleep regularly, or on a schedule, what can you do?
HOW TO ENCOURAGE SLEEP
“One way to encourage a good sleep environment is to ‘recreate the womb’,” Luke explains. Use the child’s bedroom for sleep only. Make sure it is dark and consider white noise. Be sure the child sleeps on his back, with a breathable blanket.
Schedule time to rock, sing lullabies, give a bottle or nurse, and begin brushing teeth (once those adorable baby teeth start growing in!), Ashcraft says. This will also be a time to learn your child’s “sleep personality.” Keep a sleep journal and notice if they seem to sleep better with certain lighting, temperature, pj fabric, sleep swaddle options or sounds, Ashcraft says.
“Choose activities that you and your child enjoy, such as singing, reading books and extra snuggles and kisses,” Bizor adds. “A good bedtime routine should be no longer than 30 minutes in length (unless you have multiple children, then the time can increase to 45 minutes).
“I always recommend a bath, as this can be the key to getting your child to relax,” Bizor says. “The important thing is to do the same routine, the same way, in the same place, at around the same time each night so that the child recognizes it as a constant routine and will have the expectation that going to bed/sleep is next.”
Luke also reminds that you should not put a baby to bed with a bottle, though a pacifier is fine. “There should be no bottles in the bed. The stuff that collects on their emerging teeth is very bad for dental hygiene later,” Luke says.
Also, nursing babies tend to feed a bit more, Luke adds, and it helps relax baby. However, try to keep them awake to get a full feeding, she says, so that they can get maximum sleep.
WHEN TO TALK TO THE PEDIATRICIAN
If in doubt about any sleep behavior, all the experts say be sure to talk to your doctor. Medical conditions such as reflux, sensory processing needs and other things can impact sleep, Ashcraft says.
Be sure to ask your doctor if any of these is occurring, according to the experts:
- Your child is overly fussy, takes a long time to be soothed or cannot remain calm after being set down.
- If your child can only sleep in an upright position, such as being held or in a bouncer.
- If your child has a hard history such as prenatal drug exposure or neglect.
- If your child was born prematurely.
- If your child used to sleep through the night but stopped.
- Your child has never slept through the night after age 12 months and after trying a bedtime routine.
Luke says the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests the following sleep amounts:
- Ages 3-5 – 10-13 hours a day
- Ages 6-12 – 9 hours a day
- Teens – 8-10 hours a day
Of course, this can vary from child to child and other circumstances. Learn more at www.aap.org and choose “Childhood Sleep Guidelines.”
Carol Muse Evans is publisher and editor of Birmingham Parent.
For more helpful information regarding establishing healthy sleep habits for the whole family, check out these sites: