Sleep is important for children for a variety of reasons. It allows the body and brain to re-charge, boosts the immune system to prevent illness, and is a major contributor to a child’s growth and overall development. Children who do not get enough sleep are shown to get sick more often, have an increased risk of mood and behavioral problems and have poor performance at school.
For many parents, helping their child to sleep through the night can provide some challenges. Sleep training is a way to help babies and young children get to sleep and stay asleep all night.
How Much Sleep?
There is no magic formula for how many hours of sleep a child should get each night. As a general rule of thumb, newborns will sleep on-and-off for most of the day, infants should get 9-12 hours during the night plus naps, toddlers should get 12-14 hours in a 24 hour period, and children ages 5-12 should get between 10-11 hours of sleep each night. Keep in mind that sleep is unique to each child; some kids need more and some kids can get by on a little less.
Sleep Training Methods for Young Children
There are a few different, research-based approaches that can help young children develop healthy sleeping habits. As a parent, the method you choose depends on what you feel will work best for your specific child and what you feel most comfortable trying.
“Cry it out” method– This method states that it is okay to let a babies or young children cry alone for a short period of time, with frequent checks by the caretaker, before offering comfort. The theory is that if a child relies on always being rocked or nursed to sleep, she will never learn to master the skill of sleeping on their own; if the child wakes up in the middle of the night, she will panic because she is unable to soothe herself back to sleep. The amount of time to let a baby cry differs, depending on the child. The idea is that the child is given time to practice self-soothing, and a short period of tears is to be expected while she is learning to get to sleep on her own.
“No tears” method– If you don’t like the idea of letting your child “cry it out”, this may be a technique to try. This method encourages rocking and nursing your baby to sleep, or using other forms of physical nearness to create a positive sleep experience now and healthy sleep habits later on. Be aware that this method does not include letting your child sleep in bed with you. Co-sleeping is a dangerous practice that results in unnecessary deaths due to suffocation.
“The five S’s method”- This technique is very simple, and is especially successful for newborns and infants. The five S’s include: swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking on a bottle or pacifier, or holding your baby in the side or stomach position. (Remember to never put a baby down to sleep on her side or stomach; a baby under one year old should be sleeping on her back.)These 5 tricks, especially combined, are soothing techniques than can help baby get to sleep.
Research shows that any of these methods can be successful, as long as they are done consistently! Your child may not develop good sleeping habits overnight and you may experience a few nights of lost sleep, some difficult nights, and probably a number of attempts before you will see results.
Here are some additional tips for helping babies and young children sleep:
- Place a baby under one year of age to sleep alone, on her back, in a crib.
- Create a consistent and enjoyable bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child sleeps.
- Make the bedroom environment the same every night and throughout the night.
- Encourage babies and young children to fall asleep independently and to become a “self-soother”.
Bedtime Tips for Older Children
By the time your child reaches preschool or school-age, the bedtime battle is likely becoming easier. Even older children need help from their parents in ensuring a good night’s rest. Here are some tips for older children to help them get to bed and stay asleep throughout the night:
- Limit television or electronic exposure in the evenings and prior to bedtime and keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. Reading is a great alternative to electronic use.
- Avoid drinking caffeine or large amounts of liquid before bedtime.
- Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits by using a consistent bedtime routine. Try talking to your kids about why we need sleep, or encourage them to start a sleep diary.
Bedtime can be a stressful for parents, but putting these sleep training methods and tips into practice can make bedtime a positive experience for everyone!
Kelsey Rinzel is a Pediatric Registered Nurse who cares for children in the Special Care Nursery and Medical Daycare programs at Penfield. She also addresses the health and wellness needs for all of Penfield’s in-center children. She is passionate about kids, and loves her job!
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“Baby Sleep Training: No Tears Method.” BabyCenter. BabyCenter, LLC. http://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-sleep-training-no-tears-methods_1497581.bc
“Children and Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/children-and-sleep.
“Harvey Karp’s ‘Happiest Baby’ Method for Baby Sleep and Soothing.” BabyCenter. BabyCenter, LLC. http://www.babycenter.com/0_harvey-karps-happiest-baby-method-for-baby-sleep-and-soothin_10373838.bc
“Why you Need Sleep.” KidsHealth. Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/body/not_tired.html#