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Helping Your Children Get the Rest They Need

Getting enough sleep is an important part of a healthy, happy lifestyle. Yet parents often face many challenges with their children and sleep. This episode will address those challenges and provide tips for changing unhealthy patterns to help your child get the quality sleep he or she needs.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep contributes to proper brain and body development as children grow. Without it, they may experience problems such as reduced coordination and reaction time, leading to greater likelihood of injury; difficulty paying attention and reduced memory retention, and increased irritability, frustration, and trouble controlling emotions.

But how much is enough? Children’s need for sleep changes as they grow. Between naps and nighttime sleep, infants 0-3 months should get 14-20 hours of sleep; children 3-6 months need 14-16 hours; children 6-12 months need 13-15 hours of sleep; and those 12-24 months need 12-14 hours. Toddlers from 2-4 years old need 11-13 hours; 4-7 year olds need 10-12 hours; and kids ages 7-11 need 10 or more hours.

Developing a consistent bedtime routine is a way to help your child get adequate sleep while providing them with a sense of structure and security to feel safe. By setting a fixed bedtime and doing the same activities in the same order every night, your child will be able to relax and get the sleep he needs. The routine should last 30 minutes and may include having a light snack, taking a warm bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading books or listening to music together, and saying goodnight with lots of hugs and kisses.

Parents aren’t immune to sleep challenges. As a new parent, you may lose sleep wondering if your baby is okay. Good sleep safety habits will keep your child safe and help ease your mind.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your baby sleep in the same room, but not the same bed, as her parents. If your baby sleeps in a crib, remove any items she can stand on to raise herself higher and out of her crib. Watch for curtains, cords, or other dangerous items that your baby may be able to reach from her sleeping space. If you are sharing a bed with your baby, make sure your mattress is firm and flat. Sheets and blankets should be light. Your baby should not be able to fall out of the bed or between the mattress and headboard.

To help prevent sudden infant death syndrome, also known as SIDS, always place your baby on his back and make sure he sleeps on a firm surface. It should be a non-smoking environment and not too warm. And make sure your baby receives all recommended immunizations.

There are some other common sleep problems your child may experience, such as nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting. If your child has a nightmare that frightens her, go to her immediately to provide comfort and reassurance. Encourage her to talk about her dream and help her go back to sleep. Night terrors are more severe nightmares that happen while a child is in deep sleep and cannot be awakened. They will usually not remember the night terror. In these cases, stay calm and don’t try to wake your child. Gently restrain him if he tries to leave the bed or moves around too much. After a short time, he will return to normal sleep.

Sleepwalking also occurs during deep sleep, when it is difficult to wake children, and they usually will not remember this state. Keep exit doors locked so that your child cannot leave the house. Block stairways and clear the room of any potential tripping hazards. Don’t wake your child; just gently lead her back to bed.

Bedwetting is very common among young children. Their bladders are still small and they are still toilet learning. Make sure your child uses the toilet and discourage drinking before bedtime. Protect the bed with a mattress cover and do not blame or punish your child.

Changes in your child’s life such as illness, vacation, a new home, or new caregiver can affect sleep. Be patient and stick to your bedtime routine and your child will be able to return to her regular sleep pattern soon.

Other tips for getting your child to sleep include limiting caffeine and sugar before bedtime; avoiding TV, video games and active play; making sure the sleeping area is quiet, pleasant, and peaceful; and putting your child to bed before she is overly tired, as a child that is too tired may be too uncomfortable to fall asleep.

Many sleep problems get better as children grow older. If problems continue, ask your pediatrician for help.

To print our “Sleep” brochure and access additional podcasts and brochures, visit Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-ca.org.

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