Healthy Sleep for Families
Sleep is a vital part of good health and well-being, and it is important to develop healthy sleep patterns for your children at an early age. Many parents and caregivers have questions around the amount of sleep a child needs and how to support better sleep patterns. The amount of sleep varies for each child. Typically newborns sleep 16 hours a day, two year-olds sleep 11 ½ hours a day, and four year olds sleep 11 hours a day. Helping your child obtain the right amount of sleep for their body can also help avoid behavioral issues associated with inadequate sleep. Below are a few tips and recommendations on healthy sleep for families with young children:
- Prepare the environment: Make sure the child has a space ready for sleep before you start the bedtime routine. It should be quiet, dark, and not too hot or cold.
- Set a consistent schedule: Start the bedtime routine at the same time each night.
- Prepare the child: End the day with a quiet activity, such as a bath or reading a book, to help your child settle down. Teach your child the Pajama Rule, where there are no loud and energetic activities once the pajamas are put on. Children can follow a visual schedule with pictures to let them know what happens next in the evenings. Support your child with using the bathroom beforehand.
- Create a nurturing routine: Many children love to read books with their parents/caregivers or talk about their day. Share a positive moment from the day with your child and let them know what to expect tomorrow.
- Turn off the television: Television can be a distraction to falling asleep, and the light emitted by a television is counterproductive to our body’s ability to generate melatonin, which communicates to our body that it is time to sleep.
- Make the room comfortable: White noise from a fan can help a child ease into sleep. Darkness can be scary for some children, and night lights can be reassuring.
- Stay patient but firm: Stick to the schedule and limits, so your child does not create a pattern of leaving their bedroom for attention. Redirect your child to bed quietly, without reinforcing their behavior with a lot of conversation or emotion.
Developing healthy sleep patterns can take time for young children, and it is normal to see changes from time to time. A great place to ask questions about your child’s sleep and health is with your pediatrician at your regular well-child visits and developmental screening. You can also contact the Parent Child Center at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and speak with the Children’s Integrated Services Coordinator, Heather Wilson, at (802) 393-6601 if you have additional questions or concerns with your child’s development.
Sources: Bright Futures, American Academy of Pediatrics; Zero to Three National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families; Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Richard Ferber, M.D. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Submitted by Heather Wilson, Children’s Integrated Services Coordinator, NCSS Children, Youth & Family Services Division.