Thursday, December 20, 2012

Healthy Sleep for Families

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.