PROPER SLEEP ROUTINES FOR CHILDREN
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Parents are often unaware of the benefits of a good bedtime routine for children. Other than providing enough time to rest and recuperate from daily activities, sleep has been shown to help children with behavioral issues, attention span, emotional and psychosocial regulation, and building social relationships. Inadequate or inefficient sleep reduces the extent to which kids can receive these benefits. Therefore, it’s important to set good sleeping habits as early as possible, including a proper bedtime routine.
In a 2021 study, six important components of a good sleep routine in young children were identified: consistent timing, regular brushing of teeth, use of books, use of relaxing activities, avoidance of food and drinks, and avoidance of electronic devices. Bedtime routines become more effective if all of these are present.
Sleep Distractions or Disturbances
There are several reasons why kids have trouble sustaining sleep. Young children are attached to their parents or guardians and prefer to be with them at all times when at home. At night, their caregiver’s presence puts them at ease; staying alone in a room makes them anxious. Sometimes, kids become too excited or hyperactive, especially after playtime, making it difficult to settle down for bed. Ironically, children who do not have enough nap times during the day (based on their age) may find it hard to fall asleep.
Children who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in pain are understandably distracted, making it difficult to complete bedtime routines. Teenagers who consume drinks with caffeine (like coffee or tea) or feel burdened with anxieties or troubles will most likely have poor sleeping patterns. Lastly, kids whose daily schedules are full to the brim are most likely to be either too tired or restless to follow through with a bedtime routine.
Components of a Sleep Routine
Sleep routines have similar components across all ages; however, because children undergo various stages of growth, certain key areas in bedtime routines differ per age group.
All sleep routines should be done at roughly the same time every day to familiarize children with relaxing and winding down before bedtime. As much as possible, use similar actions and the same objects during this period. Children are observant of their caregivers, so parents are encouraged to take the lead and set an example for them by setting their own bedtime routines.
During the daytime, aim to follow your child’s daily routine, including active play and nap times. At night, the child’s room should be tidied up in preparation for sleep. This includes cleaning up after toys and games, prohibiting electronic gadget use, switching to warm or dim lights, and adjusting the room temperature to a comfortable level.
For younger kids, it’s best to perform part of the bedtime routine with their parents or caregiver. This may include warm baths and time to read books or share stories, depending on the child’s interests and age. For nervous or anxious kids who call for help during the night, parents are encouraged to comfort and reassure them but be firm with keeping them in bed on their own until the next day.
Sleep Routines in Newborns
Newborns typically sleep 14-17 hours per day, divided throughout the day and night. Whenever they are asleep, make sure that they are placed on a crib with a firm bed surface, with no extra pillows or toys, and on their backs. Do not make it a habit for newborns to sleep in the same bed as their parents or other children. These precautions avoid the risk of developing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is usually fatal.
Because newborns feed at their own pace, which can be between every 2-4 hours, they may wake up in the middle of the night for milk.
Sleep Routines in Infants
Infants at 2-3 months old may still sleep 14-17 hours per day. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), babies aged 4 months to a year will use up 12-16 hours per day for sleep. This involves about 2-3 nap times during the day that may span between 30 minutes to 2 hours per episode.
As infants turn 6 months of age, motor and behavioral development respectively lead to the ability to crawl and the development of separation anxiety. These babies also start to pay more attention to interesting actions in their environment, like bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells. All of these may make it difficult for babies to relax and fall asleep. Despite this, nighttime sleep becomes longer compared to newborns and young infants. Unfortunately, they can still wake up at any point in the middle of the night.
To help facilitate longer nighttime sleep, babies should feel comfortable — well-fed and properly clothed based on the room temperature. Start weaning milk intake at night for children 4 months and older.
Sleep Routines in Toddlers
Based on AASM data and studies, toddlers (1-2 years old) sleep for about 11-14 hours daily. Daytime naps are lessened to around 1-2 hours per day. By this age, children are very active and interested in their surroundings. At times, it may be challenging for toddlers to tone down their level of excitement and curiosity at bedtime. Despite this, parents and caregivers should strive to maintain the same schedule and bedtime routine. Active playtime and electronic gadget exposure should both be avoided an hour before they are due for bed.
Encourage toddlers to decide on certain details of their bedtime procedure, such as which kind of toothbrush design they want, which book to read with you in bed, and where they want the night light to be placed in their room. Toddlers fall under the “autonomy versus shame and doubt” stage in Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Allowing them to make choices will also help them affirm their autonomy and feel more at ease with the process.
Sleep Routines in Preschool Children
The AASM has stated that children from 3-5 years of age need 10-13 hours of sleep per day, with a one-hour nap during the day. Preschool kids are still hyperactive and should avoid playing before getting into bed. In addition, bedwetting, night terrors and nightmares start in this age group. It’s important to calmly reassure children waking up from night terrors and nightmares.
Sleep Routines in School-aged Children
At 6-12 years of age, the average length of sleep is only 9-12 hours (AASM). Besides night terrors and nightmares, children may experience sleep talking or start to show symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If parents or guardians are uncomfortable or unsure of these occurrences, it is best to consult a healthcare specialist.
Some school-aged children, especially those with siblings or other household members, may request personal time with their guardians or parents at night. This fosters stronger emotional resilience as well as a bonding experience with their parents.
Sleep Routines in Teenagers
The AASM recommends that adolescents aged 13-18 years old should have at least 8-10 hours of sleep at night. Parents may worry that teenagers stay up late at night — research, however, shows that it may be normal due to changes in the body’s melatonin secretion for this age group. Melatonin is a hormone for sleep regulation.
Teenagers constantly undergo physical, emotional, and psychosocial changes. Increased self-analysis may lead to a barrage of emotions and thoughts at any time of the day. This may affect how well they fall asleep and maintain their sleep. Properly digesting these thoughts and emotions through heart-to-heart talks, journal writing, yoga, or other calming exercises may be included in their bedtime routine.
A proper sleep routine provides holistic benefits for children, including regaining energy, improving behavior and attention, and regulating emotions. Start a consistent bedtime routine as early as possible to have as much exposure to these benefits as they grow older.
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- Manchester 1824 (24 Feb 2021). Study defines ideal children’s bedtime routine. The University of Manchester. Taken from: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/study-defines-ideal-childrens-bedtime-routine/
- Arora T. (2019). Sleep Routines in Children. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 15(6), 821–822. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.7826
- Mindell, J. A., Telofski, L. S., Wiegand, B., & Kurtz, E. S. (2009). A nightly bedtime routine: impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood. Sleep, 32(5), 599–606. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/32.5.599
- Seattle Children’s Hospital. (n.d.) A Good Night's Sleep Can Be Routine for Kids – and Their Parents. Taken from: https://www.seattlechildrens.org/health-safety/keeping-kids-healthy/development/good-night-sleep-routine/
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- Raising Children Network Australia Limited. (n.d.) School-age and pre-teen sleep: what to expect. Taken from: https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/healthy-lifestyle/sleep/school-age-sleep
- Raising Children Network Australia Limited. (n.d.) How to sleep better: 10 tips for children and teenagers. Taken from: https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/sleep/better-sleep-settling/sleep-better-tips
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- Raising Children Network Australia Limited. (n.d.) Sleep and teenagers: 12-18 years. Taken from: https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/healthy-lifestyle/sleep/sleep-teens
- Moon, R.Y. (2021). How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained. HealthyChildren.org. Taken from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx
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