One of the questions frequently asked by parents is: “Why does my child need a constant bedtime routine?” This question can easily be answered because one of the most important things to children is to have a predictable, consistent routine, yet with this article I would like to empower parents with more than just an answer, I would like to add some information as well, empowering parents with knowledge regarding the importance of sleep and why a good night’s sleep is not only important for children, but for parents as well. I would also like to provide some tips on how you can make bedtime a more relaxed part of your day.
Sleep is an essential part of your day. Sleep is as important to the body as food. We need to eat and we need to sleep. We need sleep in order to be healthy and to go on living our daily lives. Children need more sleep than adults.
During sleep our:
- growth hormones are released
- the immune system strengthens; helping your child’s body to fight off illness
- the brain makes sense of the day’s events
- memory and concentration functions are increased
- our bodies rest
- emotional well being is restored
Children’s health and behaviour can take a nose dive when their sleeping habits are not balanced. Insufficient sleep can make children short-tempered and emotional. In school, a sleep-deprived child can have trouble with concentration, memory, physical performance and decision-making. The lack of sleep could thus cause problems in most of the areas in your child’s life, making it difficult to learn, to make friends and to play. Adequate sleep will boost your child’s energy and enthusiasm. Good-quality sleep can also help your child learn more easily and reduce many behavioural problems.
How much sleep does a child need? Because each child is an individual, it’s not possible to set an absolute amount of sleep that all children need. This is the same with adults. Our bodies will tell us how much sleep we need. My golden rule for adults is: No less than 6 hours, no more than 12 hours.
In general, children between 1 and 3 years old seem to thrive on about 10 to 13 hours of sleep at night, with a nap during the day. Pre-school children sleep about 10 to 12 hours a night, and daytime naps become less common around the age of 5. Between the ages of 6 and 9, most children need about 10 hours of sleep a night, while preteens and teenagers need a little over nine hours.
When adults don’t get enough sleep, they can become grumpy, lethargic and irritable. Long periods of sleep deprivation can cause more serious problems like a depressed mood and other psychiatric issues. Children can act this way, too, but they may also swing to the opposite extreme and be hyperactive and impulsive.
Your child may require more sleep if he or she:
- Has a short attention span, or is irritable or restless
- Has unusually low energy and activity leveIs, more tearful, anxious, touchy, defensive or impatient than usual
Not getting enough sleep can impact on your child in the following ways:
- their behaviour and mood can be negatively affected
- their ability to learn and function can be negatively affected
- they can become hyperactive and/or impulsive
- they can become drowsy during the day and need naps
- there can be a negative impact on growth
- they are unable to reach their full potential
Remember that your child is unique – if you are concerned; observe your child’s sleeping pattern and consult with a professional for guidance. Bedtime routines can help children feel more comfortable about going to sleep by themselves.
Select a bedtime that you feel is appropriate for your child based on his or her age and schedule, and be consistent, even on weekends and during vacations. If you have multiple children, you may want to identify different bedtimes to ensure you can help each one. Most bedtime routines last about 30 minutes and include a bath, brushing teeth, reading stories and talking about the day. Try to keep the same sequence each night because predictability and consistency is comforting for children.
Having a comfort item, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, can help children soothe themselves to sleep. Soft music also may be helpful. Making your child take part in the bedtime routine can also help them to internalize the routine. If your child is truly fearful, don’t close the bedroom door. Instead, promise to check on him or her every 15 minutes. During these check-ups, praise your child for being so quiet. This is where a reward chart can be used very effectively. Leave the room within 30 seconds. Eventually, your child will fall asleep. If your promise to check on them every 15 minutes, then stick to your promise. Never give false promises to your children. This can cause more anxiety and can lead to distrust. If your child struggles with nightmares make very sure that you limit the amount of television that he/she is exposed to. For a child with an active imagination, parents need to provide even more supervision.
A frequent problem that I see in my practice is that some children have never learned how to go to sleep alone. They often fall asleep being held by a parent, in front of the TV. They may even want a parent to lie down with them as they go to sleep, or they may insist upon sleeping in their parents’ bed. This is not necessarily a bad thing but once you begin sharing your bed with your child it is a hard habit to break. If this becomes the rule in your household your child will never learn how to sleep by himself and this can cause problems between you and your spouse. At some point, all children need to learn how to go to sleep and return to sleep on their own. Sleeping in your own bed can also be added to your child’s reward chart and be used as an extra concrete motivator.
Each child is different and has his or her own way of approaching sleep. Some take extra time to fall asleep, while others wake more often during the night. You know your child’s personal habits best, so with a little trial and error, you should succeed in finding a schedule and routine that suits your family. Remember that a good bedtime routine will not only help your child, but it will also assure that you get the amount of sleep that you need. When parents are tired they can become unpleasant and irritable. Your child needs you to take just as good care of yourself than you do of them. Routine is important and necessary – remember that.