How to make sure your child gets enough sleep

23 March 2016
4 minute read

girl sleeping in bed

There is no greater mystery to new (or newish) parents than how to get their children to sleep – to sleep well, to sleep through the night, to go to sleep at bedtime and to stay asleep once they are in bed. For the most part, most of these issues are more or less resolved in the first two years of your child’s life, but many parents are still faced with uncertainty about whether their child is getting enough sleep, and if not, what to do about it. Babies don’t read the rule books, and for every parent that has a perfect sleeper, there’s are two far less rested parents tearing their hair out about how to get their little darling to sleep.

Little wonder then, when a chart showing when your child should wake up made its way around the social media, some parents were delighted that their children were on the average for their age, while others were worried by the fact that their children were getting far less than they should have been.

Kids waking up too early? This is the chart

It is a pretty accurate representation of what most experts recommend is the appropriate number of hours for a child of each age to sleep. However, because it shows “bed time” and “awake time” by age, it makes it easy for parents to see where their child might be coming up short. While of course, every child is different, when they are still very little, their sleep needs don’t usually vary by as much as adults’ can.

Why children need sleep The reason it’s so important to pay attention to charts and experts is that sleep is very important for everyone – but for growing children especially. Sleep is necessary for physical and mental development, and children who aren’t getting enough can be unfocused, clumsy, grumpy and confused the next day, which affects social and physical interaction with family and friends, and academic development.

Of course, as any parent will tell you, getting a young child to sleep at bedtime or stopping them from waking up too early can be virtually impossible. But fear not, your child will not be waking you up for 4am playtime, or refusing to go to bed until they’ve had a glass of water and a visit to the loo and a slice of cheese for the rest of their life. Here’s how to get them on track to a good night’s sleep.

At bedtime:

  • Establish a bed time routine. Play the same calming music or white noise, dim the lights, read a story and cuddle a toy with them every night. They will learn to associate these actions with sleep time, which will ultimately make the process easier.
  • Anticipate all their needs and dispense with them before you begin your routine. So be sure to ask if they need anything else to eat or drink before you brush their teeth and then don’t give in to any requests after that.
  • It is helpful to limit screen time for at least half an hour before bedtime as the flickering of the screen – as well as the games that your child is playing or the story they are following – can stimulate their brain and make it difficult for them to “switch off”.
  • If, despite having taken all these steps, your child still resists bed time, you can seek the help of a sleep therapist to give you guidance about how to overcome the obstacles. The one thing that’s important to remember is that there are lots of different approaches, and you can only use the one that feels right for you.
  • Remember that the same bedtime routine steps should be taken every time your child wakes up in the night, to improve their chances of going back to sleep.
  • It’s also worth remembering that overtired children find it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep, so don’t try to exhaust your child to make sleep time easier.

At wake-up time

  • If you have an early riser on your hands, do what you can to keep them in their “sleep space” for as long as possible. Put a white noise or calming music CD on repeat all night and install black-out curtains so that they are less susceptible to morning sounds and the light of dawn.
  • If their wake-up time is unreasonably early – like 3am – do what you can to get your child to go back to sleep. Be calm and go through all the steps that you would normally go through to get them down. Persevere with this approach, even if you encounter some resistance.
  • If they are not going back to sleep at this time, some sleep therapists say that you can bring them into your bed for a family cuddle until a more reasonable waking hour.
  • If all else fails, accept that you have an early riser and try to enjoy your time with them. They are probably in the best mood they’ll be in all day – and they’ll be grumpy teenagers who won’t get out of bed in the morning before you know it.

Take care of yourselfOne of the most important things to remember if you are struggling with a baby or child’s sleep challenges is to take care of yourself. You are probably also confused, clumsy and grumpy from a lack of sleep. Until you get the problem resolved, try to find ways to get extra rest. Whether you take turns with your partner, ask your mom to take your children so you can have a day nap, or even check into a nearby hotel for the night to get an uninterrupted eight hours, sometimes prioritise your sleep and mental health as part of the solution.

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