After another long workday you tucked your children into bed a couple hours ago. You and your wife just crawled under the covers and your eyelids are starting to get droopy. But suddenly you hear that little voice from down the hall, “Dad, I can’t sleep.” You sigh and then slowly climb out of bed because that’s what good dads do. From teething infants to troubled teenagers, we’ve all been there. Unfortunately, researchers have found that not sleeping enough isn’t healthy for kids or their parents.
How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?
Here is how much age-adjusted sleep, including naps, a child needs during a 24-hour period to help promote normal growth and development:
- 0 to 2 months: 9 to 18 hours
- 2 to 12 months: 12 to 13 hours
- 1 to 3 years: 11 to 13 hours
- 3 to 5 years: 11.5 to 12 hours
- 6 to 12 years: 9 to 10 hours
- 12 to 18 years: 8.5 to 9.5 hours
Why Can’t My Child Sleep?
According to child psychologists, these problems can disrupt a child’s normal sleeping patterns:
- Night terrors. These are episodes of incomplete awakening and severe anxiety.
- Sleepwalking. Roughly 15% of kids between the ages of 5 and 12 sleepwalk.
- Nightmares. These are terrifying dreams that happen during a child’s REM sleep.
- Stress. Kids will commonly awaken during the night after a stressful event, like moving, an illness or family emergency.
- Resistance to going to bed. Young children under two oftentimes resist going to bed due to separation anxiety, although bedtime resistance can occur at any age.
- Sleep disorders. Excessively loud snoring, sleep apnea and insomnia can occur in kids too. If you suspect that your child has a sleep disorder, consult their pediatrician right away.
Try these Healthy Household Sleep Habits
According to sleep experts, these are 5 steps you can take as a parent to help your child develop healthier sleep habits which will ultimately benefit the entire household:
Stick to a routine
No matter your child’s age, following the same bedtime routine every evening, starting with putting on PJs and brushing teeth, will help them learn positive sleep habits. So, set an age-appropriate bedtime and stick to it, even on the weekends. Adolescents tend to sleep more on non-school days while trying to make up for lost sleep during the week, but studies have found those unhealthy habits can lead to other problems like insomnia.
For younger kids, naps are a must. On the flipside, try not to let them nap later in the day because that can interfere with bedtime. Longer naps are also much more beneficial for a child in terms of alertness and energy than are “cat naps”, so try to schedule naptime in the early afternoon while minimizing distractions as much as possible. In the end, an active daily routine that’s filled with exercise, learning and nutritious meals provides the best sleep aid there is!
Beware of sleep associations
Once your infant is old enough, avoid activities like rocking them to sleep or nursing before bedtime because they may expect the same if they wake up during the night, instead of soothing themselves back to sleep. Gradually delaying an infant’s bedtime or your response time when they cry won’t cause any serious emotional problems or added stress. In other words, it’s okay sometimes to let your infant cry themselves to sleep.
School-aged kids that are dependent upon a parent while they’re going to sleep are more likely to wake up during the night. However, letting them take their favorite doll, teddy bear or blanket to bed is a positive form of association that should ultimately help you all sleep better.
Reduce pre-bedtime stimulation
Don’t be the parent that hands their child an iPad and sends them off to bed, or the one who puts a TV in their room because it’s more convenient. Limit screen time in the evening and never use electronics as a sleep aid. Instead, discourage roughhousing right before bedtime and replace it with relaxing and calming activities instead, like reading or listening to music.
Create the right environment
A child’s bedroom should be kept cool, dark and quiet at night, so add blackout curtains if outside lights are an issue. Make sure to stop swaddling an infant in their crib once they start turning over on their own. A nightlight may help prevent your school-aged child from experiencing nightmares if they are afraid of the dark. If you have a teenager, encourage them to avoid using their bed for activities other than sleeping, like watching TV, texting their friends or video chatting on their laptop.
Be a role model
As their father, you are a powerful role model to your children. And, the younger a child is, the more likely they are to imitate you. Set a good example for your kids by “practicing what you preach”. Follow healthy routines throughout the day and exhibit positive behaviors, which in the end will help you all enjoy a better night’s sleep when everyone in the household follows your lead.
Some of the ways to be a good role model include:
- Avoiding unhealthy habits
- Reading to them at bedtime, or letting them read to you
- Keeping all your electronic gadgets, including the TV, outside the bedroom
- Eating a healthier diet
- Exercising together as a family
- Praying with your kids before bedtime
- Treating your kids and their mother with love and respect
Another good habit to get into right before bedtime is reading the Bible together. God’s Word can be a powerful source of comfort, notably when a child is having nightmares or lying awake worrying about problems at school.
Not only will sharing Scripture as a family develop positive habits that your children will then pass along, it should help all of you sleep better knowing that your heavenly Father is never very far away.
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