Once you've achieved success, meaning your kid goes to bed on time and stays asleep all night, you'll not only have a happier, well-rested child but a happier, better rested family, too. Now, don't be fooled. I'm not quite at this stage yet but it's simply because I am not putting these tips to work. I work full time and get up before 4am so I'm just too darn lazy to spend the time each night to make these tips become a reality for me. Mine goes to bed every night at about 8:30pm after her story from dad and her bath....but she stays asleep only until about 2am....then she wakes up crying, dad picks her up and puts her to bed with us. If we spend even just 5 minutes with her in her room to put her back to sleep, she'd probably stay in there but we're just too tired. And, to tell you the truth, because I'm away from home all day and miss my little bug like crazy, I treasure even our time asleep in bed together. I'm sure this will pass, especially when she doubles in size and her kicks to the head become stronger but, for now, I'm content. Most parents, however, would love some help in the sleep department so here it is....courtesy of Baby Center and relayed through yours truly at The Parent Center!
1. Mistake: Putting children to bed too late
Kids sleep less these days than their parents did growing up. "In infancy and throughout early adolescence, children today get less sleep than they did in the mid '70s and '80s," says Marc Weissbluth, pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. One study found that 2-year-olds now get 40 minutes less sleep than 2-year-olds a generation ago or two. The result of later bedtimes, Weissbluth says, is more bedtime battles, nap difficulties, and night waking.
In preschool and elementary school, a jam-packed schedule with multiple sports or after-school activities may cut into sleep time. "A lot of kids have too much to do," says Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and coauthor with Judith Owens of Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep.
While every child is different, Spivack says that during the night, babies and toddlers typically need 11 hours of sleep, preschoolers need up to 12 hours once they drop daytime naps, and older kids should get 10 to 11 hours. Figure out what time they need to be up in the morning and plan accordingly.
2. Mistake: Relying on motion
What parents haven't breathed a sigh of relief watching their baby snooze in an infant swing or doze in the backseat of the car? Often these wonderful moments occur when you least expect it — and most need a break.
But some moms and dads fall into the trap of using motion to get their young kids to nap or fall asleep at night. "If the child is always sleeping in motion — in strollers or cars — he probably doesn't get the deep, more restorative sleep due to the stimulation of motion," says Weissbluth. He likens motion-induced sleep to the type of sleep an adult might get while flying in an airplane.
A Good habit: Use motion for calming, not naps
Before you throw a tantrum at the notion of giving up the musical swing, listen to Weissbluth's next bit of advice: It's okay to use motion to soothe a cranky child. But once your child has fallen asleep, cut off the swing or park the stroller. "The child has better-quality sleep," says Weissbluth. Guilt-free bonus: If you're taking a long car ride and your child slumbers, just sit back and enjoy the moments of silence.
3. Mistake: Overstimulation in dreamland
Take the ubiquitous crib mobile (please): "I did what I thought all new moms are supposed to do — put a mobile on the crib," says Kelly Ingevaldson, the mother of a toddler in Atlanta. But she soon learned that the mobile — with its rotating toys, sound, and lights — was too much of a distraction for her little one. "She wasn't falling asleep with the mobile. There were so many bright colors, it was keeping her awake instead of teaching her it was nighttime."It's not just babies who may be overstimulated at bedtime. If older kids have lots of toys in the bed or other distractions, they may not be getting the shut-eye they need.
A Good habit: Keep it dark, and cut the action at nap time and nighttime
To maximize sleep, put infants and toddlers — who are too young to have developed nighttime fears — to sleep in nearly pitch-black rooms. "For babies to sleep well, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the darkest, the room should be an 8 or 9," says Spivack. Use a fan or white noise machine to muffle any sounds from the street or the next room.
Older kids can have a soft night-light to soothe any fears, but no bedtime entertainment. Think long and hard before allowing a TV or computer in your child's bedroom. Even kids who fall asleep with a favorite DVD on are probably losing a half hour or so of precious shut-eye — a loss that can affect their mood and behavior during the daytime — and it's easier to keep the electronics out of the bedroom than negotiate the issue every night.
4. Mistake: Skipping the bedtime routine
With a baby, you might assume that a routine consisting of a bath, a book, and a lullaby isn't yet necessary. But "having a series of calming, pleasing activities leading up to lights-out is very important," says Judith Owens, director of the pediatric sleep disorders clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. It prepares your child for sleep, she explains.
Parents of big kids who used to have a bedtime routine may drop it because they mistakenly believe their child is too old or because they are too tired themselves to do it. But even adults benefit from having some kind of routine to wind down each night. "We can't expect our kids to go from a busy day to lights off," says Mindell. Plus, she adds, research has indicated that "school-age children who do not have a routine clearly do not get the sleep they need."
A Good habit: A comforting bedtime ritual
Regardless of your child's age, the key is to have a predictable series of steps — or what Spivack calls "sleep cues" — that help him wind down from the day. For an infant, that might mean a simple change into pajamas and some cuddling; with older children, the routine might entail a bath, reading books, singing songs, or saying a prayer.
You can create your own ritual: "What we're talking about is having consistent activities that happen in the same space, in the same order, at roughly the same time every night," Spivack says.
5. Mistake: Inconsistency
A couple of times a week, when he's really whiny, you lie down with your preschooler in his bed until he falls asleep. Or maybe you put your big kid down in his room but allow him to crawl into bed with you in the middle of the night. The problem is not the sleep method but the inconsistent practice of it. Many parents don't mind having their child in bed with them, but too often parents end up with a "family bed" that they didn't plan on.
Once Tinsley-Kim laid down the law, her preschooler stayed in his room. "I wouldn't let him out of his toddler bed, telling him as gently but firmly as I could that it was time to sleep, and it was time to sleep in his bed," she says.
There are exceptions, of course. If your child gets sick or is afraid of a loud storm, feel free to comfort him by staying with him in his bed or sleeping on an inflatable mattress in his room. But as soon as the illness passes or the storm subsides, return to your usual routine. A child who has had the comfort of snuggling with Mom or Dad might protest, of course. In that case, Mindell suggests taking a few days to slowly ease yourself out — perhaps by standing in the doorway until your child falls asleep for a couple of nights before leaving altogether.
6. Mistake: Going from a crib to a big bed too early
Your child turns 2 — what a big guy! — and you want to celebrate by buying that cute toddler bed you saw on sale. But as soon as you make the switch, he starts getting up after lights out or waking up in the wee hours.
Why? Before the age of 3 or so, many kids are just not ready to leave the crib behind. "They don't have the cognitive development and self-control to stay within the imaginary boundaries of a bed," says Mindell.
When a child is close to 3 years of age, it might be time to move him to a bigger bed. Might is the operative word: If your preschooler has difficulty staying in bed at that age, you can always give it more time.
Much like temporarily going back to diapers after a few disastrous attempts at potty training, returning to a crib is not a failure. "If it's not working out, there's nothing wrong with switching back," Mindell says. Your child will eventually be able to handle a big-kid bed — and may even ask for one. "There's no child going to kindergarten who is still sleeping in a crib," says Mindell.