Sleep plays a very important role in our development, physical health and mental wellbeing. It is so important, that on average, we sleep for one third of our lives!
But, it is in our early years when sleep is vital, and unfortunately this doesn’t always come easy…
Average hours of sleep
Here is a simple guide to help you determine how many hours your child should be sleeping each day:
Infants: 14-15 hours
2 to 3 years: 14 hours
5 to 9 years: 10 hours
14 to 18 years: 8 hours
However, if your baby is happy and coping with their world then your baby/child may not need the recommended amount of sleep. Some adults thrive on only six hours of sleep/day, some need 9 hours otherwise they’re grumpy. Babies are the same. Some need more and others don’t.
10 tips for settling, bedtime routines and healthy sleep practices
1. Use structured routines
Create structured routines close to bedtime that commence when the sun starts to go down. Visuals may support independence in young children such as clock face pictures. If they wake overnight and see the moon face they know that it is not time to go into mum or dad.
2. Incorporate movement
If your child requires movement regularly, incorporate movement that is rhythmical closer to bedtime to support calming.
3. Encourage deep pressure activities
Deep pressure or proprioceptive input is calming and can lower arousal levels to facilitate healthy sleep. For example, massaging, blowing bubbles, making shower-drying time longer and wrapping up in a blanket for a hug.
4. Play music
Playing calming music during a bedtime routine aids in calming the body ready for sleep and supports building sleep association.
5. Reduce technology
Reduce technology where possible at least one hour prior to bedtime. Avoid TV or phone use during this time.
6. Consider their sensory environment
During sleep, we have natural wake periods as our body moves through its natural cycle. Children and teens who are sensory sensitive may wake more easily and require more consideration of the sensory environment. Strong smells from the kitchen, blowing curtains and shadows may be reasons for disturbed sleep.
7. Get daily exercise
Daily exercise supports effective sleep habits.
8. Take them to bed before they’re asleep
Children should go to bed sleepy but awake. This supports their association with falling asleep alone. Just like us, if we fall asleep on the couch and wake up somewhere else, we can get a fright because we don’t remember how we got there. Children are no different. Create a routine where they fall asleep in their bed not in front of the TV.
9. Use a consistent communication approach
At bed time, this may include visuals, simple sign language or simple verbal prompts. Babies and children learn through repetition.
10. Prepare for changes in season
You can prepare for the new season by adding extra block out curtains or spending more time in a darker environment at bedtime during summer. Remember that they will get cooler in winter and this is a common reason for night time waking.
8 tips for dealing with nightmares
1. Listen and reassure your child that you are there for them and they are safe.
2. Talk to your child about what a nightmare is and that it is over.
3. Listen to what your child is having nightmares about as it may relate to daily events such as:
- Advertisements they have seen on YouTube
- A story someone else has told them
- Movies, TV or books
- Fear following an event
4. If the nightmare is about fictional characters, you can talk about characters such as monsters being ‘make believe’.
5. Don’t bring up nightmares if the child does not remember their dream.
6. If your child is able to recall their dream and it is a reoccurring nightmare, help them come up with things to do in their dream such as a magic wand or potion to shrink a monster or take away a dragon’s fire.
7. Changes to the sensory environment may support calming after a nightmare and help your child learn to self soothe. Let them cuddle their favourite soft toy or continue to use their cuddle rug.
8. If nightmares are persistent, consider consulting with a paediatric psychologist.