How to Help Your Child Develop Healthy Sleep Habits for Life
If you’ve ever been tasked with putting young children to bed, you’ve probably heard every excuse in the book.
They’re not tired, need one more glass of water, or “just one more story, pleeeaaaase?”
The irony is, from infancy to teenage years, kids actually need more sleep than adults to stay happy and healthy — but they’re often unaware of their own sleep deprivation and unable to communicate their needs.
So it’s up to you, as the parent, to help them make sure they’re getting enough sleep every night and developing nighttime habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. If you're curious, here are some examples of good and downright strange sleep habits:
Fortunately, there are several simple shifts you can make, and routines you can implement, that will set your children up for a lifetime of healthy sleep hygiene.
Read on to learn what they are.
Developing Sleep-Friendly Routines — at Every Age
While adults typically need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to stay healthy, growing children have different needs (1).
And because children can’t effectively regulate their own sleep schedules, you’ll need to make sure your child is getting the right amount of sleep for their age group.
The average number of hours of sleep needed by age group are:
Infants: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
Toddlers: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
Grade-schoolers: 9 to 12 hours
Teens: 8 to 10 hours
Not sure how to make sure they’re getting their hours? We’ve got you covered.
Here are some fool-proof ways to get any child into a healthy sleeping pattern, at any age — so they get the hours they need, every night:
Routine: establishing and sticking to a nighttime routine can be especially helpful for young children, as they learn to associate sleep with positive feelings. For example, reading a favorite story or chatting about their day at the same time before bed will have them looking forward to that special time.
Say goodnight, iPad: electronics have no place in a child’s bedroom. In addition to filling the room with sleep-disrupting blue light, these distracting devices often emit attention-grabbing notifications and sounds throughout the night. Getting your kids out of the habit of having devices in the bedroom sets them up for a lifetime of healthy sleep.
Make it a family affair: even though you’re not going to bed at 7 p.m., getting into your pajamas and brushing your teeth with your children will make it easier for them to fall asleep — because merging routines alleviates the fear that they’ll miss out on something exciting or fun by going to bed.
The five-star treatment: the more comfortable your child’s bedroom is, the more likely they’ll look forward to bedtime and associate sleeping with happy thoughts (2). Try dimmed lights, soft sheets, blackout curtains, a cool temperature, pleasant aromas, and soothing music. What’s more, a calm, comfy environment can deflect nightmares and scary thoughts — both leading causes of sleeplessness.
The Most Common Childhood Sleep Problems (And How to Fix Them)
Even with strong sleep routines, sleep-disrupting problems can emerge.
And unfortunately, spotting sleep-related problems in children can be difficult because they present symptoms much different than adults (3). That’s why we’ve outlined how to spot the most common childhood sleep problems, and how to fix them:
1. Sleep Deprivation
Just like adults, children experience sleep deprivation. But unlike adults, sleep-deprived children will often act full of energy — practically bouncing off the walls. This is commonly mistaken for ADHD, but can be cured by helping them get enough healthy sleep.
The Fix: Is their room dark enough? Are they up with electronics late into the night? Monitor their sleep habits for a few days to get to the root of the problem.
2. Nightmares and Night Terrors
Nightmares and night terrors are common problems that cause many children to lose sleep. They’re often brought on by unresolved issues or uneasy feelings from the day that manifest into scary dreams.
The Fix: When your child comes to you with a nightmare, instead of dismissing them by saying “it’s not real,” try to figure out what’s bothering them.
A simple chat about their day every night before bed may unearth what is making them anxious or upset, giving you the opportunity to step in before it enters their dreams.
Sleepwalking is common in children (4), usually caused by lack of sleep, stress, anxiety or acute illness (fever, headache, stomachache, etc.).
The Fix: Typically, sleepwalking is harmless for kids (although it might scare the heck out of you to see your child chanting gibberish at a wall at 3 a.m.). Unless your child regularly sleepwalks or engages in dangerous behavior, there is no need for medical intervention.
However, sleepwalking can be dangerous if your child can get outside. So make sure to keep doors and windows locked at night if your sleepwalker is adventurous.
Something to keep in mind: you never want to wake your child when they are sleepwalking, so if you cross paths, just guide them back to bed.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website or provided through our blog, e-mails, or programs is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment that can be provided by your healthcare professionals.