4 Reasons why your child needs more sleep
Fact: The phrase “sleep like a baby” is soooooooo misleading. People almost always use it to mean ‘sleeps deeply and peacefully for hours,’ but the truth is that babies generally don’t sleep that way. At all. (And in some families, toddlers don’t sleep that way either!) But here’s the thing to remember — while age-appropriate night-waking is normal and healthy, this doesn’t mean that babies and toddlers don’t need sleep. Quite the opposite — your child does need sleep, and quite a bit of it at that.
With National Sleep Awareness Week kicking off this week — a week that emphasizes the importance of adequate sleep for people of all ages — we’re highlighting baby and toddler sleep needs, why adequate sleep is so important and how you can help your child sleep well.
How much sleep does your child need?
Before we get into why your child needs adequate sleep, let’s look at what “adequate” sleep really means, based on age. In general, newborns and very young infants need 14-16 hours of total sleep each day (most at night and about 4-5 hours worth of daytime naps). Then, starting around 4-months of age, sleep needs even out for a long time — from 4-months to about 3-years, children need roughly 12-14 hours of sleep (again, most at night, and a few hours worth of naps during the day). Around 3-years of age, sleep needs drop a bit, to more like 10-13 hours. Keep in mind that these numbers represent averages — your child’s sleep needs may be a bit higher or a bit lower, depending on unique factors, like temperament.
4 Reasons why your child needs sleep (Hint: These reasons apply to you, too!)
These averages above are all well and good, but why should parents worry about how much sleep our children are getting? Won’t our kids just sleep when they’re tired? Is sleep “worth” working on?
No and yes. No, not all children simply fall asleep when they’re tired, or sleep deeply when they need to. Sleep associations (like relying on Mom and Dad for help with falling asleep and staying asleep) can quickly lead to missed sleep and low-quality sleep. And yes, sleep is definitely worth working on!
1. Sleep impacts learning. Sleepy children don’t learn as well as rested children. According to a 2007 study by Dr. Avi Sadeh, 4th and 6th graders who missed just an hour of sleep each night, for a few nights in a row, performed far worse on achievement tests than their peers who had adequate nightly sleep. This goes for adult learning, too — when we miss sleep, we have a harder time processing and retaining information. (Source: nymag.com).
2. Sleep affects mood. This one transcends age as well — lack of sleep in both children and adults leads to increased irritability, anger and hostility. This explains why your child may be cranky after losing sleep (and why you’re so cranky after the same!). (Source: psychologytoday.com)
3. Sleep influences health and development. A chronic lack of sleep actually leads to weight gain in both adults and children (surprising, but true!). (Source: nytimes.com) What’s more, a lack of sleep directly affects hormone production and circulation in the body, which can lead to growth issues in children, and can increase the risk of diabetes. (Source: kidshealth.org)
4. Sleep impacts behavior. A lack of sleep has a marked impact on a child’s behavior. A 2014 study indicates that children with irregular bedtimes (and a subsequent lack of consistent sleep) were more prone to behavioral outbursts, had a tougher time interacting appropriately with their peers, and had more instances of hyperactive behavior than their better-rested peers. (Source: medicalnewstoday.com)
3 Simple tips to help your child get more sleep… and better sleep
1. Get a consistent bedtime and establish a bedtime routine. This is step one for just about all sleep issues — start putting your child to bed consistently, at approximately the same time each night. If you need help figuring out bedtime, take a look at our age-appropriate bedtime chart. Additionally, you’ll want to establish a consistent bedtime routine that you do each night, before putting your child to bed.
2. Work on implementing a solid daytime sleep and nap schedule (for babies and toddlers). Some parents assume naps are extra, but that’s not true — a good nap schedule is key to solid nighttime sleep. Additionally, be sure your child is eating enough at each feeding, since hunger is a very common reason for nighttime waking.
3. Ensure your child is falling asleep independently at bedtime and naptime. In order for a child to sleep well, that child has to know how to fall asleep independently, without help from Mom/Dad. If your child relies on you for help with falling asleep, then each time your child wakes at night (which all of us do — we wake between sleep cycles often, even if we don’t need anything), your child will need you to help him go back to sleep. By contrast, if your child can fall asleep independently, then your child will be able to go back to sleep without your help when she wakes briefly between sleep cycles.
In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, including sleep, and you know your child best. But, if you are constantly wondering why your baby is waking a lot, your toddler is having way too many tantrums, or your preschooler is not learning as quickly as her peers, consider whether your child is getting adequate sleep. Her sleep total may vary from average or her peers, so find the “right” amount for her. Her future health, happiness, and sleep habits may depend on it.
Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep.”
Looking for more? Download The Baby Sleep Site’s free e-Book, 5 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night today!
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