Almost 7 out of 10 children suffer from lack of sleep. Research has shown us that whether they are babies, toddlers or pre-teens, poor sleep habits can affect moods, physical health, developmental growth and immunity.
Sleep is an essential part of our well-being, irrespective of our age or stage in life. Speak to any parent of a newborn and they will tell you how lack of sleep can affect you both physically as well as mentally. Our children, just like us, get affected by inadequate sleep. Unfortunately, while we prioritise the sleep requirements of babies and toddlers, we tend to ignore those of older children. Establishing a consistent and age-appropriate bedtime routine from a young age will instill lifelong healthy sleep habits in your child.
Babies: Develop regular daytime and bedtime schedules for your baby. Let there be a distinct difference between day and night in his environment. At night, soften your voice, draw the curtains and dim the lights. Over a period of time, your baby will get used to the change in his environment and will associate it with his bedtime. A warm bath just before bedtime will usually make him drowsy. Try and put your baby in his bed when he is drowsy but not yet asleep. This allows him to learn to fall asleep on his own. All of us whether adult or child, have wakeful moments during the night. If your child learns to fall asleep on his own, he is better able to put himself back to sleep in case he wakes up in the night. If not, he is far more likely to cry out for parental assistance in terms of rocking or being carried, to help him fall back to sleep.
Toddlers: As your baby gets older, his nap times will decrease to once a day. Extra long naps or naps that are close to bedtime will delay his sleep at night. Develop a consistent bedtime routine that works for you and your child. Begin winding down for the day at a fixed time every day. Putting his toys away, brushing his teeth, having a bath and changing into his night clothes are all part of his bedtime routine. Adding a bedtime story to his nightly routine will keep him involved. As he becomes more independent, you will find him getting out of bed at night and looking for you. He may develop separation anxiety and will want constant reassurance. Encourage the use of a favourite blanket or a stuffed animal for nighttime comfort.
Preschoolers: At this stage, most children stop taking naps during the day and require 11-13 hours of sleep at night. Ensure that you continue to communicate and enforce consistent bedtime routines. An hour before bedtime, slow down the pace of activities to enable easier transition to bedtime. As he gets older, your child’s imagination will start to develop. As a result, he may experience difficulty in falling asleep, develop nighttime fears and may have occasional nightmares. Avoid brushing his fears aside. Address those fears. Ask him what would make him feel better. Maybe switch on a little night-light while he sleeps or keep the door open so he can hear the voices of adults in the house as he falls asleep.
School-going children: They require 9-11 hours of sleep each night. As your child grows, the demands on his time due to homework, screen time and extracurricular activities will take a toll on his sleep patterns. This could result in lack of sufficient sleep or disrupted sleep which may affect his overall mental and physical well- being. An older child will negotiate for later bedtimes and will resist sleeping on time. Explain the need for healthy sleep habits to your child. You can negotiate a slightly later bedtime for the weekend as long as he sticks to his weekday routine. Consistently reinforce a bedtime routine ensuring he is getting the required hours of sleep. Limit screen time as the evening progresses as it can overstimulate the brain. Turn off all technological devices an hour before bedtime. Avoid installing a television or computer in his bedroom. Keep his meals healthy and nutritious. Avoid sugar and caffeinated beverages before bedtime. If your child struggles to fall asleep at night, let him listen to soft music or an audio story to help him relax.
As parents, we focus a lot on our child’s health in terms of nutrition and exercise, maybe it’s time we also prioritised their sleep.