When Putting Kids to Sleep Becomes Your Nightmare

HealthGal Health Guide
  • Sleep is probably the most scrutinized and discussed aspect of a baby-child-teen's care.  Of course we all expect newborns to wake up....a lot.  And since they cannot tell us what's wrong, we often have to depend on our own instincts, and the advice of doctor's and friends, as we navigate those early days and weeks.  Those struggles can impact the quality and duration of our own sleep, but again, we typically expect it to ease up by month 3 or 4.  Truth be told, sleep struggles rarely end at that point, and they can continue as the child grows and moves from crib to bed.  So how much sleep is enough for your child? How should you respond to cries and screams at night?  What are healthy tactics to help ensure that your child (and you), get a good night's sleep?

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    Sleep is very important to a child's well-being and health.  Poor sleep can be reflected in poor appetite and poor behavior (hyperactivity and extremes in behavior).  Though kids can vary, there are some approximate predicted and normal hours of sleep based on age.


    0-6 months of age

    Typically newborns sleep between 16-20 hours a day, divided between day and night.  They will usually go down for about 4-5 hours because that's how long they can wait between feedings.  By about 3 months of age, an infant should sleep about 5-6 hours at night and then awaken for a feeding, probably slumbering again for another 3 to 4 hours.  Actually 90% of babies at that age will sleep an 8 hour night shift.  Babies can cry out, make sounds, even whimper during sleep and not need attention.  If they do wake up, it is reasonable to let them fidget or cry for a few minutes since they may fall back asleep on their own.  Jumping in too fast means baby never learns to cope.  Crying beyond several minutes can mean they are wet, cold, hungry, have a bit of gas or are sick.  Address the issue as quickly and quietly as you can so they fall back asleep easily.  Try to put baby down for the night, still awake, so they can learn to fall asleep on their own.

    6-12 months

    At this age baby can be cutting down to 3-4 hours of naptime during the day (sometimes as two smaller naps) and about 11-12 hours of night-time sleep.  Again the idea is to let the baby fall asleep on their own, but if it seems to be taking time, you can talk softly, rub his back - but if not sick (or in need of a diaper change) - it's a good idea to try and let the baby self soothe.  Children at this age sometimes do like a pacifier or they may suck their thumbs to relax and fall asleep.

    1-3 years

    Expect the typical toddler to sleep 10-13 hours.  Naps typically phase out, and there's no need for naps -unless your child gets obviously cranky and tired.  Don't keep your child up later, thinking it will achieve a deeper and longer night sleep pattern - it won't - and you'll end up with a hyper, overly tired child. Bedtime routines that are maintained will help your toddler relax and fall asleep.  Give your child some control - PJ choice, story choice, but don't let rituals take too long.  No TV in the bedroom ensures a peaceful sleep routine.  Teething and separation anxiety (babysitter) can throw a wrench in a peaceful nighttime routine.

  • Pre-schoolers

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    Without using unreasonable rigidity, parents should expect this age group to sleep about 10-12 hours of sleep.  Though a daytime rest period may be in order, napping usually disappears.  This is an age group prone to nightmares, so you want to really emphasize quiet time before sleep rituals and carefully monitor what your child watches on TV.  One great technique is to prepare a "nighttime defense kit" for a child struggling with nightmares or difficulties falling asleep.  It can include a flashlight (very small light), a special calming storybook, or a soft music CD.  Your child will feel comfort knowing it is in the room.


    Younger school age children typically need about 10 hours of sleep, while older school age children average a bit over 9 hours of sleep.  This is an age where ADD and ADHD may interfere with sleep patterns.  Again, keeping a TV out of the room, finishing sports and homework activities well before bedtime and keeping a familiar sleep routine in place,  can ensure that your child has a good night's sleep.


    Next up: Part 2 - What Causes Sleep to go Awry? 

Published On: April 01, 2009