Routine and consistency are key when trying to create good sleeping habits for children, and adults, writes Dr Phil Kieran
Sleep is one of the most important things in life that we take for granted. We all know how much harder life is when we’re not getting enough, particularly in the early years of parenting. So, what can we do to help our children with sleep?
This is a common question I get asked as it impacts on every other facet of parenting and can be the source of untold battles in the household.
Although there is not a one-size-fits-all answer, there are some solid guidelines on how many hours are required, based on the child’s age.
The values in the list above reflect the total amount of sleep and so include any time napping.
I also often get asked when should a child stop napping? This is a much more fluid individualised milestone and some children will drop their nap at 15 months, some will still be napping at three years, but the important thing is that, firstly, they get enough sleep and, secondly, that they develop healthy sleep routines and skills which will stand to them in later life.
Usually, we only start talking about sleep when there is a problem, be it defiant behaviours or fatigue/ concentration issues.
Normal sleep pattern for babies is quite disturbed. They tend to have periods of light and heavy sleep which last about 45 minutes each.
Learning to self-soothe and get back to sleep if they wake in a cycle is really important. It’s tempting to soothe a child back to sleep every time they wake, but parents need to help their children learn how to fall asleep by themselves at some time.
It’s easier to help a 12-month-old get to sleep than a 12-year-old.
Something I wasn’t aware of until I had my own kids, is ‘sleep regression’. This is where a child who was previously a good sleeper starts having difficulty with sleep for no clear reason. These It often happens during a developmental milestone. It is common at six months when they are learning to sit and roll and control things in their hands, again at 12 months when they start walking or talking, and again at 18 months. These periods of regression usually settle down of their own accord over two weeks, but it is important not to develop bad sleep habits at this time.
There are also a few children who will have sleep problems due to breathing difficulty, so if your child coughs a lot at night or snores very heavily, it is a good idea to bring them to the GP to see if the problem is their weight, their tonsils or adenoids or if they have asthma.
The big take-homes though are routine and consistency. If you stick to the above pointers, more than 90% of children (or adults) will notice a significant improvement in sleep onset and quality within two weeks.
Bear in mind the total sleep requirement, particularly for younger children, as over-tiredness can be a self-perpetuating problem which is hard to crack. You may think that keeping them awake during the day will help with sleep at night, whereas in truth, the opposite may be true.