A Sleep Guide for Children
Proper sleep is absolutely essential for growth and development. Mental, physiological and emotional development is influenced by many factors including nutrition, socialization, nurture and care, and of course sleep. Just like adults, and perhaps even more so, children can have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, wanting to sleep and having a quality sleep. Building a routine and adopting good sleep habits early on will help to ensure your child (and you!) gets the sleep needed for optimal healthy development and happiness.
One of the hardest things about healthy sleep in children, particularly newborns and infants, is that they develop rapidly in the first year - having physical, mental and physiological leaps every few weeks - and not one child is the same. From newborns to toddlers and preschoolers to teens, sleep requirements are always changing. This can be confusing for parents, leaving you feeling frustrated and lost, not knowing what to do to help your child get the sleep that they need.
This guide will cover the ideal sleep requirements for children of every stage, including appropriate sleep times for each age, several tips for supporting healthy sleep, and the components of a good bedtime routine.
The following are various tips and suggestions to promote quality sleep for children of each age.
Newborn - Most newborns sleep for 2-4 hours at a time. Swaddling may help to soothe and comfort. Use calming music or white noise in the nursery and avoid all distractions (such as mobiles, toys attached to the bed rails, etc. Always put babies to sleep on their back to prevent SIDS. Avoid changing diapers every time your baby wakes at night unless necessary (for example, only change when baby has a bowel movement). When your baby wakes to feed at night, keep the lights off.
2-4 Months - Start implementing a night time routine (warm bath, story time, lullabies) this will teach your baby how to relax before bed and introduce the idea of routine. Wait a few minutes to respond to crying, giving them time to get settled in without you. Do not put blankets and toys in the crib to prevent suffocation and SIDS.
4-6 Months - At this time, some babies may be capable of sleeping 8-12 hours at night. Consider feeding your baby right before bed, with the lights down, soft music on and ready to be put right into bed without being fully woken up. Transition out of swaddling blankets, starting by wrapping them with their arms out of the swaddle, and working up to no swaddle. Continue with your bedtime routine.
6-9 Months - Begin to lay your baby down to sleep when they are drowsy but not yet sleeping. Avoid overstimulation and encourage relaxation before bed. Continue with your bedtime routine, tweaking as necessary as you get a feel for what is working and what is not.
9-12 Months - Avoid solid foods right before bed, sticking with breast milk or water to reduce chances of indigestion and waking through the night. Keep the room dark and relaxing at night. Continue with your relaxing bedtime routine.
12-18 Months - Maintain regular nap and bedtimes for consistency and routine will make it easier for them to sleep. Avoid napping late in the day as it may interfere with bedtime. Keep a consistent bedtime routine that is calming and relaxing, about 30 minutes before bed.
18 Months - 2 years - Avoid skipping nap time as they are still important for your child’s sleep needs. As toddlers become more active they are likely to resist sleeping at this stage. Be gentle but firm while enforcing nap time and bed time. Get your child involved in the bedtime routine, picking out pajamas and a book to help them feel comforted, in control and excited.
2-3 Years - At this stage, your child may be ready to transition from a crib to a bed. You will know if they are ready, especially if they are often trying to climb out of the crib. Limit food and drinks before bed time, especially if potty training. Avoid screen time within one hour before bed to avoid over simulation and excitement. Continue with your bedtime routine.
3-5 Years - At this time your child’s need for a nap may naturally decrease. Allow for quiet time during the day or evening if they aren't sleeping to gently ease out of the nap routine. At this time your child may start getting bad dreams, nightmares and night time fears. Allow them to come to you if they are scared but insist that they return to their own room once they are comforted to reduce this from becoming a regular occurrence. Continue with your bedtime routine.
5-12 Years - Try to avoid letting family and friend activities interfere with your child's sleep needs. Continue with a bedtime routine and set clear limits on bed time, including lights out and screen time.
If the above tips aren't working there are several natural remedies that you can try. Always consult your health care practitioner to make sure that the remedies are appropriate for your child.
Chamomile tea - Chamomile is an amazing herb that is known for its calming properties. It is generally considered to be very safe and can be given to your child at any age. Chamomile can help with anxiety, teething pain, colic, indigestion, restlessness, irritability, and colds.
Magnesium - Magnesium has a calming effect on the body and may help promote a restful sleep. Using a magnesium-chloride spray is the most natural form recognized by the body and most easily applied to newborns and young children. Dosing 100mg of magnesium citrate in liquid form before bedtime for children age 2-8 and up to 200mg for children 8 and older.
Lavender - Lavender is one of the most recognized and loved herbs all around the world. Using a few drops in a diffuser in your child’s bedroom can help calm the nervous system and promote restful sleep.
Other supportive bedtime tools
A short, easy and recognizable bedtime routine. This can be as simple as putting on pajamas, reading a book, singing a song and having a quick snuggle before laying your baby into bed. This should not be a drawn out process - 5-10 minutes is quite appropriate. Any longer and it’s an activity, not a bedtime routine. Following this routine every night before bed will help your child recognize that bedtime is coming and help prepare his/her body for sleep. Remember, it will take time for a routine to “work” - don’t expect to see results in one or two nights. It can take up to three weeks for a new routine to fully set in (but you should see improvement within 5-7 days at most - if you don’t see any changes within a week, try a new routine). While some families may include bathtime as part of their bedtime routine, be sure this is right for your baby - newborns especially have very sensitive skin that can easily become dried out with over-washing.
Wind-down time before the bedtime routine. It is imperative that children are not overstimulated directly before bedtime; otherwise, they will be too wired up to sleep and their bedtime routine will not be impactful. Shut down all electronic device use a minimum of 1 hour before bed. Do not engage in boisterous play; instead, use the time to read, play quiet games, talk about your days, discuss what you’re grateful for, even begin introducing the practice of yoga (when your child is old enough to do so - usually by 3-4).
Have a set bedtime and stick to it. For most newborns and young children (up to age 5), a bedtime of 7 pm is appropriate. Some babies might need to go to bed earlier (particularly if they do not get enough nap time during the day) and other might be okay with a slightly later bedtime, though generally not later than 7:30 pm. After age 5, depending on your child, it might be appropriate to gradually extend bedtime in 15-minute intervals. Whatever bedtime you establish to be most appropriate for your child, it is important to stick to it every night. This gives your child predictability and will help his/her body to develop it’s internal sleep clock, helping him/her to fall asleep without difficulty each night.
Use white noise. A white noise machine can simulate the sound of the womb for newborns as well as to help filter out ambient noise. Adults, too, can benefit from using white noise to help create a positive sleep environment.
Use blackout blinds. Blackout blinds will prevent nearly all light from entering the room, making it as dark as possible (even during the day for nap time). This will help create the right environment for sleep and allow your child’s body to produce melatonin, the hormone needed for proper deep sleep.
Keep the temperature cool yet comfortable. Most people, babies included, sleep best in a slightly cool room - generally around 21 degrees Celsius.
As children grow and become more independent it can get harder and harder to encourage good sleep habits. This is why starting to implement a consistent bedtime routine as soon as possible is so important. Every child is different and will bring a whole new experience; remember to practice patience and love and do the best that you can.