Setting Sleep Schedules for Kids
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Setting Sleep Schedules for Kids

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Just as most things in life, kids do best when given rules and boundaries that help them learn right from wrong and how to develop. In the same way, establishing sleep routines and patterns for kids makes a huge difference in how they learn, grown, and interact with others each day.

However, there can be moments where routines are thrown off. As we look forward on our calendars to Daylight Savings, the holidays, and winter break, it can be frustrating to think about schedules being thrown off.

While busy schedules can make routines a little trickier, now is the most important time to try and stick to sleeping hours that make sense for your child and family. When travel, events, and excitement can get in the way of established routines, there is no better way to keep spirits bright than by enforcing schedules and making sleep a priority.

For the busy season ahead, we have some tips to help set sleep schedules and make them easy to follow all year long. Please note: if your child has excessive sleep, behavior, or other health problems, consult your pediatrician for additional care.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

Whether the parent of an infant or a teenager, there are few things that parents worry about more than how much or how little sleep their child is getting. Depending upon their age and overall demeanor, the need for sleep can vary among kids.

For the most part, there are some general guidelines and timeframes that should be followed for your child over the years. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amounts of sleep for kids:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14 to 17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours
  • School-aged kids (6-13 years): 9 to 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years): 8 to 10 hours

Of course, there are variations depending on your child’s overall health, exercise, and dietary intake that can affect the amount of sleep that occurs. Usually, children who are healthy, get plenty of exercise, and eat balanced meals are more likely to have easier sleep habits.

Still, there are some children who have other conditions that make bedtime a little more difficult. In those instances, it is where we find that building a routine becomes incredibly effective.

What is the Best Way to Set a Sleep Routine?

The key to setting up a solid sleep schedule is just that: a schedule. By creating routine steps towards the bedtime process, it becomes easier to enforce a bedtime.

For instance: if each night you begin with dinner, move to bath or shower time, have story time (or for older kids, alone time to read, do homework, or talk with friends), and then have a specific time where lights must be out, you tend to have a better chance of getting your child into bed when they have a routine of steps leading towards bed time. If they know each night that story time signals that it is almost time to sleep, they become more willing.

However, there are many children who have a hard time falling asleep, staying in their bed, or just settling into a set routine. Additional environmental changes may need to occur to help sleep happen more naturally. Ideas include: keeping the room cool and comfortable; playing soft music or using a sound machine; offering a small snack before bed; limiting the amount of fluids before bed; and keeping the number and duration of “good nights” to a minimum.

The more firm you can be about bedtime, the more your child will adapt to going to sleep over time. If you have further questions about bedtime routines, especially for newborns and infants, who tend to have more sleeping needs and different patterns, just ask us!

How Do I Handle Sleep Routines During Time Changes?

With Daylight Savings time or traveling to different time zones during the holiday season, the slightest shift in hours can turn around schedules that have been working well.

Luckily, the Daylight Savings time in the Fall – where we gain an hour of sleep – is a little easier to handle than springing forward and losing an hour. SInce we fall back an hour, this means that kids should go to bed a little bit later leading up to Daylight Savings. This means, if his or her bedtime is at 7:30pm, then try letting your child stay up until 8:30pm. By pushing back bedtime, it makes it easier for your child to wake up on time the next day. Try doing this at least a few days before the time changes to help stay on track.

During the Spring Daylight Savings, you do just the opposite. Work with your child to go to bed incrementally earlier each night; this way, they will go to bed on time, wake up on time, and not feel as though they have lost an hour of sleep.

When you change time zones for travels, build in time for naps as needed. If you are traveling at odd hours, make sure your child is able to rest during travels. Depending on which time zones you change to, be aware of how these hours will affect your child’s schedule before, during, and after traveling. Similar to how you would adjust schedules during Daylight Savings time, make bedtimes earlier or later depending upon where you are going for a few days leading up to travel.

How Do I Encourage Sleep During Exciting Holiday Fun?

While many children find it hard to sleep when awaiting presents, seeing family and friends, or going on a vacation, it definitely makes it more fun for everyone when they get the right amount of sleep!

During the holiday season, it becomes more common for kids to stay up late, which makes it more important to keep routines in check. While it is important to make the holidays special, remember to keep a few basic things the priority:

  • Watch your child’s food intake; be aware of sugary treats that can affect sleep, headaches, and stomach aches
  • Encourage naps between events; a little down time can keep everyone in a good mood and feeling well
  • Even if you are away from home, stick to your routine before bed; signaling that it is time for bed, no matter where you are, with your usual steps towards bedtime is still effective
  • Also, if you are not at home, create an environment that feels like home with favorite blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, and more to make sleep come more naturally

With older kids and teens, sleep may not be affected by excitement as much as just having fun with family and friends. Encourage a normal bedtime, reminding him or her that waking up early to continue the festivities is just as important!

Start Routines Now, Enjoy Sleep Later

There is no better time to start a routine than now! Even if you have a routine but feel it is not working effectively, think of ways that you can enforce bedtime, shorten the amount of bedtime negotiations, and be more firm in getting your child to sleep on time. The sooner you can make routine a priority, the better off you will be during the holidays.

Depending on your child’s age and overall health needs, the amount of sleep he or she needs may differ. That’s why your pediatrician is here to assess your child’s health and sleep habits, helping you identify areas that might be making sleep more difficult. Together, we can talk about pain points surrounding bedtime, plus any changes in diet, exercise, or other influences that can impact sleeping hours.

To discuss your child’s sleep problems with your pediatrician, give us a call today. We can talk about different strategies to try and effective routines to follow. The best gift you can give yourself throughout the holiday season is a good night’s sleep. Start today and enjoy a restful, happy holiday season ahead!

Posted by Tim Flatt at 9:41 AM
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