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A Parent’s Guide to Better Bedtimes

a young girl sleeping on the bed

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Does your child wake you up in the middle of the night? Fight going to sleep? Wake up in your bed? Here is your guide to help make bedtime easier!

Sleep hygiene is important to develop and set early on. A good night’s rest is essential for healthy growth and development, immune function, and behavior. Tired children are likely to be cranky, impatient, and do poorly in school.

The earlier you start to develop a sleep schedule, the easier it will be establish good nighttime routines for your child.

Newborns – 3 months

Newborn babies sleep between 16 and 17 hours a day. Newborn babies do not have regard for day or night, and feed every two to four hours. Babies’ regular sleep cycle emerge around six to eight weeks, where the baby typically sleeps more at night and can stay awake during the day. It’s a good idea to expose your baby to sunlight during the day and darkening the room at night establishes this pattern.

3 – 4 months

3 – 4 months is where babies’ sleep cycles begin to pass through cycles of active sleep and deep sleep! These phases of sleep are important to your baby’s development. Human growth hormones are released during deep sleep so it’s important that children get this phase of sleep to grow. Active sleep is needed for learning and memory.

At 4 months, babies’ required amount of sleep goes down to about 15 hours a day. The longest period of sleep stretches from about four to nine hours, with naps developing. At this point, you can reinforce their biological rhythms by anticipating your baby’s natural sleepiness, soothing them, and putting them to sleep before they get over sleepy.

This age is where babies typically hit a sleep regression. It is normal at this stage for babies to go through a regression at this time.

5-7 months

As your baby grows through these ages, babies on average wake up four times a night. They can either soothe themselves back to sleep or want to be fed. If a healthy baby is waking up at night for feedings, it’s a learned behavior. Give your baby a chance to soothe themselves back to sleep instead of taking your baby out to feed them.

8 – 12 months

It can be surprising when your baby, who has been sleeping through the night, suddenly begins to wake up in the night. At this developmental stage, children are learning and understanding what object permanence is. Your baby is just beginning to understand that you exist, even though your baby can’t see you after you leave the room.

Sleep training is an excellent skill to use during this time. This time period can be marked with sleep regressions or not being able to go to sleep by themself. There are many sleep training methods you can try, like the cry it out method, the fading method, the pick-up and put-down method, and the Ferber method. Whichever method you decide to try, be consistent and remember that each child is different and may respond to one method better than the other.

Toddlers 1 – 3 Years Old

By the time your baby is 18 months, they may have given up their morning nap. At 3 years, some children will be ready to give up their afternoon nap, too. Your toddler experiences so many exciting things throughout their day and sometimes they can’t wind down, even when they’re tired. If your toddler is cranky at the end of the day, it may be a sign your toddler needs to go to bed earlier.

Preschoolers 3 – 5 Years Old

At this age, your preschooler may be experiencing nightmares or night terrors. These may cause resistance at bedtime and disturbances during the night. Night terrors are a partial arousal from a deep sleep within the first couple of hours your child is asleep. These typically occur when your little one is overtired and if these happen regularly, a short nap in the late afternoon can further reduce fatigue.

Nightmares tend to happen in the second half of the night during REM sleep. Nightmares are a child’s way of playing out unresolved feelings or experiences, and since a child can’t really tell the difference between reality and fantasy, the scary feelings remain. It’s always a good idea to try to soothe and comfort your child and together, find ways to combat their fears.

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