As parents, a lot of us have sleepless nights over the sleep patterns of our young ones. We are perpetually worried about whether or not our children are getting enough sleep. Every cranky mood or irritable behavior is quickly blamed on bad sleep. “She’s crying a bit much today; I think he hasn’t slept well”.
The first rule
Sleep patterns are cultivated over some time with dedication and patience. Keeping your child’s routine ahead of yours can be socially limiting. How many times have you taken your child along for a late-night dinner, well knowing that it will be way into his usual sleep time? You may even have missed a significant portion of the dinner trying to “turn him in” in one of the other rooms at your host’s house. How many times have you gone for a late-night movie hoping that your child will sleep off in your lap when his sleep time approaches? While some children may be able to sleep in other peoples’ homes or at the cinemas, they most definitely won’t sleep well. Sleep patterns have to be inculcated over some time, consistently. You should not keep changing the time and duration of sleep your child will have daily. You need to take charge of how long the child sleeps and the quality of sleep he gets, even if it’s at the cost of some socializing. So before you decide to take your child along to a late-night party or a movie, think twice.
How much sleep does my child need?
Sleep patterns vary from child to child and there are no set hours a child must sleep. This entirely depends on the level of activity a child engages in and how she spends her day. Some children get exhausted with a couple of hours at school whereas even long hours of play don’t seem to tire out some kids. Also like most other things, where children are concerned, there will be a few odd days, which should not be taken as clues to change sleep patterns. Take these in your stride and continue to stick to the pattern you have decided that works best for your baby. Sleep is very important for the well being of the child and lack of it can get them agitated, cranky, and sometimes hyper. After the mind and body have worked for a few hours, the data needs to be processed and assimilated, and that’s what happens when your child sleeps. Also what’s important is not only the amount of sleep your child gets but the quality of sleep.
Over time, your child will decide the ideal sleep hours for her. She can know how much sleep her body needs. As a parent, you need to help them to get the amount of rest their bodies require to be able to pursue all the activities with attention and vigor. Look for signs that tell you, your child is now tired and a little rest is required.
The big mistake many parents make is to compare sleep patterns with other children. 4-year-old Rohan may sleep 10 hours whereas Ananya (also 4) may be alert after just 7 hours of sleep. Maybe Ananya has rest time in the afternoon where she only indulges in sedentary play, whereas Rohan goes for cricket practice right after school which tires him more. Hence never compare the sleeping hours of your toddler versus another’s
Even as we provide a tentative chart of how much sleep your child may require, remember these are not rules. Activity level and activity pattern also need to be kept in mind before deciding how much sleep your child requires.
Indicative Sleep requirements for children
|Age||Total Sleep (hours)||Nighttime Sleep (hours)||Naps (hours)|
|Newborn-2 months||16-18||8-9||7-9 (3-5 naps)|
|2-4 months||14-16||9-10||4-5 (3 naps)|
|4-6 months||14-15||10||4-5 (2-3 naps)|
|6-9 months||14||10-11||3-4 (2 naps)|
|9-12 months||14||10-12||2-3 (2 naps)|
|12-18 months||13-14||11-12||2-3 (1-2 naps)|
|18 months – 2 years||13-14||11||2 (1 nap)|
|2-3 years||12-14||10-11||1-2 (1 nap)|
|3-5 years||11-13||[10-11] 10-13||0-1 (naps usually stop by age 5)|
Why children refuse to sleep
Children always feel that if they go to sleep they’ll miss all the fun and action happening around them. So they fight sleep as much as they can. (One of the parents we spoke to said that his 6-year-old who loved parties, would hold her eyelids open with her thumb and forefinger so that her eyes wouldn’t shut!) This is where you can step in. When it’s time for the kids to go to bed, wind down the activity and noise levels in the house. Make the house environment as non-stimulating as possible before sleep time.
Children can get creative when they want to stay up longer or wish to stretch bedtime. “Can I have a glass of water?” “One last story please, promise mummy”. They’ll have a new innovative excuse every day. Before you give in to all these pleas, think twice. The magnitude of pleas keeps increasing if you give in. So what do you do?
If your child has tantrums or diversion pleas before sleep time, start 5-10 minutes earlier. Keep buffer time to handle their tantrums and occasionally tell them an extra story. Keep water by the bedside, and let your child know. (So that if he or she is using water as an excuse to get a few extra minutes before bedtime, they know their trick has failed).
A child who has slept enough will be happier and more cheerful during the day. Isn’t that true even for us adults? It is easier even for us to perform better when we are well-rested.
Help your child sleep
Children need routine. Once they know what to expect out of a general day, they normally fall into a pattern and comply with most of the things that are to be done. It’s incredible how they’re inbuilt clocks tick. For example, even a newborn baby will ask for a feed every 2 or 2 and half hours, and right after their feed, they sleep off. From such a young age, our bodies are tuned into precise time routines.
Similarly having routines for children as they grow up, will help to put them into a well-defined pattern
- Set a particular time to go to bed and ensure you give 10-20 minutes buffer time to this. The buffer time will ensure that bedtime is relaxed instead of being rushed. A child who doesn’t sleep peacefully is more prone to nightmares and bad sleep.
- Make sure the child is relaxed before bedtime; do not introduce a new toy or anything that might further stimulate him or her or motivate them to jump out of bed.
- Putting your child to bed with the television on isn’t a good idea. The television can’t substitute a mother’s bedtime story. Readout a story and calm him/her down. Child psychology research proves that ample kisses and physical proximity at bedtime make children sleep better. And blue light emitted from screens (TV, Computer, Mobiles, etc.) makes the body believe it’s in daytime hours and counter to sleep inducement.
- Do not get your child into the habit of rocking to sleep. Also never hand over a milk bottle and expect your child to doze off while drinking it. These habits are hard to break later on. Make sure you feed the child well before sleep time, even when the child is young.
- At bedtime do not allow your child to have chocolates or any kind of soda, as they tend to disturb the sleep pattern.
What is the right age for my child to sleep in a separate room?
For a child, the thought of having to sleep in a separate room without the cozy comfort of his or her parents can be quite traumatic. They dread to even think of moving into a different space, where they do not have their parents for comfort and security. There is also the cultural aspect attached to this question. While in many cultures parents want to move children to another room, in others it’s acceptable to have children sleeping with parents till they are much older.
A good age for you to introduce your child to a new room would be around 2 years. By this age, the child mostly sleeps through the night and requires very little attention (at night). By this time babies are mostly potty trained and have a fixed time pattern of visiting the bathroom. As children get older it becomes increasingly difficult to put them in their own bed/room, so the earlier you do it the better it is.
You can start by shifting your child to a separate bed or mattress in the same room. They will try and crawl into your bed in the middle of the night. It could also include whining, crying, and tantrums. Do not give in to these. Gently pick your child up and put them back on the bed and assure them that you are around whenever they need you. You can also give them a transitional object like a blanket or their favorite toy, which would comfort them if they wake up in the middle of the night. It is heart-breaking to hear your child howling for your proximity in the middle of the night, but what needs to be done, needs to be done.
Either of the parents can also choose to sleep in a separate room with the child and slowly reduce the duration of time they spend with the baby. Gradually your child will get used to it and you will be surprised how soon he’ll start loving his own space.
However, before introducing the change let the child know why he or she is being shifted to a new room. Don’t let any negative thoughts come into your child’s mind. Your toddler may have various thoughts like my parents no longer love me. Tell them that they are old enough to have their room and their bed.
It certainly helps to allow your child to do up his or her room. Take them along when you shop for the room. The curtains, the bedsheets, the bed, let them have a say on what they want. This creates a sense of belonging and ownership towards the new room, which helps in association and acceptance of the room.
The reason for bedwetting in children is that their bladders are small and unable to hold as much urine as adults. If your child is a bed wetter, never punish or blame your child; instead, reassure them that it is alright to have done it, but he or she must try and let you know the next time, they think they cannot hold their bladder. You need to understand that they are not doing it intentionally. Instead include loo time as a routine before sleep. Also start limiting the intake of liquids (juices and water) 1-2 hours before bedtime.
If your child has been wetting, it is also a good idea to wake him or her up every couple of hours for a toilet visit. This might be exhausting for you, but in the long run, it will pay you rich dividends. Every time you feel exhausted getting your child up, think of the clean linen you will have in the morning.
Almost all children gradually phase out of bedwetting on their own by the age of 6. In some cases, it has been seen that older children also bed wet but it is a matter of serious concern only in a very small percentage of children where they need some help.
My child has nightmares
For a toddler, nothing can be worse than waking up to a nightmare. It is very difficult for you to make a 3-year-old understand what exactly a dream or nightmare is, and that it can’t hurt them. No one knows the apparent reason for nightmares but what could trigger one could be something that happened during the day. This could be a scary story they heard or something they watched on television just before bedtime or exposure to family stress.
Ensure that there is a fixed time to sleep and wake up. Comfort the child before bedtime. Encourage them to talk about their day (both the good parts and the bad parts). This way you will know if they have had a scary experience during the day and you will be able to calm them down. Readout pleasant stories and avoid scary ones. Tell them that dreams are not real and can never hurt. Try and make bedtime routines, happy.
Top Questions on Sleep
- My 6-year-old daughter is otherwise a soft-spoken child but she sleeps, talks and is generally having an argument or fighting with someone in her sleep. I have tried speaking to her about it but she doesn’t seem to remember anything the next morning. Please help me deal with the situation.
- My 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter have been sharing the same bedroom since they have been toddlers. My concern is if it is OK for them to share a bedroom now since they are both teenagers?
- My child sleeps too much or too little. What can I do?
- My child gets very cranky around 4 in the evening, but she refuses to have a nap. What is the solution?
- My child is 5 years and is still wetting her bed. What can I do?
- My child doesn’t sleep well during the day and refuses to wake up on time. What can I do?
- My child gets nightmares. What must I do?
- My child wakes up often and comes to my room. What can I do to stop this?
- At what age should I shift my child into a separate room? How should I do this?