By Jane Doucet and Erin Dym, ParentsCanada
A recent study in the journal Sleep showed that a consistent nighttime routine can help your child fall asleep faster, sleep better and experience fewer and shorter night wakings. Below is what experts recommend you do to establish a good bedtime routine that will carry from infancy into childhood.
Sleep tips for babies and toddlers
- By six months, there should be a fairly predictable sleeping pattern, including one or two naps during the day at predictable times and the same bedtime each night.
- Bathe your child before bed. The warm water helps to relax and soothe.
- Massage infants or apply lotion to toddlers. This promotes bonding and relaxation.
- Swaddle your infant. This will help them feel safe and secure in the early months.
- Read a bedtime story, cuddle or sing. This serves as a signal that bedtime is next.
- Tell your child it's time to sleep.
- Some children are soothed by the sound of a noise machine, which has little risk of dependence.
- Don't rock your baby or pick him up again unless he is very upset. Balance your baby's need to be comforted with allowing him to learn to soothe himself.
- Don't let baby fall asleep at the breast or with a bottle.
- Avoid letting baby hold on to your hair, finger, etc., when falling asleep because she won't get the opportunity to learn to fall asleep by herself.
Sleep tips for older children
Penny Corkum is associate professor of psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax and a member of the scientific staff at the IWK Health Centre. She's also the principal investigator of a treatment program being developed for children between the ages of one and 10 who have trouble falling and staying asleep. The Better Nights/Better Days web-based program, which is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, will be launched in 2013.
"As the parent of a teenager, I know how hard it is to be consistent with bedtime routines, especially on the weekends," says Penny. "But for many kids who have trouble sleeping, it's an effective way to promote a solid night's sleep."
She has conducted studies showing a clear link between inadequate sleep - even as little as one hour less than needed per night - and poor academic performance and physical health problems. To ensure your children get optimal sleep, Penny advises parents to adopt these World Association of Sleep Medicine's guidelines:
- Set an age-appropriate bedtime and wake time. Be as consistent as possible on weekdays and weekends. Try not to vary the routine on weekends by any more than 30 to 60 minutes.
- Encourage your child to fall asleep independently.
- Avoid bright lights at bedtime and during the night. Increase light exposure in the morning.
- Maintain a regular daily schedule, including mealtimes.
- Have an age-appropriate nap schedule.
- Ensure that kids get plenty of exercise and time spent outdoors each day.
- Keep all electronics (TVs, computers, cellphones) out of the bedroom. Limit their use before bedtime.
Originally published in ParentsCanada, May/June 2012.Related articles:Everything you need to know to help your children sleep betterSleep apnea isn't just for adults
- Restrict or eliminate foods and beverages containing caffeine, such as chocolate and colas.