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March 13, 2017
INFANT AND TODDLER SLEEP may sound like an oxymoron, but it is necessary for everyone’s health. When children get quality, consistent sleep each night, their parents have the sanity to face a day of work and the task of raising humans. The trick is having a regular sleep schedule.
Sleep experts have long said that the best way to get good sleep is to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. As long as you can plan for enough hours between the two, you can refresh your body and brain for a busy day. Recently, researchers have begun to emphasize the sleep schedule as equally important to the duration. This is crucial for babies, children and teens, who need sleep for their growing bodies and brains. Unfortunately, surveys show that many children do not get enough rest or a consistent sleep pattern to create healthy sleep behaviors that will last through adulthood.
Learning to sleep is what a baby’s brain does primarily, especially at first. The average sleep cycle for a newborn lasts about 50 minutes long, and eventually stretches out to the 90-minute sleep cycle that children and adults have. Helping infants to distinguish between daytime and nighttime by minimizing light, sound and interaction at night promotes better sleep habits. Toddler sleep patterns are notoriously fickle, but maintaining consistency and setting a sleep routine you can live with will make things much easier for you in years to come.
There are so many aspects of modern life that contribute to lousy sleep and fluctuating sleep schedules. Parents can make the biggest difference when they work with school schedules, acknowledge electronics as distractions, and enforce a consistent bedtime. There is a wide range of normal for kids’ sleep patterns. One three-year-old may need 12 hours at night and a two-hour nap, while another does fine on just 10 hours at night. All you have to do is figure out what your child needs individually, and stick to it. Parents who consistently enforce bedtime have kids who sleep a full hour longer than parents who don’t. An extra hour of “me time” for the grown-ups is incentive enough to put it into play.
You probably know people who swear by a particular bedtime and blame all your parenting woes on your inability to do exactly as they do. The truth is, the best bedtime for your kids depends on their sleep needs and yours. Biologically, we sleep best when we do most of it during the dark hours. Beyond that, you have some wiggle room. For example, if your preschooler needs 12 hours of sleep and wakes consistently at 7 a.m., you should start the bedtime routine with an end goal of 7 p.m. The best bedtime is the one you can enforce consistently.
As a parent, you know lack of sleep could literally kill you. If you can get the little ones to rest effectively, you’ll get more shut-eye. And as it turns out, a consistent sleep schedule is what you need most.