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How to Help a Child Sleep Soundly

Updated on December 16, 2012

Surprisingly, it is estimated that seven out of ten children just aren't getting enough sleep. A good nights sleep is important for us all. But, it is especially important for children. Sleep is essential support for developing little bodies. In fact by the age of two, most children have spent more time asleep than awake and this has a direct impact on their physical as well as their mental development.

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Sleep States

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) - Also known as "quiet" sleep, NREM is a deep state of sleep in which blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy restored, and tissue growth and repair occur. NREM is a four stage process. These stages are:

  • Stage 1 - drowsiness - eyes droop, may open and close, dozing
  • Stage 2 - light sleep - the baby moves and may startle or jump with sounds
  • Stage 3 - deep sleep - the baby is quiet and does not move
  • Stage 4 - very deep sleep - the baby is quiet and does not move

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) - Also known as "active" sleep, REM sleep is the time when dreaming occurs. During this state our bodies become immobile and breathing and heart rates become irregular. On average, we enter the REM stage 90 minutes after falling asleep.

Baby Sleep Patterns: Why Sleeping Through the Night is a Challenge for Newborns

Baby sleep patterns can be quite erratic. Newborns spend much of the day and night asleep, only waking every few hours for feedings. With the average newborn spending 16.5 hours sleeping, many new parents are initially concerned. This is, however, a completely normal sleep pattern for newborn babies. In addition to the many hours of sleep, many babies have their days and nights confused, spending their few waking hours awake at night instead of during the day.

Encouraging Sound Sleep for Newborns

The best way to help your newborn get to sleep is to recognize the signs of sleep readiness. Typically, newborns express their desire for sleep by becoming fussy, crying, rubbing their eyes, or looking away as you engage with them. It is best to put your baby to bed during the early stages of the sleep cycle rather than waiting until they are already asleep. The NREM stage of sleep begins with drowsiness and this is the perfect time to place your newborn in their sleeping area. With consistency, your newborn is more likely to learn how to fall asleep fast and how to get to sleep on their own.

Newborn babies can also be encouraged to sleep less during the day and more at night by exposing them to light and noise in the daytime. Play more with your baby during the day and as evening approaches, provide them with a quieter and dimmer environment with less activity. Establishing a routine for your baby will soon help them to identify bedtime. Many parents rock or breastfeed their babies to help them to get to sleep. These activities are fine, but it is best that your baby not fall asleep in your arms. If your child becomes used to falling asleep in your arms they may begin to expect to be in your arms in order to get to sleep. If your baby awakens at night during the sleep cycle they then may not be able to get back to sleep on their own.

How to Swaddle a Baby

Swaddling Blankets and Other Sleep Aids for Infants

There are many products out today that are marketed as sleep aids for infants. The effectiveness of some (such as, lavender-scented lotions) are questionable, while others may be effective but are still discouraged for various reasons (such as relying on feedings or pacifiers). Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide what is best for their child.

Some useful sleep aids include:

It is highly recommended that babies be placed on their back to sleep. This reduces the likelihood of SIDS. Some parents worry that their child will choke if they should spit-up during the night. Bub babies will automatically swallow or turn their heads to the side to rid themselves of an excess fluid. REMEMBER: BACK TO SLEEP

Swaddling

Swaddling is the practice of snugly wrapping a baby in a cloth or blanket. It is a proven sleep aid for newborns and young infants and it is often employed by hospital maternity units. Swaddling baby many also protect them from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as long as baby is placed on their back to sleep. If swaddled infants are placed on their stomach the risk of SIDS actually increases. If you decide to swaddle your baby, use the following safety guidelines:

  • Never put a swaddled baby on their stomach
  • Do not swaddle babies who are able to flip themselves over while swaddled
  • Keep your baby's head uncovered in order to avoid overheating
  • Make sure you do not wrap your baby too tightly. Swaddling a baby too tightly can lead to hip dysplasia and/or respiratory infections.

Some parents prefer to use sleep sacks. These often come with flaps that secure with velcro and make swaddling a cinch.

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Infant Massage

Many cultures practice infant massage and many parents swear by it. There is actually no scientific evidence in support of the effectiveness of infant massage as a sleep aid.There are, however, some studies which suggest that massaging your infant may increase the amount of nocturnal melatonin (the "drowsy hormone").

Controversial Infant Sleep Aids

Over the years, many sleep aids have been the subject of controversy. These include:

  • Pacifiers
  • Feedings
  • Rocking
  • Skin-to-Skin Contact ("Kangaroo" Care)

The typical argument against these methods are that they do not allow for self soothing and create a reliance that can be hard to break later.

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Toddler Sleep Training: How Get a Toddler to Sleep Soundly

Though toddlers sleep far less than infants, they still require 12-14 hours of sleep within a 24 hour period. it is, therefore, important that your toddler has a daily nap lasting one to three hours and that this nap not be too close to bedtime.

Many toddlers experience difficulties when it comes to sleep. These can include nightmares, nighttime fears (such as fear of the dark), and nighttime awakenings. In addition, one of the primary function of toddlerhood is to explore independence and for many toddler this need becomes evident at bedtime.

Quite often behavior problems with toddlers are due to poor sleep or an insufficient amount of sleep. Children who are overtired often appear hyperactive or cranky. This can make for a very long afternoon. Surprisingly, many parents do not recognize that lack of sleep is the issue and will instead resign themselves to deal with these types of parenting difficulties.

Here are a few tips to help you get your toddler or preschooler to sleep a bit easier:

  • Maintain a daily sleep schedule.
  • Make the bedroom environment the same every night.
  • Set bedtime rules that are consistent, communicated and enforced.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine that ends in the room where the child sleeps.
  • Your child should sleep in the same sleeping environment every night. The room should be cool, quiet and dark with no TV or other distraction.

Natural Sleep Remedies for Toddlers

Natural sleep remedies for toddlers are not without their controversial viewpoints. Again, it is up to parents to decide what is right for their child. Some choices of natural sleep remedies may include:

Thumb Sucking

Though thumb sucking can be lead to dental problems for older children, it is generally thought to be acceptable for toddlers. it is a way for them to soothe themselves and can be quite affective at bedtime or any other time your toddler may need comfort.

Nightlight

Many toddlers suffer from nighttime fears and these can often be alleviated with the use of a simple nightlight.

Transitional Objects

Many toddler enjoy having a soft, cuddly blanket or stuffed animal for company when it is time to sleep. A security object can be part of a very healthy system of emotional support for young children. These are typically referred to as transitional objects because they help children make the transition from dependence to independence. They work because they are nice to touch, familiar, and bring about secure and comforting memories.

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Sleep Solutions for Older Children

Children age 5-12 need approximately 10-11 hours of sleep. Children in this age group typically have school, extracurricular activities, social activities, etc. that can interfere with them getting the necessary amount of sleep. In addition, these children are interested in computers, TV, and may have begun drinking caffeinated products. All of these can contribute to sleep problems. Sleep problems and disorders are prevalent in this age group and poor sleep an lead to mood swings, behavioral problems and cognitive issues that an impact school and learning performance.

Tips for Helping Older Children Sleep Soundly

  • Healthy habits for kids should include good sleep habits. Teach you child the importance of sleep.
  • Emphasize the importance of a regular and consistent sleep schedule as well as a bedtime routine.
  • Turn off computers and TVs well before bedtime (it may even help to keep them completely out of the bedroom).
  • Make sure your child's bedroom is conducive to sleep. This means dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Have your child avoid caffeine.

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Teenage Sleep: Encouraging Your Teen to Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits

If you are the parent of a teenager, you may be wondering where all those healthy sleep habits they once had went. Teenage sleep patterns seem to be very different than the sleep patterns of younger children. Teen are notorious for staying up late and being difficult to awaken in the morning. You may be surprised to learn that there may actually be a physical cause for your teens sleep patterns.

We all have an internal clock which influences our appetite, temperature, and sleep cycle. The biological and psychological process that follows the sleep cycle is known as circadian rhythms. These rhythms direct younger children to become sleepy naturally around 8 or 9 p.m. When puberty hits, however, the internal clock begins to delay this sleepy feeling. This is why may teenagers don't become tired until 11 p.m. or even later. This does not mean your teen should stay up this late every night as teens require at least nine hours of sleep every night to maintain alertness and concentration needed throughout the day.

Tips to Help a Teenager Sleep Soundly

To help teens develop and maintain healthy sleep habits, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make sure the sleeping environment is conducive to sleep. Dim the lights as bedtime approaches and then turn them off when it is time to sleep. Provide bright light for your teen in the morning. The darkness and light are important cues for the body.
  • Create and maintain a sleep schedule. It may be difficult but going to sleep and waking up at the same tie every day is essential to getting the right amount of sleep. This may require limiting extracurricular activities or changing working hours to ensuring a proper bedtime.
  • Just say no to naps. An after school nap may seem like a good idea but proceed with caution. Too much shut-eye during the day can make it harder to find sleep at night.
  • Avoid caffeine. Too much caffeine can definitely interfere with a good night's sleep.
  • Establish a time to unplug. Keep the TV, cell phone, computer and other electronic devices off at night. These activities are stimulating and not conducive to a good night's sleep. Teens should turn them off an hour or two before bedtime to give the mind and body time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

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