All children require quality sleep for healthy development, learning, and growth. If your child is having sleep problems, don't worry, you're not alone — 50 percent of kids experience sleep problems at some point in their childhood. But, as a parent, it's your responsibility to help your child establish healthy sleep habits they'll practice for a lifetime.
While it's important for your child to establish good sleep, you might feel a little lost or overwhelmed with how you're actually going to teach them proper sleep habits. This is especially true in cases of newborn sleep challenges, toddler sleep resistance, and the constant battle with older kids with their endless activities.
In this parent's guide, you'll learn some reasons why your child may be struggling to fall or stay asleep, and some tips on how you can help them establish healthy sleep habits.
Why It's Hard For Children to Sleep
There are several reasons why our kids might not want to fall asleep, including:
- They need comfort. Whether your child is having a problem with self-soothing, or they're struggling with separation anxiety, they might be up because they think they need you to fall asleep.
- They resist sleep. Toddlers have found they can think and act for themselves, so why would they go to bed when they can watch television, read a book or play on the computer?
- They're stimulated. Whether your baby needs a diaper change, wakes up hungry, or is teething, these stimuli can arouse them easily.
- They're hungry. Newborns may wake up several times during the night to feed, and toddlers might require a hearty meal to help them sleep through the night.
- They're circadian rhythm isn't developed yet. Newborns aren't born with completely developed sleep cycles.
These are only some of the many reasons why it may be difficult for your child to fall asleep. So, what can you do if you're child or children won't go to sleep?
How to Help your Child Obtain Healthy Sleep
Here are some tips to help your child learn healthy sleep habits.
1. Give them a pacifier.
If your child is struggling with separation anxiety, they're not alone. Separation anxiety is normal, and many children struggle with it. Babies don't understand the separation is only temporary. Depending on their age, you may want to consider a pacifier. And, research shows the use of a pacifier during sleep can help decrease the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). SIDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy newborn, typically during sleep.
2. Handle their resistance.
While your baby might be more willing to go to sleep when you encourage them to, preschoolers and toddlers usually have a different agenda. They're busy playing, exploring new things, and learning, and might not want to end their fun just yet simply because you say it's bedtime. They'll often move slowly through their bedtime routine, request several things to stall, or even refuse to go to bed.
They'll request just about anything to stall, such as:
- An extra kiss or hug
- Something to drink or a snack
- Another story
No doubt you become frustrated when your child comes out of their room to request their third glass of water after you've already tucked them in twice.
If your child stalls at bedtime, chances are they're trying to take advantage of your patience and good nature. When your child is resisting their regular bedtime, it's essential you're firm, but gentle with them. Tell them what you want them to do. Let them know that good sleepers stay in their bed, and don't fuss. They don't leave their bedroom or wake their parents up unless there's an emergency.
3. Maintain the same bedtime every night.
If you're consistent about keeping the same bedtime each night as much as possible, your child's internal body clock will eventually adjust and adapt to sleeping at their set bedtime each night. When they've adapted to their regular bedtime, it makes it easier for them to not only fall asleep, but stay asleep. Also, while you may want to grant them a later bedtime on the weekends, this is actually counterproductive, and can undo what you've already established.
4. Give them a snack.
Kids shouldn't go to bed with an empty stomach. And, this is actually more important than what you allow your child to eat. Provide them with a snack high in fiber or protein, and low in sugar.
5. Keep bed just for sleeping.
Make your child associate their bed for sleeping only. While its fine (and encouraged) to read a short book or story with them in bed before bedtime, you don't want to develop the habit of prolonged reading, or allow them to use devices like a laptop or smartphone in bed, which can decrease the association your child has between their bed and sleep.
6. Make sure they're sleeping on a comfortable mattress.
A natural latex mattress is a healthy choice. Kids not only need to sleep more, they need to sleep better. Sleep cycles consisting of NREM and REM sleep last for around 50 minutes in kids and 90 minutes in adults, according to Harvard University. This is why kids require more total sleep time.
Since they don't spend as much time in REM sleep, which is restful, restorative sleep, spending more time asleep can help increase their chances of getting through more REM cycles. The more REM cycles they go through, the more refreshed and well-rested they'll feel.
A natural latex mattress could be your answer. Most will agree — comfort matters. So, if the mattress your child is sleeping on isn't comfortable, they'll likely have a more difficult time falling and staying asleep. Aside from this, many standard mattresses contain chemicals that could cause adverse side effects. There's a significant link between childrens' social behaviors and their exposure to flame retardants, which are widely used with standard mattresses.
Natural latex is a good alternative to the older mattresses. But, if you do decide to purchase a latex mattress, make sure it's 100 percent natural. Some mix latex with chemicals. Therefore, when shopping, look for Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) approved certified 100 percent natural latex mattresses. They're free of synthetic materials and toxic chemicals.
7. Last but not least, be patient!
It takes time to teach your child healthy sleeping habits, so you'll want to exercise understanding and patience as they develop these habits. Be consistent, and remember, while it will take some time to set up a normal routine, it will be worth the wait.
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