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New Guidelines on Children's Sleep! Is Your Child Getting Enough? Are You?

Photo by Dina Giangregorio / Stocksy
Photo by Dina Giangregorio / Stocksy

Last year, the National Sleep Foundation issued new recommendations for how many hours of sleep infants, children, and adults need as they age. That’s critical information for parents. The announcement gives us all the chance to take stock of sleep habits in our own homes: Is your child getting enough? 

Take a look:

  • Newborn (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • School age (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
  • Teens (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Young adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours

If you're children aren't getting enough, you're definitely not alone. It turns out that kids around the world are sleeping about an hour less each night compared to kids who lived 100 years ago. Electricity was the first major sleep interrupter—because it allowed people to stay up after dark. (Today, televisions, phones, and tablets are the major culprits.) While adults may be able to power through the day with less than they need, for children, sleep is a must, which is where positive parenting comes in. Here’s how to lay the path to good sleep habits now—and for life.  After all, the modern world shows no signs of slowing down.

1. Make the bedroom screen-free.

You probably know intuitively that screens and sleep don’t mix, and you’re right. That blue glow suppresses production of melatonin—a hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. Interaction with games and media also wakes up the brain, according sleep research published in Pediatrics.

2. Routines are an important tool…

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a simple bedtime routine: Brush, Book, Bed. According to the Academy, “Having a predictable nighttime routine will help them understand and learn to expect what comes next. Additionally, routines may ease the stress that some families experience at night time.”

Photo by Rob and Julia Campbell / Stocksy
Photo by Rob and Julia Campbell / Stocksy

3. …but taking time to cuddle may be more important.

The quality of your nighttime connection with your child may be more important than sticking a routine. Here’s why: According to a study in the Journal of Family Psychology, parents who provide “emotional availability” to children at bedtime also help children feel safe and secure—which leads to better sleep. In fact, the study said emotional availability was more important than sticking to a predictable bedtime routine. For those of us who are routinely challenged by routines, that’s good news! When twilight comes, we can focus on being calm, connected, and quiet together instead of adhering to a to-the-minute bedtime regimen.

4. Make sleep something everyone looks forward to.

Have you ever heard something like this in your house? “Guys, if you don't brush your teeth right now, we’re not going to read books at bedtime.” It’s a pretty common threat from tired parents desperate to get their kids to bed. But in this New York Times Motherlode blog, sleep author and psychotherapist Heather Turgeon makes a great case for why we should never make sleep “the bad guy." These days, Turgeon and her husband only speak about it in positive terms. Sleep, after all, is wonderful: Don’t you want your kids to feel that way, too? Talk about how much you look forward to spending quiet time with your little one, snuggling up with a book, catching up on the best parts of her day, or counting the stars together.

5. Give your kids a class in sleep.

According to research on sleep education, when young children actively learn about good sleep habits, they sleep longer. A nonprofit called Sweet actually teaches kids about good sleep. Kids in their programs practice putting a teddy bear to sleep, learn about reasonable bedtime hours, talk about healthy snacks before bed, and read bedtime books. The takeaway for parents? Talking to your kids about good sleep habits, just as you talk about good hand-washing habits, helps habits stick.

6. Make nighttime magical.

No one—or not very many of us—is an imagination-filled mama every night of the week. Or even most nights. But sometimes it’s fun to make a little magic happen. Turn all the lights out early and read books by flashlight. Engage little ears with an audio book. Gaze at a snowglobe or make your own calming jar. Take a pajama walk: Get the kids completely ready for bed and then bundle up to see the moon or watch the sunset. Try relaxing yoga poses. Stay up to watch the snowfall. You get the idea.

7. Borrow some KinderCare wisdom: Make a bedtime box.

In our KinderCare Learning Centers, many teachers stock small “nap boxes” with quiet activities for children who wake during nap time. You can make a bedtime box for home. Your special box might include crayons or pencils for drawing and journaling, favorite books, a special stuffed animal, or small puzzles. You can even replenish the box with surprising activities. (To make it really special, you and your child can decorate it together.) The main message? Successful sleep is both about building good habits and making it a positive, loving time to for your family to be together. We hope you all find your way to healthy sleep habits for life!

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