Better Sleep

By: Stefani Nielson

A restful sleep is important for everyone, but children, from the very young to teens, obviously need more of it, since they are mental, emotional and physical energizer bunnies. Just what counts as adequate sleep, though? Generally, paediatricians suggest the following amounts per day:

• Newborns (up to six months): 16 hours in three to four hour blocks
• Babies (up to one year): 14 hours
• Toddlers (up to three years): 10 to 13 hours
• Preschoolers (up to five years): 10 to 12 hours
• Children (up to 12 years): 9 to 10 hours
• Teens (up to 19 years): 9 to 10 hours

Knowing how much sleep your kids need is only half the battle. Ensuring they get to bed, snuggle in, shut their eyes and drift off to dreamland for a ten-hour stretch is the other challenge, especially when it comes to young children and their developing self-care habits. How do you get the energizer bunny to take its own batteries out?

In my own family, it took two years of solid trial and error (mostly error) between the ages two and four before we finally managed to make bedtime a pleasant experience. And, in agreement with the experts, it was regularity—a routine the kids came to expect night after night, barring those special occasions—that did the trick.

Many of the following tips, widely recommended by childcare experts, we discovered on our own after considering what worked or didn’t work at a given age or stage.
• First and foremost, set a regular bedtime and schedule. Extra-curricular activities should be over and done with well-before it. Ensure kids eat nutritiously and get enough physical activity during the day.

• Plan calm activities for before bedtime such as homework, puzzles or quiet play. Turn the TV or computer off well before your end-of-the-day routine.

• Tidy up, brush teeth and put on pyjamas as a family so the kids don’t view bedtime as a punishment.

• Let kids choose their books for bedtime and remind them which one is the last. My kids love a fresh supply of library books; it’s exciting to cuddle up together and see what’s new.

• Have a light snack, avoiding sugar and too many drinks.

• Let young kids pick out stuffed animals and arrange blankets before tuck-in. For certain kids, tucking in their own babies just right is very important.

• Let older kids (aged five and up) read independently with a bedside light as a chance to self-calm after tuck-in. A lamp or wall fixture that casts a sot light can be invaluable for avoiding bedtime battles as can a cozy, all-season quilt.

• When kids have bedtime fears, you can do a quick search of the closet and under the bed to show them the bedroom is monster-free. If a little more reassurance is in order, a small flashlight can go under the pillow.

• To avoid stalling, consider bedtime rules such as two stories, one glass of water and one trip to the bathroom—then sleep time!

Sources:; Barbara Coloroso, Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline (Toronto: Harper, 2002); Dr. Shelly K. Weiss, Better Sleep for Your Baby & Child (Toronto: Robert Rose, 2006).

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