Sleep is an essential part of our well-being throughout our life. However, the vital role sleep plays in growth and development makes it particularly important during childhood. In fact, lack of sleep can lead to serious disturbances in childhood growth and development.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, children spend about 40 percent of their childhood asleep. This percentage is even higher for newborns and infants, who sleep between 12 and 17 hours a day. By age 2, most infants have spent more time asleep than awake.
Despite the vital need for sleep in early years, getting a child to sleep can be difficult. Newborn babies, who haven’t yet developed the biological clock that regulates the wake-sleep cycle, sleep sporadically and often wake to be nursed or changed.
As children mature, they sleep longer and develop a regular sleep-cycle; however, the actual act of putting children to sleep remains difficult. Below, we’ve compiled a list of tips on how to get kids to sleep. Read on to learn how much sleep your child needs and how to help them get it, or skip forward to learn 15 simple tricks to get your kids to sleep.
What Age is Your Child?
Newborns 0–3 months
Newborns have sporadic sleep patterns characterized by frequent waking. To get your newborn to sleep, first learn the signs that your baby is tired. Signs of tiredness in newborns typically include yawning, clenching fists, sucking fingers and being fussy.
When you see these signs of tiredness it means it’s time to lay the baby down; putting a newborn down when they’re drowsy, but not yet asleep, helps them learn to put themselves to sleep.
Additionally, it’s important to teach your newborn the difference between day and night, to establish sleep patterns and encourage nighttime sleeping. Distinguish between times of day by keeping the room light during the day and allowing your baby to hear daytime noise. At night, keep the room dark and quiet, even when the baby is awake, and don’t play at night.
At this early stage, newborns typically need to get between 14 and 17 hours of sleep.
Infants 4–11 months
To get an infant to sleep you should begin by developing a consistent bedtime routine, like singing a lullaby, reading a bedtime story or giving your infant a bath. Although younger infants may be too young to take part in these rituals, as babies mature and reach the late stages of infancy, they will be more able to participate. Additionally, sleeping and feeding habits become more predictable during this age, making them easier to schedule.
In addition to developing a bedtime routine, you should develop and stick to daytime nap schedules. This consistency helps regulate your infant’s sleep cycles, allowing them get to sleep easier.
As with babies, infants should be put down when drowsy, but not fully asleep; this helps them learn to put themselves to sleep. During infancy is when you should encourage your baby to fall asleep on their own. This means allowing them to self-soothe by not returning immediately to the room if you hear stirring or fussing.
Although all parents have different views on self-soothing, you should wait at least a few seconds before returning to your baby’s room to see if they can get back to sleep on their own.
Typically, infants need to get between 12 and 15 hours of sleep.
Toddlers 1–2 years
To get a toddler to sleep, encourage the use of a comfort object, such as a teddy bear or a blanket, to ease separation anxiety. Nightmares often begin at this age, so creating a soothing sleep environment is important.
Toddlers have increased cognitive, motor and social abilities, and often become resistant to going to sleep because they don’t want to miss out on anything. To get a toddler to sleep, it’s important to set limits and adhere to them. One tip for putting a toddler to sleep is setting a countdown to bedtime, so they’re not surprised when it’s time to go to bed.
Additionally, it’s important to stand your ground when getting children to sleep—reassure them that you’re still close by, but don’t allow them to stall; doing so will lead to recurring behavior.
Toddlers generally need to get between 11 and 14 hours of sleep.
Preschoolers 3–5 years
A soothing environment is vital when getting a preschooler to sleep, because nightmares and night terrors peak at this age. Create a calming environment by keeping the bedroom dark, quiet and cool. Increased nighttime fears often results in increased nighttime awakenings and calling out. If nightmares do occur, be sure your preschooler falls back to sleep on their own and in their own bed so as not to create dependent sleeping behavior.
Another factor to take into consideration when getting preschoolers to sleep is whether or not they need naps. Napping begins to trail off at this age, but can still be essential for some preschoolers, especially as social activities increase. Even if your preschooler won’t nap, it’s a good idea to set aside some time in the early afternoon to allow them to relax. Preschoolers need to get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep.
School-age children 6–13 years
Tips for getting older children to sleep include avoiding caffeine; removing electronics, like TVs, computers and smartphones from their bedrooms; and sticking to a routine, even on the weekends.
When getting older children to sleep, it’s important to remember that while they have increased demands on their lives in terms of social activities and homework, they’re still children that need a consistent routine. School-age children need to get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep.
As children grow older, talk to them about health sleep habits so they better understand the importance of sleep.
15 Simple Tips to Get Your Kids to Sleep
Sleep is essential for growing children. Insufficient sleep can lead to growth and hormone disturbances, as well as trouble with emotional development; in older children, lack of sleep can lead to lack of focus and learning problems.
Despite the importance of sleep, getting children to sleep is difficult. How much sleep children need and how to get them to sleep varies by age. In general, it’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule; create a soothing bedroom environment; avoid any stimulants, like electronics and caffeine; and keep a look out for sleep disorders. Check out our infographic below for more tips to get your children to sleep.