Bedtime Routines and Rituals Make for Good Sleep Habits in Children

Bedtime Routines and Rituals Make for Good Sleep Habits in Children

When children have bedtime and sleep problems at ages three, four, and five, those problems can often be traced back to the development of poor sleep habits at younger ages.

For instance, Tracey, age 4, whined and complained about going to bed at night. She found excuses to try to stay up later, and when she ran out of excuses she would cry and leave her bedroom.

And Reid, age 3, had temper tantrums at bedtime and insisted one of his parents stay in his room and sleep beside him. If his mother or father tried to leave the room before Reid was sound asleep, he would cry and fuss until they lay back down beside him.

Many such sleep and bedtime problems can be avoided by establishing bedtime routines between six and 12 months of age. Children do much better at bedtime if they know what to expect at the end of each day. In other words, if you create a predictable sequence of events that you follow consistently every evening, your child will feel secure and will be ready to go to sleep by the end of the routine.

Once established during the second six months of life, the basics of your child’s bedtime routine will be established and although some aspects of it might change somewhat, the basics routine will stay the same.

A predictable sequence of events prior to your child going to sleep may involve some or all of the following:

  • Washing or taking a bath
  • Putting on pajamas
  • Brushing teeth
  • Having a story read
  • A final goodnight kiss and hug

This routine should not be lengthy, but it should be consistently followed. However, no matter how you tweak this kind of bedtime ritual, it works best if it is preceded by about an hour of quiet time or winding down activity. Engaging in roughhousing with your child — wrestling, watching stimulating videos, or running around — are not conducive to what is needed for good sleep; and that is a peaceful and quiet transition period.

There are other helpful elements that can ease bedtime, but some that work well for many parents include:

  • Specific bedtime. Children function best when there is a predictable routine. A good place to start is by setting a bedtime and not deviating from this time.
  • Advance warnings. Your child may be far too young to tell time or know how long 15 minutes is. But by announcing that it is almost time for a bath or for putting on pajamas helps her to begin to associate certain events with the approaching bedtime. For example, saying “It’s almost seven o’clock and time for bed,” won’t be much help, but saying, “I’m going to start your bath” and then turning on the water in the bathtub will be a signal that she will learn to associate with getting ready to go to sleep.
  • Snack. A light snack of foods that include protein and carbohydrates will tend to help induce sleep. Protein will keep his blood sugar level on an even keel until breakfast the next morning, while carbohydrates will make him sleepy.
  • Warm bath. A warm bath will be relaxing and by raising your child’s body temperature slightly, she will be more likely to fall asleep easily.
  • Story. Reading a story is also relaxing and comforting. Not only are you teaching your child about reading and language, but you are providing a comfortable experience that will, in time, be associated with sleep. As your child develops favorite stories and loved books, she will ask to be read the same ones over and over. By reading her favorite books, she will feel secure and be more relaxed and ready to go to sleep.

Finally, always make a final kiss and hug fairly brief. Prolonged goodbyes may signal your anxiety and may lead to your child crying or being anxious when you try to leave. Anxiety often results in crying – rather than a final goodnight and gentle sleep.

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You Can Develop Healthy Sleep Behaviors in Infants and Toddlers

You Can Develop Healthy Sleep Behaviors in Infants and Toddlers

Joshua slept like, well, like the baby he was until about 10 months of age. Then, he began waking up around three o’clock in the morning and wailing until he was picked up.

Samantha was, according to her parents, a wonderful sleeper. She settled into a sleep routine the first week after she was born and continued her sleep pattern until she was 15 months of age. Then, she began resisting going to bed at night and crying for long periods.

Nicholas was a restless sleeper from the day he was born. Throughout infancy he would awaken several times during the night and could not go back to sleep on his own. His sleep problems kept his parents up at night and left them frustrated and concerned. Would Nicholas ever be able to sleep through the night? Would he always have sleep problems? Would his parents ever feel fully rested again?

Research reported in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, indicates that about 10 percent of infants and toddlers have sleep problems of one sort or another. In addition, the recent study that followed more than 350 mothers and their children for more than three years found that young children with sleep difficulties were more likely to continue to have sleep problems as they got older.

Most children during the first three years of life are likely to experience sleep disturbances of one kind or another. This can include night-time awakenings, difficulty going to bed at the usual time, night terrors, nightmares, and resistance about sleeping in their own crib or bed. The most common kind of sleep problem in toddlers is waking up during the night. Up to 30 percent, according to previous research, experienced waking up at night as often as two or three times a week. Whether or not these situations rise to the level of serious sleep disorders is questionable.

However, the latest research reported in Pediatrics suggests that as many as 20 percent or more of children with sleep problems in early childhood still had sleep problems at age three. The research recommends that parents, rather than accepting these sleep problems as normal, should report them to the pediatrician with the hope that the problems can be remedied early.

Studies over the last several years have indicated that behavior management is very effective in dealing with some of the common sleep disturbances. This is especially true for frequent night awakenings.

Parents often believe that picking an infant or toddler up, moving them to another room, rocking them, or getting them a drink will help them go back to sleep. While this may be true to some degree, the principles of behavior management suggest something quite different. That is, behavior management is effective with sleep problems because children are trained to be better sleepers. Behavior management depends on reinforcement and a major tenet of behavior management is that the behaviors that are reinforced and encouraged are more likely to be repeated.

Therefore, doing anything other than reinforcing appropriate sleep patterns is making the problem worse rather than better. The most common example has to do with children awakening in the middle of the night. If you reinforce night-time awakenings by picking her up or rocking her, then it is likely your child will be trained to wake up at the same night every night with the expectation of being held or rocked.

The best approach in dealing with any kind of sleep problem is to make sure you are not reinforcing the maladaptive sleep behavior. If you want your child to learn to go back to sleep when she wakes up in the night, than you cannot reward her for waking up or crying out at night.

It is very important that babies learn to fall asleep on their own and be allowed to learn to go back to sleep without a parent’s help. It’s difficult for many parents to understand this as they believe it is cruel to allow babies to be fussy or to cry during the night. While infants and toddlers may need some soothing from parents, it is perhaps more cruel to reinforce poor sleep habits so that those poor habits continue to develop over years.