For the majority of children, sleep problems steadily decline from infancy-5 years old.
For a minority, continued problems with sleep regulation have been associated with adjustment and self regulation difficulties in school.
Helping your child learn to sleep in their early childhood creates a lifelong skill!
Sleep is part of your child’s social-emotional development, as well as their physical development. It involves:
- Self-regulation–the ability to calm down, settle, adjust to different physiological and environmental conditions
- Compliance–the adherence and resistance to a bedtime routine and bedtime
- Autonomy–learning to sleep alone
- Communication–letting you know when they are tired
We all vary when it comes to sleep-wake behavior.
Some of that variability comes from temperament (for example, the ability to self-soothe) and some from the socio-economic and cultural environment. But that variability also is affected by parent-child relationships, parent-parent relationships and parenting practices.
Parent-child relationships: When possible, involving both parents (or adult caregiving duo) in sleep/bedtime routines can help a lot.Trouble with sleep onset can lead to longer and more difficult interactions at bedtime; having both parents (or adult caregiving duo) tag-team at bedtime can help. Research indicates that emotional availability, warmth and sensitivity at bedtime predicts better sleep development for children. Switching off nights between parents can give each parent a needed break from what may be an emotionally charged situation. Paternal involvement at bedtime is a strong positive variable in positive sleep/bedtime experiences so when dads are present in the home this is something to aim for.
Parent-parent relationships to help with sleep: remember to nurture your adult relationship when you have young children. Parent conflict is strongly associated with sleep difficulties in children. The first years of parenting can be extremely stressful on your adult/caregiver relationship. It’s okay to ask for help.
Parenting practices that help sleep: consistency in bedtime routine is one of the strongest variables in sleep regulation. This includes teaching an independent transition to sleep and encouraging your child to sleep alone.
Things to keep in mind:
Infants under 4 months sleep when they sleep – on their own schedule.
All bets are off, parents! All the following is for children older than 4 months.
Establishing a bedtime routine early will have long term benefits.
A strong bedtime routine includes a transition time–from regular daily activities to slowly winding down, to the actual bedtime routine.
Involve dads/partners: Whether you split each night’s routine, do it together as a family, or switch nights– more positive dad/partner involvement helps.
Sleep is a family issue. If one person is having difficulty, everyone is having difficulty. To address the challenges with your child, your whole family may need to make some changes (for example, turning off the TV earlier, taking a family walk after dinner). Sleep is important for everyone–your family sleep plan can take your needs into account too!
Pay attention to sleep hygiene (which is different from a bedtime routine).
This includes removing electronic devices from the bedroom, paying attention to sound, light, and temperature of the sleep environment. A new study of preschoolers found that exposure to even very low intensities of light before bedtime can reduce production of melatonin–a sleep hormone. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of the nightlight; research suggests parents rethink use of phones, tablets, and TVs close to bedtime.
Sleep, Light and Preschoolers, more info: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/01/220127104208.htm
General hygiene tips: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html
Sleep Foundation has some great recommendations: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/bedtime-routine
Happiest Baby recommendations: https://www.happiestbaby.com/blogs/toddler/toddler-bedtime-routine
How much sleep does your child need by age: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/healthy-sleep-habits-how-many-hours-does-your-child-need.aspx
Struggling? Want to vent with someone who “gets it?”
Contact our free Parent Coaching service, the Family Help Line, for support and ideas.
Call the Family Help Line and speak with a Parent Coach. 1-800-932-4673
Or, if you want to schedule a time to talk: firstname.lastname@example.org