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Common Sleep Mistakes ... and how to avoid them

We are parents, not perfect - I love that saying from a TV network.  I wanted to share with you four common sleep mistakes many parents make that will definitely affect your child's sleep and their ability to sleep through the night.  I see these mistakes over and over when I work with families one on one, so I thought I would share them with you along with tips on how to avoid them so that your child is set up for a better nights sleep.

Four common sleep mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Putting children to bed too late!

Set a regular bedtime (and, if appropriate, nap times) that you stick to. 

Don't wait until your child is rubbing his eyes, yawning, or whining — that's probably too late. Put him to bed earlier. Even 15 to 20 minutes of extra sleep can make a difference.  

NOTE: If you need help with finding appropriate nap times and creating an age appropriate schedule click here.

While every child is different, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that:

  • infants and toddlers typically need up to 12 hours of sleep during the night
  • preschoolers need 10-13 hours once they drop daytime naps
  • school age children should get between 9-11 hours at night.

Figure out what time they need to be up in the morning and count backwards by how many hours of night sleep they require.  If your child needs 11 hours of night sleep and they wake most mornings at 7am or need to be up by 7am, then they should be asleep by 8pm.

For the first 5 years, bedtime will likely be between 7-8pm.

2. Relying on motion

A common mistake is relying on motion for naps or night sleep - if a child over 6 months of age is always sleeping in motion — in strollers or cars — he probably doesn't get the deep, more restorative sleep they need due to the stimulation of motion.
Use motion for calming, not sleep - once your child has fallen asleep, turn off the swing and park the stroller.

NOTE:  If you need help with getting your child to sleep at nap time click here.

3. Over stimulation at sleep time

Take the crib mobile out of the crib during sleep times.  All those bright lights, sounds and toys are too much stimulation when it is time to drift off to dreamland.  It may keep your baby awake instead.  

I am not in favor of the projectors with the star lights and such, as for a child with sleep issues they are usually too distracting.

For older children - do you really want a TV or computer in your child's bedroom?  Even kids who fall asleep with a favorite DVD on are probably losing a half hour or so of precious shut-eye — a loss that can affect their mood and behavior during the daytime — and it's easier to keep the electronics out of the bedroom than negotiate the issue every night.  NSF recommends no screen time (of any kind) at least 1 hour before bed for children and adults.

4.  Skipping the bedtime routine

Have a comforting bedtime ritual.  Regardless of your child's age, a bedtime ritual or a predictable series of steps will help him wind down from the day.  It will also be a cue that sleep is coming and will be helpful to get those drowsy hormones flowing which will aid in drifting off to sleep.

For a younger child, a simple routine might be: diaper change, PJs, darken the room, turn on the white noise, and a few cuddles - then into bed.  Ideally relaxed but still awake.  With older children, the routine might be a bath, PJS, reading books, singing songs or saying a prayer, hugs and then into bed awake.

You can create your own ritual.  Most important is that you have consistent activities that happen in the same space, in the same order, at roughly the same time every night.

Occasionally, if you are short on time you can reduce your pre-sleep routine to the last couple of steps, so that your child is comforted with the familiarity that sleep is coming - one night of a shortened routine for a well-rested child should not make too much of a difference.

Children who are well-rested bounce back from an occasional late night, skipped or shorten nap much better that children who are always overtired.

Sweet Dreams!

Written by: Michelle S. Donaghy


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