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Rest easy: How to design your child's sleep routine

Parents know: every child is different. Some are picky eaters, some eat anything served. Some sleep through the night, others wake up two or three times a night.

Today, parent educator Betty Avilla shares her expert advice on establishing your child's healthy sleeping habits.

What are some difficulties that arise regarding sleep?

During the first 2 years of life:

In those early weeks and months of life, newborns have irregular sleep patterns because they have not yet developed the hormones that help regulate consistent sleep-wake rhythms. Sleep-wake cycles are regulated by light and dark.

Sleep is the primary activity of the brain during early development. By 2 years of age, a child will have spent more time asleep than awake.

From newborn age to 3 months old, a baby needs 17 hours of sleep in average (daytime and nighttime sleep combined). Around 6 months and 18 months, the average of sleep they need is between 15 and 14 hours.

With that said, some parents might be concerned about their kid's sleep patterns. Sometimes they feel the baby sleeps too much. Other parents observe their kids have reverted sleep patterns (they sleep all day long and stay awake at night).

After 2 years?

Some parents believe that once children grow out of the toddler years, kids will sleep through the night. But as their minds develop, their schedules become busier and their interests evolve, preschoolers and kindergarteners may have a harder time decompressing after a long day. For many kids, the sleep challenges from infancy don't go away with age.

What are some of the best approaches to managing these difficulties?

During the first 2 years of life:

Parents will eventually become the designers of their baby's sleep routines. In order to do that effectively, it may help them to observe and chart their baby's changing sleep patterns. They might create a log, that can include number and length of naps, bedtime, specific tirnes their child actually falls asleep, and the number of nighttime awakenings. This information may help parents spot trends like too much daytime sleep or identify a child who simply needs less sleep than anticipated.

After 2 years?

It is parents' responsibility to provide opportunities from healthy sleep, just as they do healthy nutrition. A child's sleep problems can leave parents frustrated and exhausted. Consistent naptime, bedtime and wake-up routines can alleviate a host of potential problems, making it more likely that children get the rest they need. To ensure children get enough sleep, it is important to establish consistent bedtime routines and schedules. While preschoolers and kindergarteners have the language and cognitive abilities to try to bargain or protest their way out of going to sleep, they find the predictability, security and stability of a routine comforting. Most importantly, bedtime is a special moment for parents to connect with their child (by reading, talking about how their day was, etc.).

Parents should avoid putting their child to bed an hour or two later at night to push his wake-up time forward. Extending bedtime can also have the opposite effect desired. If a child has difficulty getting out of bed, the parent can try pushing his bedtime earlier and ensuring he gets the recommended 11 to 13 hours of sleep.

Parents can alleviate sleep distractions by unplugging the electronics, turning off the lights, associating the bed with sleeping, maintaining a consistent temperature and creating white noise, if needed (like the gentle hum of a fan or clothes dryer).

What should a parent's role be regarding Sleep?

Parents are in charge of promoting good sleep hygiene from infancy. This includes setting a consistent bedtime before 9 p.m., establishing nighttime and naptime routines, and allowing children to fall asleep independently.

What are some key things parents can do to help with designing good sleeping habits?

Parents can gradually adjust their baby's environment in order to develop the appropriate sleep patterns. Learning about developmental influence in sleep patterns helps parents understand how they should respond to their baby's cues for his/her physical needs. For example, when a newborn wakes, it will most likely be due to hunger or discomfort, like a wet diaper. Responding immediately to his cries will lessen the amount of time it takes to soothe him/her. By contrast, at around 6 months of age babies should be allowed at least five minutes to make natural transitions from the various sleep states or to self-soothe. Around 6 months of age babies should be allowed at least five minutes to make natural transitions from the various sleep states or to self­ soothe.

What are some of the community resources available to parents who may need more help?

Talking to the child's pediatrician if there is a real concern is always a good idea. For parents of infants who don't have an established sleep routine and are still struggling with putting their babies to bed, it might be helpful to enlist friends and family so that the parents have a chance to rest, relax and recharge (especially if mom is breastfeeding, which can impact her the most). In this case, they might be able to contact La Leche League or speak to a Lactation consultant to talk about alternatives without having to give up to breastfeeding. The local WIC office might be able to help too.

©2016 by United Way Parents as Teachers.