I don’t know about you, but my biggest challenge as a mother of young children is getting enough sleep. I walk around in a constant state of exhaustion. The experts say babies and toddlers need adequate sleep for health and development, and that it is important to foster good sleeping habits – but to actually do so is easier said than done.
Did you know that babies and children need consolidated REM sleep, just like adults? Not getting enough REM sleep leads to shorter attention spans. To make matters worse, young children who don’t get adequate sleep release more cortisol, a stress hormone that causes shorter naps and frequent night wakings.
Newborns can be especially challenging. At this stage, babies have not yet developed circadian rhythms. Generally, circadian rhythms begin developing at about 6 weeks and by 3-6 months, most infants have a regular sleep and wake cycle.
Healthy sleep patterns should be established early. If you don’t put in the work early, your child is likely to have difficulty later which can last sometimes beyond the age of 4. The bottom line is: Young children need alot of sleep. They may actually spend more time asleep than awake. Though young children sleep much of the day, they may only sleep for a few hours at a time, especially at night, which is difficult for parents. Stay strong- with consistent healthy sleep habits, even the youngest child can learn how to sleep well.
Tuck.com is a good resource for parents on this subject. The list of common sleep problems for infants and toddlers below will help you understand why your little angel may not be sleeping well. Keep reading for their helpful sleep tips for your child which should help you get some sleep as well.
Common Sleep Problems for Infants and Toddlers
- Inability to self-soothe: Often, babies will fall asleep easily when held by their parents, but wake up right away when set down. Babies may still be learning to self-soothe.
- Daytime and nighttime reversal: As young babies have not yet developed circadian rhythms, they may not have night and day straight yet. Some get them mixed up, sleeping all day and then wanting to stay up at night. This is due to movement while in the womb: daytime activity rocked the baby to sleep all day while leaving the baby awake at night. Limiting daytime naps and making clear distinctions between day and night can help resolve this problem.
- Sleep regressions: During certain periods of development, babies may be especially sleep-challenged. As they develop motor skills, grow teeth, or learn new things, they may have more trouble sleeping. But it is temporary. It’s important to stick with routines and schedules even during this difficult time so that you can work through it and maintain consistency until regular sleeping patterns return.
- Nighttime feedings: Most babies won’t sleep through the night until they are six months or older. Very young babies will need multiple night feedings — exhausting, but necessary. One to two night feedings are normal for most babies, but three or more may be excessive. If your baby is waking up several times in the night to feed, talk to your pediatrician. Some babies fall asleep during feedings and don’t get enough to fill their bellies. While normally, you should avoid stimulation at night, it may be necessary to keep baby awake during feedings so that they can get a full belly at each feeding and extend their time in between nighttime feedings.
- Nighttime stimulation: While feeding or changing your baby at night, they can get stimulated. This may make them more fully awake and cause difficulties falling back asleep. Parents should take care to avoid fully rousing babies in the night.
- Separation anxiety: Young children can develop separation anxiety, often expressed as a need for one or both parents at night. While frustrating and sad, the American Academy of Pediatrics reassures parents that this is a normal stage in development. Children may need reassurance throughout the night. They suggest letting children know when you have to leave, creating a diversion, and using a familiar babysitter when you’re going out for the night.
- Sleep resistance: Babies may be willing to sleep whenever you encourage them to, but toddlers and preschoolers often have a mind of their own. They’re busy exploring new things all day, playing and learning, and may not want the fun to end just because it’s bedtime. Toddlers and preschoolers may move slowly through the bedtime routine, make many requests to make bedtime take longer, or flat out refuse to get in bed and go to sleep. It’s important to be firm but gentle with young children who resist regular bedtimes.
Helpful Tips for Baby and Toddler Sleep
- Develop a reliable schedule: Babies and children thrive on routine. Maintaining a regular schedule for nap times and bedtime is an important part of healthy sleep in early childhood. With consistent times for sleep, your child is comforted and knows what to expect. And a child’s body will naturally begin to prepare for sleep around regular sleep times.
- Create a sleep friendly environment: Some babies can and do sleep anywhere, but to establish healthy sleep habits, it’s important to develop a friendly sleep environment. Your young child’s sleeping environment should be dark, cool, and comfortable. They may also benefit from a comfort item, such as a pacifier for young babies and a security object like a blanket or stuffed animal for children one year and older.
- Create a consistent bedtime routine: Establish a consistent bedtime routine early on to help your child settle into bedtime. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just the same each night so that they know it’s time to get to bed. Many parents build a routine out of taking a bath, brushing teeth, singing songs, reading books, and sharing a quick snuggle. Toddlers and preschoolers may be able to make straightening up toys a part of their bedtime routine as well.
- Avoid naps too close to bedtime: Daytime naps are important and should be treated as seriously as nighttime sleep. After all, naps make up important sleeping time for your baby or toddler. But let children nap too close to bedtime, and they’ll be too well rested to fall asleep for the night.
- Put babies and toddlers to bed when they’re sleepy: It’s best to get young children to bed as soon as they start to show signs of sleepiness. They can indicate their tiredness with crying, rubbing their eyes, or becoming fussy. Babies who are put in bed while still sleepy will learn how to get themselves to sleep better than those placed in bed already asleep.
- Keep babies calm and quiet when feeding or changing at night: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding too much stimulation while feeding or changing babies at night. Keep lights and voices low and avoid engaging your baby’s attention.
- Place babies on their backs to sleep: Babies up to one year of age, but especially between one and four months, are at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Place your baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface free of soft objects and loose bedding to reduce the risk.
- Keep a tracking log if you’re concerned: If you feel your baby or toddler isn’t sleeping as well as their peers, consider logging their sleep. It’s tough to remember exactly what happened in the fuzzy early hours of the morning, but a log can help you spot patterns and figure out exactly how much your baby — and you — are sleeping. You may also be able to identify ideal times to put your baby down for the night or even see that you really weren’t up for three hours with your baby even though it certainly felt like it at the time.
- Play during the day: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends talking and playing with your baby during the day. This will lengthen the time they are awake during the day and help encourage sleeping longer at night. Be careful to avoid active play just before bedtime.
- Don’t immediately respond to cries: Teach children to self-soothe by giving them a few minutes before responding to fussing. The American Academy of Pediatrics says you should wait to see if they will fall asleep on their own before checking in.
- Keep consistent sleep habits with all caregivers: While your child is cared for by babysitters, family members, and other caregivers, make sure they’re still consistently following established sleep times and routines so they don’t get off track.
- Treat sleep problems: If you suspect your child has a serious sleep problem that interferes with their ability to get adequate sleep or function well during the day, don’t hesitate to talk to your pediatrician and get help from a sleep specialist if necessary.
- Be patient: Young children are still learning how to sleep well, so it’s important for parents to exercise patience and understanding as they develop good sleep habits. Be patient and supportive and get help if you’re experiencing challenges you can’t handle yourself.
Please share the sleep issues and solutions with little ones from your experience. The wisdom of the group is extremely helpful!