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August 4th, 2021

Sleep on it! Your Child’s Optimal Sleep Schedule, and How to Attain it

Your child’s sleep schedule has been a hot topic for family, friends, experts, and absolute strangers to comment and speculate on since before your child was even born. Now, as extracurriculars, school schedules, and screen time start to invade on our children’s rest, the only feedback it feels that we are getting is that no matter what we do, we are getting it wrong. Let’s quiet some of that noise and ask the experts where they stand on children’s sleep. How much do they need, when is the best time to get it, and what is the best way to adjust a sleep schedule to suit your child’s needs!

How Much is Enough?

The Centers for Disease Control have spent decades studying the effects of sleep and sleep deprivation on people of all ages. They have created this easy guideline to help you picture how much sleep your child needs every day — including naps — for peak mental, physical, and emotional health.

If your child isn’t getting enough sleep, you may find them irritable, sluggish, aggressive, forgetful, and struggling to focus on tasks. A lack of sleep or of quality sleep can also lead to seemingly unrelated health issues, like headaches, obesity, and digestive issues. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, the following is a look at about how much sleep the average child needs per 24 hours. Your child may need a little more or less, but if your child is sleeping significantly longer, or still seems fatigued and unfocused after getting the suggested amount of sleep, speak with their pediatrician about other possible underlying causes.

Newborns to 3 months                                                  14-17 hours

Infants to 12 months                                                      12-16 hours

Toddlers through age 2                                                  11-14 hours

Ages 3-5                                                                         10-13 hours

Ages 6-12                                                            9-12 hours

Teens                                                                               8-10 hours

Transitioning From Summer

Most of us try our best to keep our children on a pretty standard sleep schedule, even when school isn’t in session. This is best for children’s development, discipline, and our own sanity, as those hours between the children’s bedtime and our own might be the only quiet time to connect with our partners, fold laundry, or simply watch a movie that isn’t animated. But summer memories do sometimes get the better of our plans, and getting back on track needs to be a fairly gradual process.

If your child’s bedtime routine has completely fallen off track, don’t sweat it! There is still plenty of time before school is back in session for a no-tears transition back to a reasonable schedule. Start by moving the bedtime rituals back into place. Pick a time to close the kitchen, ask children to take their baths, brush their teeth, and begin storytime. Slowly move the time you begin the process up by 15 minutes each night. Children won’t likely notice the slightly earlier time, and you can get them back to their optimal bedtime in a week or two.

Bedrooms should be a screen-free zone

Set an alarm for no later than 6 pm for all electronics to be turned off and on chargers for the night. Reducing late-night blue light can help children enjoy a much more restful sleep, and gives their brains time to transition away from busyness to peace. Try an easy family yoga routine. As little as 15 minutes of deep, slow stretches can help ease growing pains in the legs, and help little bodies master their breathing. We found this wonderful bedtime yoga story and stretch set to peaceful sounds that we love for settle-down time!

Countering Bedtime Objections

There are a number of very standard bedtime objections that every child keeps in their pocket to squeeze just a little more out of each day. We always begin our bedtime routine at least 40 minutes before we actually expect to kiss our children goodnight, because we know these objections are coming and have built in some grace for them.

  1. It’s too early!
    As fall approaches, the sun will start setting at a much more bedtime-appropriate hour. For now, however, the sun is still staying up past your children’s bedtime. Consider investing in blackout curtains for nurseries and bedrooms, and moving into the room earlier for stories, stretching, and end-of-the-day conversations. Just 15 minutes in a non-lit room can help children transition into bedtime mode more easily.
  2. But I’m hungry!
    If your child always finds themselves hungry the moment they’re between the sheets, try offering them a snack each night before they brush their teeth. Cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt all contain tryptophan, the feel-good sleepy time amino acid that makes everyone nap after eating too much turkey. It also contains calcium, which helps the body absorb and process tryptophan! Other great bedtime snacks include bananas and kiwi. These fruits contain a healthy serving of potassium, which can curb those bedtime growing pains.
  3. I’m thirsty!
    Bedtime tea parties are a great way to set the tone for sleep, and chamomile tea helps your child feel restful, while creating a warm and happy bedtime routine they will always treasure!
  4. There’s a monster in my closet!
    Create your own monster repellant by mixing essential oils and water in a spray bottle. Try relaxing scents like lavender, clary sage, or rose oil. This spray will have the added benefit of creating a connection in your child’s brain, linking that scent to the feeling of being safe! Work together to spray into the closet, under the bed, and in the corners of your child’s room to help them feel at ease.
  5. One. More. Story.
    We know it isn’t one more story. Ten more stories wouldn’t be enough. The story is important for their love of reading, but it’s not the real objection. They want ten more minutes of you! We can’t help you there. You are the one who made your child feel safe and loved in your presence, and it’s entirely your fault that they want a little more of that feeling before they go to sleep. Since you are in fact guilty of being someone your child adores, we suggest you accept your punishment and snuggle that little one for another ten minutes or so. This is why we start bedtime early.

End the Day With Gratitude

It can be tempting to use this last encounter to remind children of changes they could make. To rehash confrontations and underscore the importance of responsibility or kindness. But bedtime isn’t the time to meditate on mistakes. Instead, try ending the day on a grateful note. Ask them what their favorite thing was about the day. What was the best thing they ate, saw, or learned? What is one thing they wouldn’t change about today for a million dollars? Tell them something you saw that made you proud, or remind them of something fun or funny they did that made you smile. And remind them how excited you are for another day with them tomorrow.

As children prepare for back to school, and parents continue to do everything they can to keep them happy and healthy, Wonder Bunch will keep asking experts for their tips and tricks to make it all a little more accessible!