How to Teach Your Child to Sleep Alone
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the majority of school-age children in the United States are not getting the recommended number of sleep hours most weeknights . This merits concern because sleeping an adequate amount is crucial for a child’s well-being and development. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many unprecedented challenges that cause disruptions in normal routines due to stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and school closures. This can cause anxiety and stress levels to significantly increase, impacting a child’s ability to fall asleep at night. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule for children can be a challenge for many parents as their usual go-to strategies (in-person classes, playing sports, social activities, etc.) are no longer possible. Read on to find out how much sleep your child should be getting and how you can improve their bedtime routine.
How many hours of sleep should children be getting each night?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine published guidelines for the “Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations” based on age group . Check below to see how much sleep your child should be per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis:
- Infants 4 to 12 months of age = 12 to 16 hours of sleep
- Children 1 to 2 years of age = 11 to 14 hours of sleep
- Children 3 to 5 years of age = 10 to 13 hours of sleep
- Children 6 to 12 years of age = 9 to 12 hours of sleep
Why is sleep important for children?
Just like eating a nutritious diet and staying engaged in physical activity, sleep is an important part of a child’s healthy lifestyle. Sleep can improve a child’s mood, behavior, memory, attention, emotional regulation, and mental and physical health . It also plays a crucial role in a child’s academic performance as they feel recharged after a good night’s sleep and more alert at school. Studies have shown that even one less hour of sleep for children three years old and under may cause long-lasting cognitive and behavioral problems by the time they start elementary school . Poor sleep puts children at an increased risk for obesity, anxiety, depression, and hypertension – all which can reduce their quality of life .
How parents can help children readapt to bedtime routine during COVID-19?
- Bedtime Routine: The loss of routine caused by COVID-19 has affected many parents, especially during bedtime. Parents may need to help children readapt to their bedtime routine to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. To help the body acclimate to a consistent sleep schedule, parents should set time cues for when the child should wake up, wind down before bed, and go to sleep . Setting times for changing into pajamas, brushing teeth, and reading a bedtime story can also be incorporated to the schedule so children will know when it is almost time for bed.
- Limit screen time: Children have been spending more time in front of their screens for school, play, and socializing since the start of COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all electronic devices including TV, cell phones, and computers, be shut off thirty minutes before bedtime . The blue light emitted through an electronic screen can make it difficult for your child to fall asleep as it increases alertness and delays the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle .
- Engage in exercise: Due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing, children are no longer playing outside and getting the recommended hours of physical activity (1 hour daily) as much as they used to . Exercise is known to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, so offering playtime throughout the day, even indoors, is a good strategy to help your child to not only fall asleep quicker at night, but also stay asleep to meet the recommended number of sleep hours.
- Sleep environment: Part of establishing good sleeping habits is creating a sleep environment that is conducive for falling asleep. External factors such as the bright light, loud noises, and hot temperature can keep children up at night. Making small adjustments such as dimming the lights, turning off any distracting sounds from the TV or radio, and setting the room to a cool temperature can help a child feel more relaxed and improve the quality of their sleep .
- Calming strategies: Children may become more anxious and stressed during these uncertain times, which can result in insomnia or wanting to stay by their parents’ side at night. It is important to address all worries and concerns before bedtime to make children feel calm, safe, and secure . Discussing the change in the bedtime routine and agreeing on a plan together can help the child understand the importance of a good night’s sleep and make bedtime easier for the whole family.
Making sure your child gets enough sleep each day is extremely important during these stressful and uncertain times. It may take some trial and error to find a sleep routine that works for you and your child but staying consistent with a regular schedule can help them fall asleep easier and quicker each day. However, if your child continues to have difficulty falling asleep, consult with their pediatrician. Write down any irregular sleeping patterns that you notice and express your concerns at your next appointment.
Ressie Jane Ascueta
Ressie Jane Ascueta joined Children’s Bureau as a Communications & Marketing Intern in October 2020. She is a 2nd year Master of Public Health student at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health and is a fellow in the Maternal & Child Health Training Program. Ressie is pursuing a career in heath communication.