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The importance of sleep is often overlooked in many busy families these days. Overall good sleep hygiene and bedtimes routines need to be set early during infancy and early childhood. This is often a big issue in busy families often where the parents work different hours from each other or the children have many after school activities. Pediatricians always ask during well exams about sleep and sleep routines because it is such a big part of overall health in children.
In general, infants in the first couple of months of life sleep 16-18 hours a day then this soon moves to 12-14 hours in later infancy and toddlerhood. Even at school age a good 12 hours of sleep is essential which then turns into 9 hours in the teen years to 8 hours in adulthood.
Good sleep hygiene or bedtime routines can start to be established in the first few months of infancy. The best time to start is when the baby starts to sleep and eat on more of a routine schedule usually at around 2-4 months of age and not in the first couple of months when they are just eating and sleeping all day. Sleep hygiene is a very important part of the bedtime routine. This is the time before bedtime where we help children calm and wind down for the night and put them into the mindset for having a good night’s sleep. Calm activities, warms baths, warm milk or a non-caffeinated tea (like chamomile or sleepy time) in older children can help calm the body and mind. No activities that excite the brain, like TV watching or video games should be played. Any major eating should be about 2 hours before bedtime in older children so as not to cause upset stomachs or heartburn in the children. This routine should begin at the same time every night and there should be a consistency to it so a child’s mind is trained to expect that every night.
Families should be mindful of keeping the daily routine the same. Remember consistency is the key. If there are different work schedules there should be one parent designated every night to keep that consistency going.
Studies have shown good sleep translates to higher grades, less behavioral issues, decreases in obesity and overeating and decreased stress all resulting in overall better health for the whole family.