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How Much Sleep Should My Child Be Getting?

Wondering just how much sleep your child should be getting?

Anthea Savage offers some guidelines, as well as helpful tips on how to encourage good sleep routine for your toddler.

Understanding your child’s sleep

Disruption to a child’s daily routine, such as staying up late and then lying in the next morning, can naturally shift their sleep pattern away from the ideal bedtime. By reprogramming your child’s circadian rhythm, you can improve their concentration and help create a more harmonious family environment

Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark, and these rhythms take time to develop. The rhythms begin to develop at about six weeks, and by three to six months, most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle.

By the age of two, most children have spent more time asleep than awake and overall, a child will spend 40 per cent of his or her childhood asleep. Sleep is especially important for children, as it directly impacts on their mental and physical development. A child who is difficult to wake in the morning (at around 7am-8am), wakes up grumpy and tearful, or shows a lack of concentration or behavioural problems during the day could be suffering from sleep deprivation.

Sleep is especially important for children, as it
directly impacts on their mental and physical development.

Tips to establish a bedtime routine

To ensure your child gets enough sleep, it’s important to establish a relaxing bedtime routine. The routine should last no longer than 30-45 minutes, and be consistent every night. Triggers or associations for sleep are also extremely important and will help your child to learn that it’s time for the “long sleep”.

The routine might include a bath at 7pm, a story at 7.30pm and lights out at 7.45pm.

For older children, it might be a snack, then pyjamas and brushing teeth at 7.30pm, a story at 7.45pm and lights out at 8pm.

There is no hard and fast rule – except that it must be the same routine every night, even at weekends. Any morning lie-ins could have a knock-on effect later in the day and cause disruption to the night time routine.

For toddlers, it can be a little more difficult, because of the increase in their motor, cognitive and social abilities. In addition, their ability to get out of bed, separation anxiety, the need for autonomy, and the development of the child’s imagination can all lead to sleep problems. Before toddlers go to bed, it’s important to check they have no reason to get up. Have they been to the toilet/had their nappy changed, been given a drink and aren’t too hot or cold?

Before toddlers go to bed, it’s important to check they have no reason to get up

If they have a habit of getting up, consider this:

  1. The first time he or she gets up, remind your child that it’s bedtime, lead him or her back to bed, give a cuddle, and leave the bedroom.
  2. Do the same a second time, but use a firmer voice and make the cuddle brief.
  3. The third and any subsequent times, say nothing at all as you lead them back to bed, tuck them in, and leave the room. This is the hard part, but illustrates to your child that you aren’t giving in. A reward system might help to reinforce the new routine, such as a gold star for each night they stay in bed – with five stars resulting in a treat.
Sleep requirements in a 24-hour period
  • Up to 3 months: 12-18 hours. Tired signals include fussing, crying or rubbing their eyes. Put them in the cot when they are drowsy, not asleep, so they associate tiredness with bedtime
  • 3-11 months: 14-15 hours. Differentiate between daytime and night time routines with triggers
  • 1-3 years: 12-14 hours. By 18 months, their daytime naps may disappear to one 1-3 hour nap a day
  • Preschoolers: 11-13 hours. Avoid distractions in the bedroom, such as TV or computers.
  • 5-12 years: 10-11 hours. Avoid caffeine and sugar after 6pm; no TV/computers in the bedroom
  • Teens: 8.5-9.25 hours
  • Adults: 7-9 hours
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