Sleep the First Few Years
The first few years of a child’s life comes with it many developmental milestones, transitions and changes. It can sometimes feel like it’s hard to keep up with them! When it comes to a child’s sleep however, there are certain key aspects that should remain the same and consistent in order to maintain a healthy sleep foundation.
Wake-up time. Regardless of what age your child is (newborn-5 years old) an appropriate wake-up time for this age range is 6:00-7:00am. Some children will wake-up 30 minutes earlier and are termed “early risers” while others wake-up close to 7:30am. The reasoning behind this recommended wake up time has much to do with the biology of children and their sleep cycles being shorter. It takes several years before babies sleep cycles start to resemble that of an adult and the earlier sleep times are impacted by a child's circadian rhythms.
Naps. If your child is taking multiple naps per day you’ll want to make sure you are following their circadian rhythms and putting the child down to sleep at around 8:30/9:00am, 12:30/1:00pm and a third variable cat nap around 3-3.5 hours after the second nap has ended if they are 8 months or younger. 8-9 months old and up follow the same times for 2 naps a day, while dropping the third nap. As a child drops down to 1 nap a day, you’ll still want that nap to be around 12:30/1:00 to make sure it is both mentally and physically restorative.
Bedtime. Regardless of what age your child is within those first few years, you’ll always want to aim for a bedtime between 6:00-8:00pm. If your child is taking longer naps the later end may make the most sense. For some children taking poor or no naps, a 5:30-6:00 bedtime will be exactly what their body needs. In my line of work as a developmental therapist, I see many parents putting their 2 year old child to sleep when they sleep (around 10:00pm) and then waking up around 8:30/9:00 am. This then impedes their nap schedule and it’s a vicious cycle that can feel hard to get out of. A 2 year old’s sleep is not going to mimic an adult’s sleep and it shouldn’t. Their little bodies need to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, whether we like it or not!
Consistent sleep space. Whether you are room sharing with your child or they have their own room, keep the place that they sleep for day time and night time consistent. This will lead to less resistance from the child, decreased anxiety about the sleep process and a smoother transition to bedtime and nap time.
Respect the child’s need for sleep. Sometimes it can be hard as a parent to move your social calendar around to meet the sleep needs of your child but children need sleep like they need healthy food. It’s a fundamental nutritional need for their brain development during the first few years of their life. Whether your child is on 4 naps a day or 1 nap a day, your child’s sleep needs should be a family priority.
Think about sleep in the same way you view nutrition and the food we put into our bodies. Do you want your young child to have a diet consisting of junk food (naps on the go in the car or stroller, late bedtime) or a diet made up of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins (sleeping according to their circadian rhythms and biological needs)? On top of the long term health benefits of sleep to your child’s brain development and the positive impact sleep has on mood and behavior, think about how your child’s sleep can positively impact your life with your spouse. More time to be together, talk, connect and get your “date night” back into your life. As your child gets older, you’ll also get your social calendar back on track and start going out at night on the weekends (although this does hurt the next day when you have to wake up at 7:00am)!
If you find that despite your greatest efforts, you are still struggling to get your child on an appropriate sleep schedule, Peaceful Sleep Consulting is here to help! Reach out to Emily at (203) 658-7967 for a free 15 minute consultation to inquire more about our services and how Peaceful Sleep Consulting can restore sleep to the whole family.