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Encouraging good sleep habits in children

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Sleep is a big part of your child’s good health. Children who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behaviour, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. 

Back to school may mean a rapid close to staying up late and leisurely mornings for many children. Here’s what you can do to help your child adjust your child’s sleep schedule:

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Gradually adjust sleep and wake schedule 10 days to 2 week before the start of the school. A gradual transition helps them adapt better to the challenge of a stringent sleep schedule that comes with the start of school.

Get the right amount of sleep. This varies with the age of the child. For toddlers and pre-schoolers a nap during the day averages 1 to 2.5 hours. They need 12-13 hours of sleep a night. From about five years of age, children no longer need a day nap. School-aged children and pre-teens should get about 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Adolescents, on the other hand, need to get a little more than 9 hours of nightly sleep.

Improve bedtime practices. Children should have a relaxing age-appropriate bedtime routine. The routine should be same every night, so they associate all steps with sleep.

There are several strategies you can use to help your child sleep better. I have listed a few of my favourite strategies below:

He only wants Mom at bedtime: Sleep association is a routine that lets the baby know it is the appropriate time to go to sleep. Parents will often induce sleep by feeding, co-sleeping, rocking their baby. While it may be effective, it needs the parent to be present each the baby wakes up as they form a sleep association with the parent assisted activity. Try a sleeping toy to form a positive sleep association. Make it fun by getting them to choose their favourite sleeping toy and use it only at bedtime and naps.

For the toddler or pre-schooler who asks for something each night at bedtime after lights go out: Try using a “bedtime pass”. These are index cards that you can design at home. Give your little one a few index cards at bedtime (usually, one to three). Let your little one know that they can use the cards after lights out for those last requests. The little one can exchange the card for hug or small request that usually comes once the lights go off. If they do not have any more cards, then give a consistent response such as “It’s bedtime, goodnight.” Or, “You don’t have a pass, I love you, goodnight.” For many little ones, simply having the cards helps reduce the number of times they ask for things.

The distraction plan: This one is for the parent. Your sleep is equally important. Sleep training your child can be stressful especially the first few nights (things get worse before getting better!).  Have a distraction plan for yourself. For example, after putting your baby into bed, take a long shower or read a chapter of your favourite book. Setting up calls with friends or family members who know what you’re doing and support you can also be incredibly helpful!

Babysleep.com has some excellent comprehensive and expert-based information on baby and toddler sleep that you may find helpful.

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. See your doctor if you have a sleep problem, or call 000 if there is a medical emergency.

READ ALSO: Ask the Paediatrician: Could my child have sleep apnoea?

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Vishal Saddi
Dr Vishal Saddi MBBS DCH FRACP is a paediatric Sleep and Respiratory specialist. He grew up in Mumbai and moved to Sydney in 2008. He completed his sleep and respiratory training at the Children's Hospital network in Sydney.

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