The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute tell us, “Sleep, like diet and exercise, is important for our minds and bodies to function normally. In fact, sleep appears to be required for survival. Rats deprived of sleep die within two to three weeks, a time frame similar to death due to starvation.”
Sleep affects every aspect of our lives. Getting adequate sleep ensures we are well-rested, that we feel good, are able to learn, better able to perform adequately at our job and generally impacts the overall quality of our lives.
By 3 months old, babies should be getting about 10 hours of sleep a night, plus about 5 hours of sleep per day (several short naps during the day). A three-year-old requires about 11 hours of nighttime sleep plus a nap during the day. Preschoolers and young elementary aged children still need up to 10 or 11 hours of sleep a night.
Getting children to go to bed can be one of the most challenging parenting tasks we undertake. If we don’t establish a regular bedtime routine early on, it will be hard to implement one as children grow up. How do we get children to go to bed within a reasonable time frame? Then how do we get them to stay there?
Children want and need a routine so they know what is expected and what’s next. They also don’t like not having limits, contrary to all indications otherwise. In other words, children want and need parents to establish and adhere to routines. The bedtime routine that works for each family will vary. Parents need to figure out what works for their situation.
Television, video games and computer games over-stimulate a child’s brain. If children are allowed to watch television or play video games right up until bedtime, it will be more difficult for them to calm down and lay quietly in bed, let alone go to sleep right away! A warm bath, story time or some other quiet, relaxing activity for a few minutes before bedtime will make it easier for children to transition to bedtime.
Whatever your family’s bedtime routine is, stick to it! One way to ensure a smooth bedtime is to establish a “onesie” rule. That means one drink of water, one kiss goodnight, one of everything. If this rule is enforced from the beginning, children won’t know they have a choice. If parents wait until children are three or four, it will be challenging to implement the onesie rule, but it can be done!
At some point, children may have nightmares or see a scary movie and be afraid to stay in their bedroom alone. One way to help children feel safe is to give them a night light. Tell them the night light scares away scary thoughts.
If children get out of bed, direct them back to their bedroom. (You may need to carry them back the first time.) If they need to “go potty” again, tell them they may go one more time, after that if they need to keep going, they will wear a diaper. Don’t argue with them. Just make it clear that you will not engage in hours-long debates or arguments.
The important point is that parents need to be prepared to counter all objections the children may raise. Parenting can be challenging! When parents take control from the beginning, fewer problems develop as children grow up.