January 2021 Newsletter: Young Children and Sleep


Adequate sleep is critical for healthy development in young children.  Good sleep habits correlate with improved attention, better memory retention, more consistent emotional regulation, better listening skills, improved balance and muscle coordination, and better physical health. Inadequate sleep correlates with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, among many other disorders.

   The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Sleep Medicine endorsed sleep guidelines in 2016 that include the following recommendations:

· Infants 4-12 months old should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours;

· Children 1-2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours;

· Children 3-5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours.

   To help your child sleep better at night, limit screen time during the day, and especially within the 30 minutes prior to bedtime, do not allow your child to watch television, play video games or use any other screens. Screens are a consistent cause of children’s inability to settle down at night.  Instead of activities using screens to transition your child to bed, which is counterproductive, try reading aloud to your child, which just works better and has the added benefits of supporting your child’s vocabulary development and reinforcing emotional connectedness.

   Please also help your child by maintaining a regular bedtime routine, such as (1) use the potty; (2) change into pajamas; (3) brush teeth; (4) settle into bed with a read-aloud story; (5) say goodnight; and (6) shut off the lights.  Consistent routines that reduce sensory stimulation send the clear, unambiguous message that the expectation is to go to sleep.

   For children with poor nighttime sleep habits, we are sometimes asked to keep them awake at naptime. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that limiting sleep at naptime does not enable children to sleep better at night and only compounds the negative effects of poor night-time sleep.

   For additional guidance, see www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Healthy-Sleep-Habits-How-Many-Hours-Does-Your-Child-Need.aspx and www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/encouraging-healthy-sleep-habits. Beth Grams Haxby, Ed.M., our favorite go-to sleep consultant, has since retired, but we are happy to circulate her handouts, also available at www.sleepandparenting.com.

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