During the first 6 years of life, children are wired to wake early and go to bed early. It’s important for children to get the quality and quantity of sleep they need. Not only does it help them have a better day and night, it helps build their memory, immune system, and developmental needs for these formative years of their life.
Of course this is easier said than done; however a few little changes in your daily routine could be enough to create a healthy habit of getting all the sleep you need.
Create quality sleep by examining your sleep environment. Keep the room dark with darkening shades or even just a dark sheet in the window and use a sound machine. These positive sleep associations help promote the body’s natural melatonin process to help create tired and sleepy children. Restorative sleep is achieved when our child is sleeping in their crib, bed, or pack n play. Keep sleep in swings and car seats to a minimum, otherwise you might create a sleep crutch of your child needing motion to sleep.
Up until age 9, children need to get a solid 10-11 hour period of sleep to get the quantity of sleep they need. The exception to this is of course is during the first months of life when calories by nursing or bottle feeding are necessary for your child’s growth and development. But usually around 6-9 months of age, your pediatrician may share that your child is growing and developing well and should be able to sleep through the night.
When you create consistent bedtimes and wake times you help regulate your child and their natural body clock - the circadian rhythm. By observing your child and following their sleepy cues (yawning, eye rubbing, ear tugging, zoning out) you can help them get to bed during their natural sleep window when there is a deep pressure for sleep. What happens when we miss this sleep window is that children will get their “second wind” and are on an adrenaline rush from cortisol. This is usually when the bedtime battles occur, sleep deficits take place, and children may misbehave, meltdown during the day, and may not be as adaptable as they could be. Some children that do not get the quality and quantity of sleep may show symptoms similar to those of children with ADD/ADHD.
Getting to bed early may sound counter intuitive and may not make logical sense. Most of us think, if I keep my child up, they will sleep in later. Most children during these first 6 years of life will still wake up at the same time between 6-7am regardless of what time they went to bed. What most parents will find that for children that are sleep deprived and don’t get the hours of sleep they need, their child may actually wake more frequently during the night and wake up ready to start their day before 6am.
If bedtime is a battle in your home, it’s possible that your child may be telling you that they can’t handle anymore. Aim to have children in bed and asleep between 6:30 and 7:30pm to get the quality and quantity sleep they need so they can restore and be ready to explore, learn, and grow the next day. Remember, sleep begets sleep.