Recently another blogger asked me for the five most things I thought that all parents should know about sleep. It was a bit hard for me to narrow it down, as this whole site is basically my answer to this question. After some reflection, here is my most critical sleep advice for parents:
- A good bedtime is critical for sleep success. Whether your child is 3 months, 3 years, or 13 years old, the most important area to focus on for good sleep is bedtime. A good bedtime occurs at a consistent time and is predictable and pleasant. In our home, my boys brush teeth, bathe, read stories, sing songs, and then have lights out. One trouble area for parents is that bedtime rituals can become too long and jumbled. For example, if the child is going upstairs then downstairs then outside then back to his or her bedroom, he or she is likely going to have some problems falling asleep. For older children and teens (And adults for that matter) it is important to “power down” by turning off screens (and removing from the bedroom) and relaxing for 30–60 minutes prior to bedtime. in terms of consistency and value. Be a bedtime drill sergeant and make sure that bedtime moves along efficiently.
- Sleep training doesn’t hurt your child, and may not even involve crying. Since Dr. Sears published The Baby Book in 1993 and started the attachment parenting movement, many parents have become leery of sleep training, which has become synonymous with “crying it out” (CIO). Both Dr. Sears and some more marginal sources have even suggested that sleep training is neglect, or even that it can brain damage your child. I would like to set the record straight. 1. There is no evidence that sleep training harms children, and good evidence that it improves sleep qualities and benefits families. 2. Crying may be necessary in some cases but can be minimized by a later bedtime (bedtime fading) and techniques like gradual withdrawal of parental presence, or “camping out”. Here’s an article from Time on how Dr. Sears may have taken liberties in interpreting the scientific literature here.
- Some kids sleep better than others When I was a baby, I slept for 18 hours a day, and my mother was really concerned about this. Other infants may sleep for 12 hours a day at first (and I guarantee that those hours are not occurring in a row). Differences can persist into childhood. (And her kid may be a picky eater, or like to eat dirt, etc).So if your friend’s child is a perfect sleeper and yours is not, don’t stress too much. You can have good sleep but it may require a bit more diligence. Here’s a link to my comprehensive list of evidence based sleep training methods.
- Snoring is not normal and should be investigated. Some kids who snore may have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, where the airway (the breathing tube from the nose and mouth to the voice box) may narrow or close and open during the night. This problem can be associated with sleep disruption and drops in oxygen levels, as well as daytime problems with behavior and attention. Most (but not all) kids with OSA snore, and frequent or loud snoring should be discussed with your pediatrician, especially in the first year of life. The evaluation may include an overnight sleep test. Treatment options can include allergy medications, removal of the tonsils or adenoids, or orthodontic work. Here’s more on obstructive sleep apnea in children.
- Sleep deprivation is toxic, both for parents and adults. In children and teens, inadequate sleep is associated with a myriad of issues including behavioral and mood problems, weight gain, and difficulties in school. Most younger children will not be sleep deprived as they will go to sleep when tired and wake up when they are rested. However, if you routinely need to wake your school age child in the morning, or if they easily fall asleep on short car trips, it is worth checking to see if they have had enough sleep. For more information on how much sleep kids and grownups need, here are the recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation. Teenagers are a different story; according to a recent survey by the CDC 90% of teens are sleep deprived, and the primary culprit is in appropriately early school start times. To learn more about this issue, go check out Start School Later. and start advocating in your community for this issue.
Thanks to Kelley at Happy Healthy Kids for asking me these questions. You can read the original post here. Is there anything that I missed that is in your top 5 most important sleep tips?