Everyone knows the signs of a tired child: the violent mood swings, from slap-happy giggler to tantrum-throwing thundercloud in a matter of seconds. Over-tired episodes can strike without warning, so the best way to avoid them is with preventative maintenance: ensure that your child is getting enough sleep on a daily basis.
Even though it may not seem like it to the exhausted new mother, babies tend to sleep quite a bit between feedings. In the first few months of their lives, newborns usually establish a pattern of nursing every two or three hours and sleeping most of the time in between. Early on, it’s best to let the infant sleep whenever it wants (tired mothers can time their naps with the baby’s to catch up on sleep lost during midnight and early-morning feedings).
As infants grow, they will gain the ability to sleep longer during the night and stay awake more during the day. As their sleep schedules start to change, it is important to start training them to an a.m./p.m nap schedule. The goal is one morning nap, and one afternoon nap, usually around two hours each, but it may be necessary to allow some babies a transition period of three or four shorter naps a day. Overall, older babies will be able to tolerate longer periods of waking or sleeping, but they should still get between twelve and sixteen hours of sleep per every twenty-four hour period.
As babies approach their first birthday, they undergo many changes in their lives. They begin to eat solid foods, which stays with them longer, enabling a schedule of larger meals spaced farther apart. As a result, sleep becomes more regular; toddlers will easily sleep through the night and needless catching up during the day.
This is the time to transition to one mid-day nap. The lack of a morning nap may mean the transitioning toddler may fall asleep earlier in the afternoon, usually directly after lunch, and sleep for a longer period. A nap of about two or three hours, with approximately ten hours of sleep during the night, will prepare an active toddler for their busy day.
As children grow, their need for sleep decreases. Some preschool-aged children have already grown out of their nap, but most still need around two hours of sleep mid-day. Even those children who don’t nap should have at least an hour of enforced quiet time, a time during which they must read or amuse themselves with an equally quiet activity, to recharge their energy and prevent crankiness toward the end of the day.
Most school-agers have more or less outgrown their nap, although they might occasionally need to catch up on some Z’s when they haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before, or when they are sick or stressed. Don’t be fooled by your child’s increasing desire for less sleep, however, school-agers (and many teens) still need nine or ten hours of sleep a night.
Tips to Remember
It sounds all very well in print, but most of us know that getting children to sleep can be quite a challenge. When the going gets rough, always remember that when enforcing bedtime and naps, you are doing so with the child’s best interests in mind.
For smoother transitions into sleep, set up a schedule, and stick to it. Remember, the regularity of sleep is just as important as sleep itself.For smoother