Parents everywhere are watching NBC's new show Up All Night, starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as the sleep-starved parents of an adorable baby with night owl tendencies. While the show may be funny, nobody wants to live it in real life. To avoid starring in your own version of Up All Night, help get your kids to sleep with these tips.
Find Your Baby’s Sleep Number
According to sleep expert Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., late bedtimes cause many childhood sleep problems, because overtiredness makes it harder for children to get to sleep and stay asleep. But figuring out when to put your baby to bed can be tough. To find your baby's perfect bedtime, first determine how many hours of sleep they need in a 24-hour period to determine how many hours they can comfortably stay awake per day. Set your child's bedtime so that they're not awake longer than that, and you'll prevent overtiredness that can wreck nighttime sleep.
For example, a one-year-old who needs 14 hours of daily sleep can stay awake for 10 hours per day. If your child gets up at 6am and naps for three hours each day, they need a standing 7pm date with their bed. (Hint: Newborns need between 14 and 16 hours of shut-eye per day; tots one to three years old need 12 to 14 hours; and kids three to six need 10 to 12 hours.)
Nix the Nightlight
You may love the way your child's smile lights up a room, but when it comes to sleep, the best light is no light at all. Nighttime light disrupts melatonin production, and even a small nightlight or the light from the baby monitor can be enough to prevent deep, restful sleep. Dim the house lights after dinner and install effective blackout blinds to get the bedroom truly dark. A black twin-sized flat sheet can be folded in half and tacked around a window in a pinch.
Sleep doctors agree that an effective bedtime routine is one that's absolutely set in stone: The same things, in the same order, every night. “Our bodies love routine, and this is especially so with children and bedtime,” says Teitelbaum. Performing the same events in the same sequence before bed cues a child's subconscious for sleep. Sure, a routine this solid is bound to get boring for you. But the routine is for their sake, not yours (and a happily snoozing child is well-worth the effort).
Shut Down Media Mayhem
Bright lights, fast-paced activity and over-stimulating content are bedtime don'ts. So television, which pours out light and stimulation just as kids should be winding down for sleep, has no place in a bedtime routine. Numerous studies have linked television-watching with poor sleep in children, yet it remains a common evening activity in millions of households with young kids. Turn off the boob tube at bedtime, and use the time before bed for reading and other quiet activities instead.
The best bedtime snacks contain sleep-inducing tryptophan along with complex carbohydrates to help tryptophan cast its sleepy spell. Nut butter on whole-grain toast, cheese on whole-grain crackers and cereal with milk or soy milk are great, healthy options. Be sure to serve the snack an hour before bedtime - sleeping on a full stomach can contribute to poor sleep and nightmares.
Practice the Pacifier
Pediatrics reports that nearly 70 per cent of parents give pacifiers to their newborns. And it's likely that a good portion of these parents find themselves getting up at night to replug their baby's lost binky. The sooner a child learns to manage his or her own pacifier, the better everyone sleeps, so give your baby plenty of practice. Incorporate “paci practice” into tummy time and playtime, and your baby will be self-plugging in no time.
Start Sunny Side Up
For an easier bedtime, start your child's day off the bright way. Strong morning light helps set your child's internal clock so they'll fall asleep more easily come nightfall. Open their curtains to let the light shine in, and serve breakfast in a sunny spot. When weather permits, take a quick stroll around the block.
Avoid Nap Traps
Naps are important to babies and young children - they promote healthy nighttime rest, and new research from Emory University shows that they help babies learn and retain new information. But napping all day is guaranteed to make your baby nocturnal. To promote healthy naps while preserving nighttime sleep, don't allow naps longer than three hours. For most babies and young children, naps of an hour or two are long enough to be restorative without robbing nighttime sleep.
Get Kids Moving
Moving all day can help your baby sleep all night. A body in motion is one that's primed for sleep, because exercise helps children fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. So put away your stroller and carrier and let your little one move. Aim for at least 60 minutes per day of vigorous activity. Toddlers and young children need plenty of chances to walk and run; babies need lots of time on their tummies and backs to wiggle, stretch and work their muscles.
Malia is a nationally published sleep journalist, columnist, author and mom of two.
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