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Title: Good Sleep Means a Happy Child

Category: Child Care


In today's fast paced world, we all seem to be short on sleep. Dads are under competitive schedules and have to awaken early. They work or study late into the night or watch TV longer than they should and wake up tired and cranky. Likewise, children are awakened early because both parents work and have to get to day care or school early. They don't get an adequate amount of average hours per night sleep for their needs. This results in a child who is out of kilter and may be hyper at bedtime instead of drowsy. They are certainly not their best selves and their ability to learn at school and function in general is impaired.

They may be crabby, difficult to discipline, strong- willed and aggressive. They may be sluggish and slow but may just as easily be hyperactive and impulsive. This hard-to-control behavior carries forth into the night with difficulty falling asleep and a vicious cycle starts. Dr. Mark Weissbluth M.D., author of the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, says that fatigue from lack of sleep causes increased arousal. In other words, the more tired the child is, the harder it is for them to relax, let go and actually fall asleep without difficulty. How much sleep does a child really need? It varies according to age, from 18 hours a day for a new born, to 8 to 10 hours a day for most older children, teens and adults. Teens, who frequently get the least amount of sleep because of the life styles they lead, are actually felt to need as much as 9 to 10 hours a day for optimal health.

The ideal way to develop good healthy sleep habits is to start them in infancy. Infants need a nice calming routine which is very regular. Ideally, a tucking in process or a quiet reading of a book or listening to a tape of some soft music helps a child to unwind.

The parent should leave the room before the child falls asleep and allow the child to put themselves to sleep in their comfortable, calm environment. Most parents tend to rock infants to sleep and studies show that this fosters dependence on rocking and the children are not able to fall asleep unless they are rocked every single time. Also many parents have the children in bed with them with noises, telephone, television, etc. distracting the child and making it almost impossible to develop good consistent sleep habits for the child. Many children, because of bad habits of the past, have a hard time going to sleep and will literally scream for hours at a time and demand that the parents stay with them until they fall asleep. This is a time when the parents have to be firm and persistent and start a regular routine and stick to it. They may have to watch the clock and go back to the room every 5, 10, 20, and 40 minutes and check on the child who is screaming but they should not pick up the child, rock them or in any way reinforce their wakefulness. They simply must say "It's time to sleep and you are okay, so go back to sleep and I'll see you in the morning."

By establishing good habits in infancy and carrying them through childhood, you will be doing your child and yourself a great favor. We all would be better off if we slow down a little, take naps when we need them and get enough hours sleep on a regular basis so that we can be our best selves. Several good references, if you have problems or need help in this area or Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Mark Weisbluth, M.D., The Sleep Book For Tired Parents, by Rebecca Huntley, Getting Your Child To Sleep and Back to Sleep, by Vicky Lansky, and Nighttime Parenting, by William Seers, M.D.