Raising Healthy Sleepers (Beyond Infancy)
Steps to Better Sleep
Good sleep habits can begin right after birth. As infants turn into toddlers they often learn to fight the sandman, according to Duke University Medical Center nurse Nancy Murray, who specializes in helping new parents learn the tricks of bringing up baby.
Murray says that one of the most important things a parent can do is to establish a routine that lets the child know it’s time to sleep. Part of that sleep preparation routine involves slowing things down. “It just helps all of us to kind of tone down and get relaxed. Just like you do when you go to bed,” she says. “You can’t be doing something really strenuous and then lie right down and go to sleep easily. It’s the same with children,” she explains.
Murray says that an infant quickly learns that a bath, a bottle, and a lullaby or backrub mean it’s time to sleep. If your nighttime ritual includes rocking your child to sleep, Murray warns that an infant will wake up during the night, and if he associates rocking with dozing off, he might expect you to start the whole bedtime routine over again. She says you need to establish an easily repeatable routine.
Many parents wonder when to move an infant into a separate bedroom. “When a child can’t sleep—or you can’t—because of the presence of the other, or if you can’t be with your wife or husband, then that’s the time you need to start thinking about putting the child in another room,” Murray advises.
As a child grows older, the routines may change, but it is important to continue adhering to some sort of bedtime ritual.
Here are some other tips that can help you establish good sleep patterns that can last your child a lifetime:
- “Schedule” sleep! Making sufficient sleep a family priority by scheduling activities around each family member’s sleep needs can help keep kids on track.
- Create a quiet and comfortable bedroom atmosphere for each child.
- Along those lines, remove televisions and computers from bedrooms.
- Ensure that your child’s diet contains little or no caffeine.
- Keep pregnant moms and young babies away from tobacco smoke. According to Narong Simakajornboon, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist and director of the Tulane Sleep Center, even exposing a pregnant woman to secondhand smoke can interfere with a baby’s sleep and set the stage for a lifetime of sleep issues.
- Learn to recognize sleep problems and seek help to address them.
- Note daytime behavior such as crankiness, uncharacteristic impulsiveness, or overt sleepiness, and consider its association with your child’s sleep—or lack thereof.
- Put sleep on your list of things to discuss with your child’s doctor at regular checkups.
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