With the right dose of vitamin ZZZ’s, your child can be better equipped to fight off colds, perform better in school and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease. So why is it that so many of our youth are sleep deprived? 

The main reasons from the perspective of Courtney Zentz, Pediatric Sleep Specialist and owner of Tiny Transitions Sleep Consulting breaks it down for you:

A Lack of Awareness on Sleep Needs 

Pediatricians don’t often educate parents on the sleep needs of their young patients. Many parents believe their kids are getting the right amount of sleep each night or simply don’t understand the importance of consolidated, independent sleep. 

A breakout from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends: 

  • Infants four to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  • Children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  • Children, three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  • Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

Start with bringing bedtime back, I recommend a bedtime between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm for children under 8 years of age. The bedtime routine should be consistent every night and should be approximately 30 minutes in length. The consistency and duration help children understand that sleep is coming and allows their bodies to prepare for it. A great bedtime routine is a bath, PJ’s, a book, and some cuddles before heading off to sleep for the night.

The Overtired Cycle

Sleep debt is a vicious cycle. Children, especially babies and young toddlers need a significant amount of sleep in a day because their brains are growing and developing so rapidly. The brain “records” all day and “edits” at night, and broken disrupted sleep can interfere with the brain’s process for doing so effectively. If a child gets overtired and the awake windows between their naps is off, the ripple impact is several short naps during the day and trouble settling at bedtime. Couple that with multiple overnight wakings and you all feel it in the morning. The trouble is, how you feel and how they feel is the same, they just can’t express it. 

The guidelines I have designed here for sleep needs by age can be a great starting point for building a day that best aligns with the awake windows your child needs. 

Put Down the Devices for Kid’s Sake

A tablet, smartphone or other electronic gadget is amazing in the moment for an upset child when parents need a moment in the car or to get kids to relax during a night out at dinner. It can, however, it overuse cause more harm than good. Screen time and the excessive use of it by children, teens, and adults however is hindering our ability to unwind, socialize, connect with family and friends and prepare for sleep. 

Results from a 2018 National Institute of Health study showed that screen time may be affecting the structure of the brains of children who are heavy device and media users – specifically, it found a pattern of thinning of the brain’s cortex, typically associated with aging. The other major problem with devices, the blue-light that is omitted from them. 

Blue-light directly suppresses the production of Melatonin, a hormone produced to help prepare our body for sleep. It also can then have a trickle-down impact on their circadian rhythm,  which is responsible for telling their body when it’s time to sleep and wake up, so any disturbances to this cycle will have an effect on your child’s sleep.

I recommend that you restrict total tablet use to under one hour a day and limit any device usage in the hour leading up to bedtime. In addition, ensuring that children are not waking early just because they “know” they get to use the tablet – saving usage for a special reward or weekend, and only for a short time. 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 

We humans (babies and toddlers included), sleep better in the dark so try making your child’s room as dark as possible. I recommend using blackout blinds, double-sided curtains, taping cardboard over the windows, or whatever it takes to block out bright light. In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight, a monitor or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle. Our lightest stages of sleep are between 4:00 am & 6:00 am when artificial light can play an even bigger role is sleep disruption, as the body is preparing itself for the day by producing adrenaline & cortisol and can also be easily woken by light and small noises around the house. If your child or small toddler ‘must’ sleep with a light on, I recommend using this one, as it can easily be turned down after a child is asleep, but keep the tiniest of light on for your little one. 

You Became the Sleep Prop for Your Baby

Most of the families who seek my private coaching services are struggling with sleep and have hit the point where they want to take the guesswork out of why it’s happening and create a program that gets their little one the sleep they need to feel their absolute best. The main challenge for why your little one isn’t consolidating their sleep is that they may not have ever learned how, or became comfortable with the way they were going to sleep and began to prefer it, even if you as a parent were ready to be done. Common ways I see parents get children to sleep is through rocking, feeding, laying with or co-sleeping with their children and when they wake between cycles and they don’t have you there, or try to go back down to sleep, they can’t without your intervention…5, 6 or 7 times a night. 

Sleep is a skill and how we teach our baby to sleep is how they perceive they need to go to sleep. As children grow, they also incorporate the ability to test boundaries and many parents are just so tired, they do whatever they have to for everyone to just get some sleep. When they are waking between cycles, they then become dependent on you to get them back down. If this is your issue today, join my next free Making Over Bedtime Workshop, where I dive into the root of all these challenges and support building back in healthy sleep habits. To start with some positive changes right away, begin to wean slowly off what you are doing. If you were rocking to sleep for example, slowly rock less each night until you reach stillness. This will help to separate using rocking as the mechanism to fall asleep.  

Hang In There

We know that at every stage of life – sleep issues can leave you feeling frustrated. 

Not being able to figure out how to help your child is more frustrating than anything else on the planet. Confused, as you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. You don’t know where to turn. You don’t know how to get things on track and exhausted when your little ones don’t sleep, you don’t sleep. That can leave you feeling agitated, snappy, and miserable. We also know how to GENTLY come in, provide you with the structured program you need to stop the sleep struggle and finally get the rest you (and your little one) CRAVE so that everyone can be at their best. How you feel is how they feel, they just can’t convey it.

My name is Courtney Zentz, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Postpartum Doula, Lactation Counselor and founder of Tiny Transitions. As an award-winning sleep consultant, I help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best.