It’s probably no secret to you that in today’s fast paced, technology driven world, both children and parents alike are sleep deprived. You can read many studies online on the effects of sleep deprivation, but you probably know exactly how YOU feel when you don’t get enough sleep, right? Crabby, sluggish, foggy and tired! Now imagine how your toddler feels! And you wonder why he’s cranky?! A 2012 study at the University of Colorado in Boulder cited that, “…toddlers between 2 and a half and 3 years old who miss only a single daily nap show more anxiety, less joy and interest and a poorer understanding of how to solve problems.” Yes, for kids, lack of sleep affects their learning! And in this critical period of rapid brain growth and important cognitive development, this is something we clearly do not want for our toddlers.
What are some tips to help your child get the sleep that he or she needs?
- Establish a daily routine with consistent daily sleep and wake times. Sleep relies a lot on your internal biological clock and if you read about adult sleeplessness, it encourages adults to set the same sleep and wake times as well. Turn off the TV, curtail ambient light sources and put that phone away at least an hour before bedtime. Contrary to what you might think little ones seem to respond much better to having an earlier than a later bedtime. So for toddlers, putting your kids down at 7pm or at least by 8pm is perfect.
- Keep those naps! So many parents give into toddler and preschool protests at nap time and think “I guess my child has outgrown her nap”. This so NOT true. If you set a nap time routine from infancy and STICK TO IT, you can keep your toddler napping well into preschool and even kindergarten age. And it’s IMPORTANT for their overall health. So when your child protests a nap, simply reinforce “quiet time”. This means he goes to his bedroom, no TV or iPad, and can pick a quiet activity such as a book, stuffed toy, action figure. You can’t force him to sleep. But guess what? In the middle of the afternoon when kids are given this down time break, even if it’s only a ½ hour, they often DO fall asleep. Why? Because they NEED sleep! And also, contrary to what you may think, napping during the day does not equate to sleeping less at night-it actually helps kids sleep better at night!
- Teach your kids some relaxation techniques with your bedtime routine. Turn off the TV, iPad and anything electronic an hour BEFORE it’s time for bed. Make bedtime relaxing and quiet with soft soothing music/white noise/nature cds, bath time and story time. A warm bath, lotion massages (lavender scent is calming and soothing for sleep) and a story in bed will promote kids to listen and be still. But don’t give in to the 3 more books routine. Toddlers still like to delay sleep!
- Pay attention to your child’s nutrition, particularly what he/she eats before climbing into bed. Bedtime snacks should never be sugary, nor should your child climb into bed with a bottle or sippy cup of milk or (God forbid) juice. Sugar encourages activity and sugar in snacks and beverages at bedtime promotes tooth decay. Foods high in carbs and protein can be calming, so think things like peanut butter whole wheat toast, a whole grain bagel, low sugar cereals, or cheese sticks.
- Pay attention to activity levels. Help your child be active and get adequate exercise and physical playtime throughout the day. Then wind-down that physical play as the day goes on. Vigorous exercise right before bed, such as rough housing, although exhausting for your child, may actually wind him up too much for climbing into bed and falling asleep easily.