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One of my favorite topics to talk about with parents is child sleep strategies.  Better sleep can be the answer to many childhood problems.  Studies have linked poor sleep to behavior problems, poor school performance and even obesity.  Good sleep hygiene starts in infancy and carries over into every stage of life.

Birth

Newborns sleep an average of 18-20 hours per day.  Add in feedings every  2-3 hours, and you can see why “sleeping like a baby” is not really good sleep.  This is a good age to use the “feeding on demand” schedule.

2 Months

By this age feeding schedules start to get more consistent and so do naps.  Try a routine of sleep, eat, awake time, and sleep again.  This gives you and baby a routine and some predictability.  It will also help you “sleep train” by preventing a habit of falling asleep during feeding.  Sleep training is the process of teaching babies to self-soothe and fall asleep by themselves.

4 Months

This is the age at which most babies let you know they are ready to fall asleep by themselves because they wake up as soon as you lay them down to sleep.  There are many methods for sleep training so I recommend reading through the various books about sleep to pick a method that works for you.  The key is to have a routine that is the same every time your child goes to sleep.  This will get the child ready for sleep and also signal to him/her that it is bedtime.

6 Months

By now an independent sleeper takes 3 naps per day and should be able to sleep 10-12 hours per night without waking.  If your child is still waking, talk to your pediatrician about whether or not your baby still needs the feedings overnight.

9 Months -2 Years

Babies transition to 2 naps per day (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) and then to 1 mid-day nap over this time frame, still with 10-12 hours at night.

3-5 Years

Most toddlers will start to give up the nap during this time.  Be careful though: they will likely need an earlier bedtime once this happens.

School Age

Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep for these kids.  Sports and homework will definitely keep kids awake so time management will be important.  Most kids will need anywhere from 9-12 hours of sleep per night.

Many things can interfere with sleep.  Illness, teething, developmental milestones, new foods, and a wild imagination can all keep your child awake.  Furthermore, TVs in the room and electronics with lit screens also interfere with sleep by shutting off the body’s melatonin release.

Finally, the most important thing a parent can do is learn to recognize cues that indicate tiredness.  You want to get your children in bed when they are tired and ready to go to sleep.  Waiting to put your child to sleep will cause a cortisol release, keeping the child awake and causing the child to be “overtired.”

This child might actually appear to be energized and wide awake but is exhausted and is going to be the hardest child to get down for sleep.

Keep in mind that every child and family is different and one size does not fit all.  Also, keep that same advice in mind when reading the multitude of sleep books that are available.  If it doesn’t feel right for you and your child, don’t do it. When in doubt, consult with your pediatrician for questions.

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