Children under five need at least 12-14 hours of sleep but generally, they’re not getting it. Sleep is the only time their brains are developing, and 95% of growth only occurs during sleep.
There are 5 big hurdles the older baby faces.
1. Consistent bed-times
Consistency is your friend. If a toddler gets to bed at 9:30 PM, she’ll be up and down at night, up early in the morning and cranky all day. Like creates like, and if a toddler doesn’t get enough sleep, they learn to run on hormones. They are in survival mode and the parents are also. They’ll go into a a second wind, a third wind, then crash deeply. As crazy as it sounds, an overactive toddler likely hasn’t had enough sleep
It’s a completely different scenario from a happily energized toddler with 12 hours of sleep plus a two to three hour nap. A sleep deprived toddler is hyperactive, has a shorter attention span, is moody, intense, lacks patience, and shows other signs that they’re deeply over tired. It can take three to seven days to get them back on track.
Bad habits breed bad sleep patterns. It’s up to parents and nannies working together to come back to the schedule. Do it gradually. If a toddler has been going to bed late, work towards moving it 15 minutes earlier. Keep that schedule for three nights, then move it forward another 15 minutes. They immediately respond to consistency just like adults. If bedtime is the same every night, it’s much easier to go to sleep. A consistent bedtime is really important for a newborn but equally crucial for toddlers.
2. Electronic Stimulation
In the car, at home, we have the radio, TV, computer, phone and ipad on day and night. When Dad’s home, the TV may be on more. There’s constant stimulation. Children are being overstimulated and we’re raising a generation who doesn’t know how to be quiet or alone. We’re gradually losing the art of personal intercommunication.
If your child isn’t sleeping well, cut back on the stimulation. Teach them how to sit and flip book pages, play by themselves, or play quietly with a train set. Have a quiet relaxing bath. Do the same routine every night.
It takes an hour after screen time before they’re chilled out enought to sleep.
We know this is hard because lots of people use the TV as a way to distract children so they can get things done.
For adults, this is even more important than for children. Impose the ‘no electronics’ rule for one hour before everyone’s bedtime. Nothing decreases deep REM sleep more than electronic stimulation, and it takes that long for the mind to process the stimulation so it can rest. People who watch TV while falling asleep get 40% less REM slelep. The brain needs time to process all the incoming information and work everything out. Electronics are much more stimulating than reading or a conversation, and it’s really important to let your mind decompress before sleep.
A famous author once wrote, “Lay on thy bed and commune with thine heart”. No external sources, just lay on your bed, process the day, give your mind and body a break from constant stimulation.
3. Daytime Naps
Children need naps til the age of five, even if it’s just uninterrupted quiet time in their room. If young children aren’t sleeping at least 12-14 hours per day, their growth and deleopment is slowed. They still need that mid-day nap. They’re too young to go without it. It can just be an hour of lying in bed with a book, but they need to develop the life skill of down time.
If your toddler isn’t napping, sit in bed with them, quietly read books, sing favorite songs, talk to their stuffed animals, make a little nest in their bed, give them a water bottle, and do the same routine each time. Scheduling is still as important as when they were infants, and they need consistent naps. If you’re running errands and see your toddler yawning, cut your trip short, or you’ll miss that ‘magic moment’ and that nap won’t happen. Rubbing eyes or pulling ears are additional clues
Here’s the kicker: If they don’t get daytime naps they won’t sleep well at night. Remember this mantra: “Sleep begets sleep.” If they go to bed too late at night, or their sleep is interrupted, their circadian rhythm is thrown off and if they go to bed late they will still wake up at the same time in the morning.This is why, when parents say, “We’re staying out late so the babysitter needs to keep them up late so we can sleep in”, it never works, and everybody’s miserable the next day. They’ll wake up earlier than usual.
4. Cutting molars
One of the toughest challenges may be teething, which can cause lots of sleepless nights with pain and discomfort. If you’re going trhough a sleepless phase, it’s the 19 month to age three that they could be cutting two-year molars. If you’re in a wierd sleep phase, get them into the dentist. There are 20 teeth starting to cut through. “I’d rather go through a c-section than have my child go through molars again,” my daughter Erika exclaimed. Her munchkin is now three, so she’s at the tail end of it. “If they’re experiencing pain, they’ll scream, cry, wake up at night, act irrational, act like they have night terrors, and maybe you can’t see molars coming through yet, so you have no clue what’s bothering them.” Calms Forte, a natural herb produced by Hyland, also produces teething tabs. After each molar ordeal, get back on track.
Erika just discovered a 20th molar, and gave a sigh of relief. Now she knows there’s an end in sight, the pain will be subsiding, and she can cut back on the Motrin at night. A pediatric dentist can tell you if those last teeth are coming through. Then you’re done. If you’re not sure whats going on, the dentist can at least rule out other problems, and it’s a good time to introduce a toddler to the dentist. A tooth cutting through is not just a physical, but a behavior problem.
5. Seasonal and other changes
Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark, so as our days lengthen, toddlers need to go down when it’s still light outside. This can wreck the schedule and it’s harder to get them to sleep. In the circadian rhythm, the body picks up on light and dark.
One solution is to train them to sleep in the light and it’s a smart idea to train them to sleep anytime, anywhere. It can make life easier to never put infants or toddlers down in a pitch black room. You can re-train a baby or toddler in three to five days, just do it gradually and consistently.
The main message is to just be aware of what your child is going through. Very few people read the parenting books on toddlers because life is suddenly so busy and they don’t have the time or energy. Be as consistent as possible during teething, potty training, moving into a toddler bed or length of day. Keep that nap or “quiet time” til age five. I always called it ‘Mother’s Mental Health Break’. They are developing key lifetime skills: the ability to be alone with oneself without being pluggd in or entertained, self soothing and developing their own life rhythms. Developing these skills skyrockets children’s self confidence and will result in better grades in school, happiness, and good health. One of the best gifts parents can give their child is a parent who has had 8 hours of sleep.