What time your child should REALLY be going to bed – and how to get them to sleep when they don’t want

What time your child should REALLY be going to bed – and how to get them to sleep when they don’t want

07/05/2021

BEDTIME can be one of the trickiest times of the day for parents.

Sending children to bed too early can result in tantrums, while letting them stay up too late can result in tired kids who can barely keep their eyes open the following day.

But when your child sleeps well, they’ll be more settled, happy and ready for school the next day. 

So, what is the perfect time to send children to bed in order to make sure they’ve had enough sleep between the ages of 0 and 5?

Through childhood and over the lifespan, the average amount of sleep required changes.

Lisa, a baby and children’s Sleep Consultant with 20 years’ experience, has shared her tips and advice to help parents instil a relaxed and calm environment at bed-time.

Meanwhile Lyndsey Hookway, the co-founder of the Holistic Sleep Coaching Program, said children's sleep varies enormously both by age, and from child to child.

She explained that in general, children need less sleep as they get older – reducing from 12-15 hours in total at 6 months, to 10-13 hours by the age of 5 years. 

She said: “These sleep totals are based on several large multi-country studies of average sleep, and of course there will also be children who fall outside of these ranges. 

“I call these children 'low sleep need' and 'high sleep need' children. Children's sleep is affected by their age, unique sleep needs, genetics, environment, lifestyle, exercise levels, stress, health and diet.

How much sleep your child needs:

  • 0 – 2 MONTHS16 – 18 hours of sleep
  • 2 – 6 MONTHS – 14 – 16 hours of sleep
  • 6 – 12 MONTHS – 12 – 14 hours of sleep
  • TODDLER _ 11 – 12 hours. They should only require one nap by 18 months. Night-time wakings will become more frequent
  • PRE-SCHOOL AGE – 10 – 12 hours. Day-time naps should have now stopped, but allow short periods such as a 30 minute nap for rest

“The average 2 year old needs 11-13 hours of sleep in 24 hours.

This includes daytime sleep, so if a child is napping for 90 minutes in the day, and their unique sleep need is only 12 hours in 24, this means that they only need 10.5 hours overnight – so a bedtime of 8pm may be appropriate for a child who wakes up at 6.30am.”

Lisa commented: “Sleep cycles happen every 90 minutes. This is handy to know why your baby will wake frequently throughout the night. 

“It's important that they can self settle so that every time their cycle finishes, they can continue on back to sleep.

“As for children, think of 90 minute cycles and count back from when you may want them to wake. That will be a desired bed-time for them. 

“All children are different and you may be guided by them and when they are ready for sleep late afternoon / early evening. Take their sleep cues as being ready for rest before sleep.”

Sleeping Tricks

Meanwhile Lyndsey explained how sleep works. 

She revealed it is controlled by two separate mechanisms – the circadian rhythm (or body clock) and sleep pressure – this is the drive to fall asleep that builds as we spend time awake. 

She explained it is very hard to fall asleep when our sleep pressure is low, which is why even adults find it frustrating to try to have an early night, only to find that they lie awake instead.

Lyndsey added that if we try to put children to bed too early, chances are, they will procrastinate, take longer to fall asleep, wake up early, or the bedtime will become stressful.

She commented: “If a child is taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, consider whether the bedtime is unrealistically early.

“If bedtime seems too late, then in general, it's a good idea to try to inch it earlier by a very small amount to allow the child's body clock to adjust slowly. 

Painting an unrealistic image of children's sleep times often leads to frustration at bedtimes, and parents feeling like either they, or their children are getting it 'wrong' when in actual fact, it is often the recommended bedtime that is wrong.

While it might feel like a good idea for a child to achieve 12 hours of overnight sleep plus a “2-hour nap, this is wildly unrealistic for the vast majority of children with average or low sleep needs.

“Painting an unrealistic image of children's sleep times often leads to frustration at bedtimes, and parents feeling like either they, or their children are getting it 'wrong' when in actual fact, it is often the recommended bedtime that is wrong.”

MOVING SLEEP

Lisa also provided a number of handy tips to help parents deal with bedtimes – and hopefully it will make getting children to the land of dreams easier! 

She suggested the best way to move your child’s sleep is to do it by 15 minute increments each day for several days and then increase / decrease again. 

If this is too much, she said you can start with five or 10 minutes instead. 

The expert shared: “If a child goes to sleep early, they will no doubt wake early. So you may have evenings to yourself (preferable by most of my previous clients), but an early wake time. 

“If you try to get your child to sleep later in the hope they wake later, you will lose valuable time in the evening. It's very difficult to have both an evening to yourself AND a lie in!”

OUTDOOR SLEEP

Lisa also referred to some scientific research to suggest a clever method of outdoor sleep during the day. 

It explained that taking a baby outdoors for their afternoon sleep between 12-4pm (when we have the highest levels of daylight) encourages their biological clock and increases their ability to sleep better at night.

PRODUCTS THAT CAN MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER AT BEDTIME

  • Gro-clock
  • Blackout blinds
  • Night lights 
  • Ewan The Sheep – use pink and white noise

DAYLIGHT EXPOSURE 

For older children, Lisa advised that parents should think about exposing them to daylight as soon as the day arrives. 

She explained that this will let their body know the day has arrived, so they are aware of sleep for later on.

3PM RULE

Expert Lisa, who has 20 years’ of experience in the industry, suggested that a good tip is to not let your toddler sleep beyond 3pm and make sure you have a cut off point. 

She said: “This is a good time as you may be preparing for the school run. 

“Anything beyond this will interfere with their ability to sleep early in the evening.”

WITCHING HOURS

The Sshhhh Sleep Consultancy expert Lisa also described between 6-8pm as the ‘witching hours.’

She added: “These are the two hours every night that parents are trying to get their children to sleep. It's also the time our melatonin – our sleep hormone – kicks in. 

“It's important to respect this time and make sure this window is full of relaxation and downtime. Think of restful activities such as puzzles, drawing, reading and threading.”

FOOD AND DRINK

Lisa also advised that parents should consider the food and drink they give their children at dinnertime. 

A good tip is to make sure there are carbs that slowly release energy and should keep children fuller for longer.

She also advised parents to lessen their kids’ water intake at dinner and beyond. She commented: “Do not give an excuse for your child to wake up needing the toilet! 

“If they depend on water throughout the night, either take this away completely or decrease the amount of water over several nights.”

ROUTINE

Getting into a routine is a great way to ensure children go to bed at a ‘good’ time. 

Lisa suggested a number of tips – including bathing children at nighttime, allowing them to take books to bed and letting them choose their own pyjamas to make bedtime easier. 

She said: “I always find it better to bathe babies at night-time rather than in the morning. We need an increase of body temperature before bedtime to allow the drop of temperature to aid sleep at night.

“For lively toddlers who do not like going to bed, allow them to take up to three toys or books to bed and let them choose their pyjamas. 

“This gives them some control when it comes to bed-time and you may find better compliance from them.

“Try your best to give 1-2-1 attention both in the day and at bed-time. This will lessen the need for your child to wake in the night craving some more.

“Also, promote routine. If they go to bed at a certain time each night, continue to do so every night. We are creatures of habit. Be consistent – every single night!”

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