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Say goodnight: Getting your child to sleep

Babies aren't the only ones who fight bedtime. Here's a look at what parents can do to help older kids get the rest they need.

Kids need a lot of sleep. In fact, by the time they are toddlers, most kids have spent more time asleep than awake.

But according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), many children aren't getting the sleep they need. 

Getting kids to sleep can be a major task for parents. You can make bedtime easier on your child—and yourself—by promoting good sleep habits early.

Benefits of sleep

Sleep is more than just downtime. For adults as well as children, it's a time when cells and tissues are repaired. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that sleep also helps the body fight infection and aids learning and memory in people of all ages.

In kids, getting enough sleep pays off in a lower likelihood for behavior problems. It also helps them maintain a healthy weight and avoid diabetes. Sleep also triggers the release of growth hormone, promoting normal growth and boosting muscle mass, according to the NIH.

Lights out

Getting babies to sleep through the night is a challenge many parents face. But new sleep struggles may surface as kids get older and interact more and more with the world around them. With so much to see and do, some kids may resist falling asleep. Others may wake up in the night.

According to the NSF, it's best not to respond immediately at these times. Giving kids a chance to fall asleep on their own encourages self-soothing and teaches them they can do it without you.

Here's a look at some sleep tips for different age groups.

Toddlers (1 to 2 years). A regular sleep schedule is your top priority for kids this age and older. Set a bedtime, and try to stay with it.

Start with a quiet bedtime routine—a warm bath and a story, for example. A special stuffed toy or blanket can help comfort toddlers if they wake before morning. It's also best for kids to sleep in the same place every night.

Toddlers typically need 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day—including naps.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years). Kids this age also need a regular bedtime. Start about 30 minutes beforehand to phase out active play, TV and other stimulating activities. Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet.

Preschoolers typically need 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day.

A note about naps: Naps are an important part of the daily sleep schedule for toddlers and preschoolers. But don't let kids nap too close to bedtime or they may have trouble falling asleep at night.

School-age (6 to 13 years). These kids can have very busy lives. Try to slow them down before bedtime. Don't allow a TV or computer in your child's bedroom, and put away any food with caffeine. That goes for younger kids as well.

Kids this age are old enough to understand how important sleep is. Explain that it can give them a jump on school work and help them get along better with family and friends.

School-age kids typically need 9 to 11 hours of sleep a day.

When to see a doctor

Sometimes kids' sleep is disturbed by specific problems. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), nightmares and night terrors are not uncommon among young children. They may also walk or talk in their sleep. If these events persist, talk with your child's doctor.

Snoring is another sleep-spoiler for kids. If your child snores very loudly, he or she could have a more serious problem called sleep apnea. This is a condition in which breathing stops repeatedly during the night.

Being overweight or having enlarged tonsils or adenoids can lead to sleep apnea. The AAP says that if your child snores loudly or seems to be very sleepy during the day, he or she should see a doctor. There are treatments that can help.

If you plan to talk to a doctor about your child's sleep habits, it will help if you bring a sleep diary. Start tracking how long your child sleeps, along with any nighttime awakenings. Include the time and length of naps and what you do to help your child get to sleep.

Worth the effort

Sleep problems among children are very common. But according to the AAP, they can be overcome. Kids who get enough sleep are more likely to be cheerful the next day. And that can mean happier days for the entire family.

reviewed 9/26/2019

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