Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sleep Stages: How much sleep is enough for my child?

"Enjoy getting some sleep while you still can" is a common phrase new mother's to be hear.  One might wonder how a mother can be so sleep deprived in a child's first few months of life.  After all, infants sleep more hours a day in their first year of life.  It is because the sleep in not continuous, thus interrupting the mother (and others) sleep. 

Sleep has two major stages, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-REM.  During REM sleep, the eyes move constantly and rapidly, the brain is active, the body is quiet and still, and dreams occur.  The non-REM sleep is the restful sleep, the brain is inactive and the body may active, tossing and turning.  During a consecutive nights sleep, non-REM takes about an hour and the two sleep cycles (REM and non-REM) alternate about five or six times.  Both sleep stages are important for proper growth and development in infants and children.

As your child gets older, their sleep patterns change.  So how does a parent know if their child is getting the quality and quantity of sleep they need?  The Parents As Teachers Curriculum gives the following guidelines:

Sleep requirements of children
0-3 months, 14-16.5 hours
3-9 months, 14-15 hours
1 year, 13.75-14 hours
2 years, 12.75-13 hours
3 years, 12-12.5 hours
4 years, 11.5-12 hours
5 years, 11 hours

Around 12 months old, children often will begin to move from a mid-morning and mid-afternoon nap to one longer mid-day nap.  If a child is overtired it can be harder for them to fall asleep.  If a child is put to bed too early or too late, it can take longer for them to fall asleep.  Keeping a fairly regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine for your child can promote quality sleep.  When a child has restful sleep, they are more alert when awake and able to practice and learn new skills.  Children establish lifelong attitudes about sleep at a very early age, therefore bedtime should not be used as a punishment.

A child can become sleep-deprived in as little as a few days.  Sleep-deprivation can occur when a child goes to bed a little late each evening, missed a nap, or wakes too early.  The symptoms of sleep-deprivation in children are often subtle and misleading.  A sleep-deprived child may appear overactive rather than tired and sleepy.  If your child has difficulty waking up, try giving them a little longer nap or have them in bed a little early for a day or so, allowing them to get adequate rest.
There are times when changes in sleep schedule and routine are unavoidable.  Such as when on vacation and traveling, daylight savings time, and events such as moving from a crib to a "big bed."  It may be time to move your child to a big bed if: they are 35 inches or taller, the crib guard rails are even with your child's chest, and if your child is trying to climb out of the crib. 

Moving from a crib to a big bed is a huge change for your child and is easier for them to transition when it happens gradually.  Talk about your child's "new big girl/boy bed" while they are still sleeping in the crib.  A good time to make the change is when everything else in your child's life is stable and predictable.  For example, if moving to a new house it would be best to make the change to a new bed some time prior to or after a household move.  Setting up the new big bed while the child's crib is still in the room is helpful at times.  Introduce the child into the bed for lounging, reading, cuddling together and taking naps.  Let your child select the new bed linens. 

Safety Tips for Big Beds:
  • Blinds and drapery cords should be shortened to prevent strangulation
  • Install a window guard if your child's room is higher than ground level
  • Place the bed in a corner so two sides are secure
  • Use guard rails no more than 3.5 inches wide around open sides of the bed
  • Use a gate for your child's doorway or at an entrance to a portion of your house that has not been toddler-proofed
It is a very helpful when everyone in a household is getting the quality and quantity of sleep needed.  Often times "if baby ain't sleeping, ain't no one sleeping."  Sweet dreams everyone.

Parents As Teachers Curriculum (
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