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How to Keep Bedtime from Becoming a Nightmare

Tips to Ensure a Good Night's Sleep--for Kids and Parents

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I once believed my oldest son always would sleep in a bouncy seat.

He was tiny and colicky and the only place he would stop screaming and sleep was in a vibrating bouncy seat. My husband saw no problem with this. But I wailed, unable to enjoy the silence.

"He's going to be 5 and still sleeping in a seat!"

My son, now 3, sleeps soundly every night in a big boy bed, having graduated from the crib where--once the colic ended--he passed many peaceful nights, and where his 1-year-old brother now dreams the nights away.

As it turns out, the trick to good nights for your children--and you--is consistency.

Toddlers and preschoolers need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep, according to medical experts. Elementary school-age children still should get as many as 12 hours and at least 10 hours of rest each night.

Sleep experts of all varieties recommend setting a bedtime routine in infancy to teach your child to soothe herself to sleep. Your child shouldn't be crashing into bed, overtired and cranky. She should be going through steps that lead to a set bedtime every night.

The bugaboos that plague infant sleep--colic, developmental milestones and teething among them--eventually pass, but they are replaced by a whole different set of issues once your child graduates from a crib. There are the child-caused variety--stall tactics like needing one more hug, pleeeeeeaaaaase--that should be ignored. And then, there are the ones that come with this new developmental stage. As many as five kids in 10 might have some of these minor sleep issues:
  • Sweating: some toddlers soak their jammies and their sheets. Both my boys are always sweaty-headed when I check on them at night.
  • Tossing and turning: children often are restless sleepers and wind up in odd positions.
  • Nightmares and terrors: as their imaginations grow, some fears carry into sleep. Night terrors, which can make a child panic and scream, can be especially frightening for the whole family.
  • Sleepwalking: a sleepwalking child might look awake but be glassy-eyed and completely unaware of her actions. My son once tried to go potty in his clothes basket.
  • Sleep talking: children might tell stories, mutter phrases or ask questions.
  • Snoring or sleep apnea: about 10 percent of kids snore, and some will have changes in breathing patterns while they sleep. But if your child's breathing stops for long seconds as he sleeps, consult with your doctor.

Most of these issues are small, normal and never cause a problem. But some, such as sleep apnea or night terrors, can become large problems if they disrupt sleep. They and other issues, including insomnia, also might be signs of bigger health concerns. When in doubt, talk to your doctor. Here are some more ways to help your child get a good night's sleep:
  1. Bed means sleep. Don't allow your child to play in bed. Make it only for sleeping and, possibly, reading before bed.
  2. Keep it dark. A night light can help keep nightmares at bay and lead a child to the bathroom, but make sure it isn't so bright that it keeps the child awake.
  3. Quiet time before bedtime. Before bed, keep activities low-key. Reading, building with blocks or coloring--later, homework--are better options than running around or watching loud, busy videos or playing video games.
  4. Remove distractions. If younger kids are staying up playing games or flipping through books, move those things out of reach. For older kids, turn off the electronics. Laptops and iPods power off at lights out.
  5. Be consistent. Set a bedtime and stick to it. A well-rested child makes everyone's life easier. (And it might even allow for a little more quality time with your partner!)
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About The Author

Hillary Copsey
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper reporter in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats.

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