There is something that every young parent knows about: sleepless nights. Our sleep expert, Geert Doorlag, has a six-year-old son and knows exactly how it feels to go to work tired because your child has not slept through the night. Luckily, there are things you can do to influence your child's sleeping rhythm. Here are our top 5 tips and a few facts to help you on your way.
The amount of sleep a child needs changes as they get older. A newborn baby sleeps 4 to 17 hours, a four-year-old needs about 10 to 13 hours while teenagers sleep around 8 to 10 hours. Naturally, you can monitor the number of hours your child sleeps, but in general you can rest assured that a cheerful, active and alert child is getting enough sleep.
One of the most important aspects of sleeping well is a regular sleep pattern. This is something that young parents will agree wholeheartedly with: broken nights do not make for energetic days. Young children cannot sleep through the night: this is something they learn as they grow older. What you can do, however, is to take control of the situation when your child is awake at night. If, for example, you know that your child will wake up somewhere between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. for a feed, set the alarm for 2 a.m. Set the alarm a little bit later each time, so that your child can slowly get used to the rhythm and sleep on for just a little bit longer. You will still have to get up at night, but at least you have more control.
As children grow up, they gain more control over when they fall asleep, but this is something they have to learn. A newborn baby will just fall asleep spontaneously, even in a busy environment. But slightly older children have more control over when they fall asleep. As soon as they can do this, it is important to tell them that it's time to go to sleep. There are different ways you can do this, such as a bath, putting on pyjamas and reading a bedtime story. Making these kinds of activities part of a fixed bedtime ritual will help your child to know both consciously and subconsciously that it is time for them to go to sleep. This will make it easier for them to fall asleep and sleep through more of the night.
Research has shown that on average, children are more likely to be evening types than morning types. And that parents tend to be morning types rather than evening types. Several schools have begun to take this into account and start an hour later than normal. In any case, do not wake your child too early.
Children develop by trial and error: before they can take two steps forwards, they will sometimes need to take one step backwards. It may seem as if they are making no progress. For example, they may continue to wake up at night and fall asleep during the day. Every development your child makes during the day will influence their sleep. For instance, children may start waking up more often at night when they are learning to talk.