Sleep and Your Child

Consistent routines and getting enough sleep can make a tremendous difference to your child’s day and enable them to be ready to learn new social and academic skills at school. This is true at any age, but particularly true for younger children, especially if adapting to a new routine.

The recommended amounts of sleep per 24 hours are 11-13 hours for 3 – 5-year-olds and 10-11 hours for 5 – 12-year-olds. Sleep is most restorative when it is consolidated. If, when your child goes to bed, he/she falls asleep easily, wakes up easily and is not tired during the day, then he/she is probably getting enough sleep.

The best way to tell if your child is getting enough sleep is to see how he/she acts during the day. Take a moment to notice if:

  • Your child falls asleep in the car almost every time you drive;
  • You have to wake your child up most mornings;
  • Your child seems overtired, cranky, irritable, aggressive, over emotional, hyperactive or has trouble thinking during the day;
  • On some nights, your child is tired much earlier than his/her usual bedtime.

If your child falls into this pattern, then he/she might not be getting enough sleep.

Sleep deprived children may have more trouble than usual controlling their emotions. The part of the brain that helps to control our response to our feelings and actions is greatly affected by sleep deprivation. A child who does not get enough sleep may have behavior or attention problems, be more likely to hurt him/herself and just not be doing as well as expected.

A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine conducted at the University of Washington also suggests children who do not get enough nighttime sleep are also at increased risk of being overweight, or overweight to obese. Researchers further noted that napping was not an effective substitute for nighttime sleep in terms of obesity prevention, citing that, “sleeping at night is deeper and therefore more restorative than sleeping during the day.” (For more information read, In Young Kids, Lack of Sleep Linked to Obesity Later.)

Make a calm, happy ritual of going to bed and getting up in the morning and keep bedtimes consistent. Make it a special time with a predictable, calming routine. It is your responsibility to put your child to bed so that he/she will have enough sleep, so be loving but firm.

Put some thought into finding your children’s ideal bedtime. Notice when they are starting to slow down and get physically tired. That is the time they should be going to sleep so complete their bedtime routine and get them into bed before that time so set a fixed bedtime and stick to it. If you wait beyond that time, children tend to get a second wind. At that point they will become more difficult to handle and they will have a harder time falling asleep. So keep consistent playtimes, meal times and nap times (if your preschool child still naps).

  • Give your child some “heads up” time to put away toys and get ready mentally for bedtime.
  • A warm bath is a good way to wind down after a lively day. A special toothbrush and toothpaste could be part of the routine.
  • Try to keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature with a dim nightlight if it helps. In the summertime try to block out bright daylight.
  • Limit food and drink before bedtime, but at bedtime provide a sip of water so that your child doesn’t get out of bed to ask for one.
  • Allow your child to choose which pajamas to wear and which stuffed animal to take to bed. Some children have a favorite blanket that is definitely part of the routine.
  • Do not crowd the bed with so many toys that there is not enough room for your child and use the bed only for sleeping, not for playing or watching TV.
  • Read a favorite story or recite a favorite poem. Quietly go over the highlights of the day and then mention what will be happening tomorrow.
  • Soft, gentle music or a “Sound Soother” that emits white noise, waves, rustling leaves, etc. can help block out distracting noise. Stick to the same music or songs every night for preschoolers.
  • You may wish to reevaluate nap times for a growing preschooler.  Often a child is ready to give up a nap if napping in the afternoon means that bedtime becomes very late.  A consolidated night’s sleep is more beneficial to a child than a nap and a shorter nighttime sleep. (See article The Effects of Napping on Cognitive Function in Preschoolers which concludes daytime napping is actually negatively correlated with neurocognitive function in preschoolers. Nighttime sleep appears to be more critical for the development of cognitive performance.)
  • Tuck your child into bed snugly for a sense of security, give a kiss, say goodnight and close the door (or leave it slightly ajar if the house is quiet) and leave.

Remember that children will naturally be more tired as they adapt to a new school routine, so adjusting bedtime to be a little earlier now may make all the difference to help your child be ready for school.

About the Article’s Author: Joan Starling, Founder, Sammamish Montessori School serving preschool, kindergarten and elementary students in Redmond WA.  
Joan established The Sammamish Montessori School in 1977.  She began her long career in Montessori education more than 37 years ago training under two Montessori trainers who were themselves trained directly by Dr. Maria Montessori. One of them, a wise and practical woman, Margaret Homfray, when young in the late 1930s, accompanied Dr. Montessori on trips to translate her lectures on her speaking tours.  Joan has been a pioneer of Montessori education in the greater Seattle area, establishing one of the oldest Montessori schools on Seattle’s Eastside and now one of the largest Montessori schools in the state.  Joan’s two daughters and husband now share the running of the school and are supported by a wonderful group of teachers, assistants and supporting staff from all over the world. 


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