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Toddler sleeping in crib
Baby sleeping in a crib

Healthy Sleep Habits for Children 0-5 Years Old

Possibly the two most common questions from parents are, “how much should my baby eat?” and, “how much should my child be sleeping?” Eating and sleeping are both critical for healthy physical and mental growth in children. Having the energy to grow depends on proper nutrition and the recovery and development time that happens when kids sleep. 

Recommended Sleep at Different Ages

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends different amounts of total sleep per day, depending on a child’s age. Keep in mind that these are the total number of hours children of each age should sleep within a 24-hour period. So, if your child naps once or twice (or more) a day, add that time to their nightly sleep for the total number of hours.

Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours

Infants (4-11 months): 12-16 hours

Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours

Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours

Of course, every child is different, and some may sleep at the lower range for their age, and some may sleep a little longer. Generally, young children need a lot of sleep, so don’t worry if your child needs an extra nap or sleeps extra overnight — their bodies are working hard to grow!

How Sleep Helps with Growth

Getting regular and enough sleep is more important for health and growth than many people think — nothing seems to be happening while we’re asleep, so why is it so important? While you can’t see it, there is actually a lot happening inside your child’s body while they’re quietly sleeping.

During sleep, your child’s body releases growth hormones that help with physical development. Additionally, when we’re active during the day, which — let’s face it — kids usually are, our bodies eventually need downtime to recover and build the energy needed to be active for another day. Getting enough sleep also helps kids build healthier immune systems to better fight off colds and other illnesses.

Additionally, sleep is important for kids’ brain (cognitive) development. It helps with memory, behavior and language development. While they sleep, your child’s brain is working hard to make connections from the things they’ve learned so far, preparing them for accepting and processing information they’ll learn tomorrow and well into the future.

Tips and Tricks for Healthy Sleep Habits

We can all agree — needing sleep is one thing; getting your child to sleep willingly is another! A common hot conversation topic among parents of babies, toddlers and young children is — how do you get them to bed?! Here are a few helpful tips.

  1. Establish a nap/bedtime routine. Believe it or not, most kids thrive on knowing what to expect, even if it’s the dreaded sleep they try to avoid. This means, when you create a certain routine you follow to get them ready for naps or bedtime, their bodies and brains start to respond when they know what’s coming next…sleep. Try to create a calming sleep routine with relaxing activities like a warm bath, a pre-sleep story (books or made-up stories), soothing music or a gentle song. When this becomes a routine and something your child recognizes, they will begin to unwind and understand that it all is heading toward sleep time.

  2. Create a comfortable sleep environment. Your child can learn that their bed is a place to sleep, not play. Remove toys and other attention-grabbing items from cribs and beds to encourage sleep. Of course they can have a comfort item, like a favorite blanket or soothing stuffed animal, but remove all other toys. Note: babies under one year old should not have loose items with them in the crib.

  3. Build in brain and body activity during the day. Have you ever noticed that after a busy day, your body is more tired and ready to sleep? It’s the same for our kids, especially when their brains and bodies are still growing! Getting mental and physical exercise in the form of learning and moving in new ways will require some good sleep to rest and recover for another busy day.

  4. Reduce or remove screen time from bedrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO screen time (television, iPads, smartphones, computers) for babies under two years old, and less than an hour of screen time for children two to four years old. It is also recommended that screens be removed from bedrooms for a better chance of uninterrupted sleep.

  5. Watch for sleepy-time cues. The best time to start the bedtime routine is either when your child predictably starts to get tired every evening or when you notice signs of tiredness. Common cues include rubbing their eyes, eyelids becoming heavy, crankiness, short temper or slowing activity. Many young kids don’t want to admit that they’re tired or miss out on any fun if they go to bed, but staying up longer risks them becoming over-tired. Overtired kids often struggle to relax and fall asleep, which could turn bedtime into more of a battlefield.

Even the best sleepers occasionally have bedtime struggles and setbacks. Just remember to keep sleep time a priority for your child’s well-being. Creating healthy sleep habits now will pay off in the long run!

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