Monday 19 February 2018

We are not happy with our little boy's sleeping pattern

The average amount of sleep that is recommended for three-year-olds is between 12 and 14 hours of sleep a day. Photo: Getty Images.
The average amount of sleep that is recommended for three-year-olds is between 12 and 14 hours of sleep a day. Photo: Getty Images.
David Coleman

David Coleman

We have a nearly-three-year-old boy and a 17-month-old girl. Our boy never slept much even when he was a baby. We have to use a stairgate in his room to prevent him getting out.

He can sometimes climb over this so we don't know what we will do when this happens regularly. We try to have a good bedtime routine, as we know this should help the situation. He does have a nap of between 60-90 minutes most days. I have to go for a drive with him, to get him off for his nap. Otherwise we would have a very, very cranky child! I work part-time and my husband works full-time. Some nights it might be 10pm by the time he falls asleep or later, having been in his room since before 8pm. He might wake at 7am and be up for the day. Most nights he sleeps for between nine and 10 hours. We just don't feel he has a good sleep pattern and need some help.

David replies: The average amount of sleep that is recommended for three-year-olds is between 12 and 14 hours of sleep a day. This includes sleep at night and a nap during the day.

So, your son is not that far off having an ideal amount of sleep.

I think, as you recognise, he just doesn't seem to have a great routine, yet, for soothing himself to sleep.

By taking him off in the car to get him to sleep during the day, you miss out on an opportunity to get him used to settling himself in his bed.

However, I can understand how expedient it is to use the car's motion and noise to get him snoozing. Many parents use the same daytime nap technique because it is so effective!

But, let's think for a minute about what children need to sleep well. They need to feel tired (but not over-tired) and they need to feel safe, secure and physically comfortable.

Consistent routine and rhythm to the day and the evening will always add to a child's sense of security and safety. This is why we try to build a bedtime routine. We want children's bedtime to be just as familiar a habit for them as sitting to the table to eat, or any of the other routines we may follow. So, rethink your evenings. If you want him to be falling asleep by about 8pm, then start your bedtime about 7pm.

It is nice to begin with some shared activity to gently wind down. So that may be reading a story on the sofa or playing together with your child (but nothing too boisterous). Try to avoid screentime (TV or iPad or whatever). These are not very restful activities for the brain!

Then, head up, with your child for changing into PJs, brushing teeth etc. Then get him into bed with a story. You can't really beat bedtime stories for the last bit of settling.

Then finish off with a stroke of the head, a kiss and turn out the lights. If you find that he won't stay in , then stay with him in the room, sitting quietly. Stay with him till he sleeps.

Once he has the habit of falling asleep in his bed you can begin to leave him, before he is asleep, but promising to return to check on him after five minutes. This checking visit needs to be repeated every five minutes until he falls asleep.

By checking on children you forestall any need for them to come check on you. This will also get rid of the need for you to have a stairgate on his door as he won't need to roam, rather than needing to be prevented from roaming.

You may notice that this bedtime routine is very labour intensive for parents. However, you are investing heavily now, so that when they are a little older they have such a well-established routine that you won't need to spend so much time. But it always takes extra effort to get the routine established. It is a bit like moving a heavy weight. Extra effort is required to get it in motion, but, once it is moving, its motion provides its own momentum to keep things going.

Now, coming into the summer, the evening light can be problematic. So, if you can, use blackout blinds to darken his room so that his circadian rhythm of light and dark has the best chance of helping.

Also, think about the temperature of his room and the weight of his duvet or blankets. You want him to feel comfortable, rather than too hot or cold. The more persistent you are in sticking to the evening routine and the more consistent you can be in checking on him, the easier he will find it to feel comfortable and secure enough to fall asleep.

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