Sleep is necessary for your child’s growth, development and health, regardless of his age. Frequent wakings at night can disrupt the sleep patterns that are needed for your child to get the maximum benefit of a night’s sleep. It is important to understand what to expect from your child’s ability to sleep, depending on his age, as well as how you can approach bedtime, in order to create a relaxing environment.
Before you worry about whether your child is properly sleeping through the night, you will need to make sure that your expectations are realistic. According to the MayoClinic website, many babies do not start sleeping through the night until around 6 months of age, and even then they still might wake briefly during the night. If your baby wakes up during the night and doesn’t quickly settle back down to sleep, it might be because she genuinely needs something, like a feeding or a diaper change. However, older children are capable of sleeping for stretches as long as 10 hours.
In order to signal that it’s time to settle down for sleep, follow a consistent bedtime routine that includes relaxing activities, such as a bedtime story or a bath. Don’t wait until your child is overtired before putting him to bed, or it will be harder for him to fall asleep and stay asleep. Over time, your child’s body will begin to associate bedtime with his bedtime routine, and he will likely begin to rest better.
You can help your child sleep better by encouraging activity during the day. For a baby, this involves not shying away from regular activities that could keep her from sleeping, so that she is more tired in the evening. For an older child, encouraging physical activity will help her to exert energy and be tired enough to sleep all night. If she does wake up during the evening, whether it’s for a feeding in infancy or a drink of water in older childhood, the Kids Health website recommends keeping things low key so it’s easier for her to fall back asleep. Also, avoid letting your child spend time watching television or playing on the computer within the hour prior to bedtime in order to prevent overstimulation that can disturb her sleep rhythm.
Even if you have a solid routine and your child sleeps through the night regularly, you can expect occasional disruptions, like nightmares. If your child has a nightmare, comfort him until he is able to fall back asleep. If nightmares occur regularly, or if your child has trouble staying asleep despite being past the baby stage, talk to his doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea or a sleeping disorder. His doctor might want to conduct a sleep study or see a journal detailing your child’s wakings.