People are said to be spending 1/3 of their lives sleeping. Do they really? While we all know that good sleep is critical for good health, 1 in 3 adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, a CDC study shows.
With adults sacrificing their sleep with ease due to busy lifestyles, there is an alarming trend of kids not getting enough sleep as well. Be it because their schedules are busier than the ones of their parents, or just because their parents undermine the importance of good sleep, nowadays kids as young as 3 or 4 years old are also suffering sleep deprivation on a regular basis.
We have approached sleep consultant Simona Peycheva to talk about all the kids’ sleep matters and to get some really helpful tips for all the parents out there so that they can help their children of all ages, from newborns to teenagers, sleep more and sleep better.
Simona Peycheva is a mother of 2 and a certified child sleep consultant. She is the founder of the Sleep Well Association in Sofia, Bulgaria, working on the prevention of sleep-related problems with children. Simona is a practicing sleep consultant helping families with kids to solve sleep-related issues
Children and Sleep Deprivation
Home of Wool: Why is it happening that children are not having enough sleep?
Simona Peycheva: From 1 year of age to 10 years of age children need approximately the same amount of total sleep hours – just spread out differently throughout the 24 hours of the day. Children up to that age should sleep around 11/12 hours a day but what I see from my consultations is that parents are just not aware of that and are happy if their kid sleeps while they’re sleeping.
The sad truth is that parents just cannot cope and organize their days. But that is so because they do not know how important prioritizing sleep is.
Let’s say that on a usual workday, the kid is at the daycare by 6:30 pm. Parents simply do not have the time afterward to prepare dinner, have some quality time together, and wish the kid good night at 8:00 pm.
Then at 9:00 pm, it is sometimes absolutely impossible for the kid to go to sleep because at that time he is all over the house, full of energy or super active, crying, playing, and running around. That is why they usually fall asleep by 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm. Parents need to understand that this is most probably because they’ve missed the window of opportunity of getting them to sleep at 8:00 pm.
As a rule of thumb, if there is no day nap and if the kid has to wake up at 7:00 am in the morning, then at about 8:00 pm in the evening at the latest, he should be in bed.
The most important thing for the kid, no matter the age, is to get enough total hours of sleep. It doesn’t matter so much how they are distributed throughout the 24 hours timeline, as soon as kids wake up by themselves, at the time needed, and in a good mood.
HoW: What are the signs that a child might not be getting enough sleep?
S: If parents have to wake up their child for daycare or school, that’s the first sign that the kid is not getting enough sleep. It’s guaranteed! If kids are waking up in the morning in a good mood, by themselves, then most probably they’re getting enough sleep.
HoW: What are the consequences of children not having enough sleep?
S: Mostly, behavioral problems. Sometimes they lose the ability to concentrate at school, or they might have difficulties remembering things. In some cases, they cannot follow instructions.
Sometimes children are getting labeled as hyperactive and are prescribed medicines. You will be surprised that in many of the cases it is not hyperactivity, it is just sleep deprivation. Not having enough sleep can lead to weight problems, heart problems, etc. You cannot believe how many of the health and behavioral problems our children are facing could be solved with just the right amount of sleep hours.
HoW: What is the general advice we should give parents of young children in order to start getting enough sleep?
S: What I advise parents is to observe their kids during the weekend and see how many hours they need to wake up happy without any help. If they sleep 10, 11, or 12 hours, and get only 9 during the week for example, then this should be changed. Beware that you cannot catch up with sleep. Even if you let your child sleep longer during the weekend, it won’t compensate for the lost hours of sleep during the weekdays.
How to Make Your Newborn and Toddler Sleep Better
“Sleep doesn’t come easy to mothers!” You’ve probably heard that one already. Well, the fact is it can or cannot happen to you. It’s sometimes all up to you, your time management, and planning of the activities once you have the newborn at home.
Parents nowadays get lost in the multitude of different opinions and different people telling them what should be done, instead of just following and observing their kid, professional sleep consultant Simona Peycheva says.
HoW: If there’s one thing parents should know about the sleep of their newborn baby, what is it?
S: New parents are bombarded with a lot of advice and contradictory information. Listening and trying to filter what the news says, what their parents say, what their friends have to say, what the books read, and what the mommies in the social groups experience, new parents quite often forget to just observe and follow the signs of their babies.
Usually, going back to basics is the best advice that could be given to any new parent. The most natural thing for the newborn would be to be breastfed on demand and to be carried by the mom. Being close to her much of the time, it would be easier for her to start noticing and not missing the signals: when is the baby hungry, when is the best time to go to sleep, etc.
HoW: How should new parents set up the regime of the new baby then? Or should they?
S: In many cases, I would advise parents to not be in a hurry to set up a regime or a pattern. Instead, they should try to follow the baby and notice its own biological regime and how it will develop over time. The biological clock of the baby will be developing in the first 6 months. It’s always better and easier to follow the baby for these six months and try to just fix something that’s not working afterward.
Otherwise, if parents start setting up their own rules from the very beginning it will be a struggle for everybody and nobody will get enough sleep.
HoW: Where should the baby sleep? Together with the parents or in a separate room? In their bed or in a separate crib?
S: Safety First! The baby should not be in a separate room without an adult for the first six months at least. Depending on the family dynamics babies can sleep together with their parents, practicing safe co-sleeping or in a separate bed. With all the safety requirements in place.
Do not leave the baby sleep in a separate room. This is extremely important for the first 6 months at least since newborns regulate their breathing thanks to the breathing of an adult or an older kid, close to them.
HoW: Many new parents wonder why are their babies waking up every hour or so without having the recommended 3 hours of sound sleep. Is there something to worry about concerning that?
S: Another myth about the sleep of the baby is that it should be long and continuous, with each sleep period lasting for about 3 hours for the newborn. Some mothers are even given the false advice that the baby should be able to sleep through the whole night. The fact is that each 3 hour sleep period (or longer one) could be (and usually is) interrupted several times and that is perfectly fine. Nobody actually sleeps continuously without waking up. Even adults wake up several times a night. These are the so-called micro-arousals. The difference between adults and babies and little children is that kids are just not used to falling back to sleep by themselves after each and every micro-arousal.
Naturally, kids start sleeping through the night after the age of 3. For some kids that happens at 5. And there is nothing wrong with it. What parents should watch out for is how many hours of sleep does the newborn or the kid has for 24 hours total and if the child wakes up in a good mood.
Of course, if that is not OK with the parents, there are tips and techniques that specialists could share with the family and come up with a working solution for everybody at home. Each family is different and each one has unique needs and schedules. There is not a generic tip or schedule for everybody.
HoW: Is keeping silence helpful for better sleep for the baby?
S: Trying hard to create the perfect sleep atmosphere for the kid, many parents sometimes make the biggest mistake – trying to recreate the perfect silence. In fact, silence is not natural for the baby. In the womb, he’s been in a constantly noisy atmosphere. Trying to create a perfectly silent atmosphere is pretty much impossible. There would always be an abrupt noise that will wake up the baby. That is why we’d better not try. What could be put in use instead is a constant white noise that will make any other abrupt noise less noticeable.
It is a good trick to play white noise to the newborn from the beginning and gradually remove it by the first year, making it lower and lower until the kid doesn’t need it anymore.
HoW: Many parents share that moving their grown-up kid to a separate room is a really difficult task. When is that supposed to happen and are there any tips to make the process smoother?
S: The optimal time for the kid to move to his own room and start sleeping alone is around 3 years of age. The age of 3 is the optimal time since at that age children start to develop a sense of ownership. They usually start claiming objects as theirs: my bed, my room, my books. That is the time when they start understanding that they have something that is theirs. That is the perfect time for the child to get his own room, with the furniture he chooses, the bed he chooses, etc.
There is not a universal formula that works well for all families. Some might need the child to sleep in a separate room earlier. If that is the case, there are techniques to make that happen, and sleep consultants could help immensely with that so that the transition is smooth for everybody.
When the time comes for that change, it is important for the parents to be consistent. The kid will surely wake up during the night and try to come to their room. They should gently take him back to his own. If that happens consistently, at some point the kid will understand that there is no point in trying.
Another mistake that some parents make is to stay with their children until they fall asleep. Instead, kiss the child goodnight after the bedtime story and leave the room. If children fall asleep with the parents in the room it is completely natural to start looking for the parents each time they wake up during the night.