Like most parents, my husband and I have struggled, bleary-eyed, through our share of sleep problems, from bedtime battles to bad dreams. But it wasn't until several months ago that we realized our two children's sleeping patterns had gone seriously awry. Not a night went by without my 6-year-old son slipping into our bed in the middle of the night or my 4-year-old daughter relocating to the sleeping bag that was permanently parked on our bedroom floor. Clearly, it was high time that they -- and we -- were sleeping through the night.
We have since followed the advice in this article and are all enjoying more peaceful nights. But there are plenty of other parents who are still suffering from the bedtime blues. A survey of studies revealed that 25 to 30 percent of all children experience some kind of sleep difficulty. And if you think your kids will eventually outgrow their sleep problems, think again. One survey found that 27 percent of elementary-school-age children resist bedtime, while another 11 percent have trouble falling asleep and difficulty waking in the morning. It should come as no surprise, then, that a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of children ages 1 to 18 complain of being tired during the day. Chances are, their parents are as sleep-deprived as they are.
A good night's sleep is crucial for children's healthy growth and immune function. And sleep affects behavior -- exhausted kids are more likely to be cranky and impatient and to do poorly in school.
Though there are sometimes biological explanations for disrupted sleep, "the vast majority of sleep problems are caused by parents unintentionally not allowing children to get the sleep they need," asserts Marc Weissbluth, M.D., author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (Ballantine, 1999) and an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Medical School. "There are too many activities -- both parents' and child's -- that interfere with an early bedtime." Other experts point out that many children, having been rocked or nursed to sleep (or allowed to fall asleep in their parents' beds) since birth, have simply never learned to fall asleep on their own. The good news is that you can help your child learn how to get a solid night's sleep. And most experts agree that the earlier you start, the easier it is to establish healthy sleep habits in your children.