Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep

Making sure your child gets enough rest is healthy -- for the both of you. Here are some tips on how to help her sleep soundly.

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Alexandra Grablewski

How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

While children's needs vary, these general guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine will give you a good idea of how many hours a day he should be snoozing (including naps).

Infants (3-11 months): 14-15 hours

Toddlers: 12-14 hours

Preschoolers: 11-13 hours

School-age children: 10-11 hours

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Establish Healthy Sleep Habits Early

By 4 months old, your baby is getting most of her sleep at night with three daytime naps, and she's beginning to have a more established day-night cycle. It's the perfect time to get a sleep routine going, says Jyoti Krishna, M.D., pediatric sleep specialist, Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. "Babies and children crave consistency, so create some kind of schedule with regular nap times and a set bedtime," he says. "It's also important to put a baby to bed when she is drowsy, not when she is fully asleep. Babies need to learn to soothe themselves to sleep so they're not always relying on you to do it."

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Set a Routine

You want to start activities that signal to your child that sleep is approaching, Dr. Jyoti Krishna says. Many parents rely on the three Bs for babies: bath, books, and bottle. You can also follow the same routine for older children (minus the bottle, of course) -- as long as it's something that relaxes them and prepares them for sleep.

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Create a Calming Environment

Just like most adults, children need a calm, quiet space for sleep. Make sure your child has a comfortable mattress in her crib or bed, and that the room is a comfortable temperature. "The room doesn't have to be pitch black at night -- if your child is more secure with a night-light on, then make sure she has one," says Shari Mezrah, a sleep specialist and author of The Baby Sleeps Tonight.

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Linda Farwell

Happy Tummy = Happy Sleep

Naturally, when your baby is full, she will sleep longer and better, explains sleep specialist Shari Mezrah. When trying to get a baby to sleep, it's best to breastfeed or give her a bottle before you put her down. For older kids, though, be careful about what you feed them right before bedtime. "No fruit juice or sweets after 3 p.m.," Mezrah says.

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Aimee Herring

Limit Distractions

Children 2 and over often have a hard time winding down for bedtime, so start switching gears about 30 minutes beforehand, sleep specialist Shari Mezrah says. This means turning off the TV and limiting any kind of physical activity to focus on more relaxing pursuits, such as listening to some calming music. Mezrah sits down with her kids to quietly talk about everyone's day and what's on the agenda for tomorrow. They then say a family prayer and it's off to bed.

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Naps Are Necessary

Many parents believe that if their child doesn't nap well during the day, he'll simply make up that sleep at night. Not so, says Dr. Jyoti Krishna. "A bad nap usually means a bad night's sleep. A child who is cranky and overtired will have difficulty getting to sleep and might wake up several times throughout the night." And sleep specialist Shari Mezrah recommends that at least one nap each day in the child's own crib or bed -- not in the car seat or stroller. It's the best way to ensure he gets enough rest.

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Don't Make Sleep Time Stressful

Never tell your child to "go to bed," sleep specialist Shari Mezrah says. "Watch your wording -- if your child is overstimulated or having sleep issues, this can seem like a command and cause anxiety. At nap time, call it 'rest time.' At bedtime, call it 'night-night time.' Children will respond better when you soften the edges a bit and avoid being too direct."

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Be Consistent

It's simple: If you're constantly moving around your child's sleep times, you'll have a hard time getting him to nap and sleep through the night. Aside from special occasions (holidays, birthdays), be sure your child stays on schedule and you stick with your daily routine. Creating healthy sleep habits now will help you -- and your child -- in the long run!

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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