Children and Sleep

How can we implement a more consistent bedtime schedule for our children, ages 8, 6, and 4? We haven't been very successful in this area. How many hours do kids this age need to sleep? Do you have any tips for ways to improve bedtime and make it more pleasant?

As you probably know, a child’s sleep requirements change frequently during this early stage of development. Your 4-year-old needs between eleven and thirteen hours of sleep per night, and your 6-year-old and 8-year-old need about ten to eleven hours. These are general guidelines, of course – every individual is different – but you’ll want to keep them in mind as you plan your bedtime routine and implement some of the suggestions offered below.

Our first recommendation is to get your kids to bed early. Generally speaking, your 4-year-old should be in bed by 7:00 or 8:00 and your 6- and 8-year-olds by 9:00. One of the most common mistakes parents make nowadays is putting their kids to bed too late at night. Not surprisingly, there are cultural and economic reasons for this. It often happens because one or both parents are working during the day, and they want to spend time interacting with their kids during the evening hours. Inconvenient work schedules can be a problem if you’re trying to fit in some quality time with your children. While the best solution, as far as your kids’ sleep is concerned, is for you to come home earlier and not for you to put the kids to bed later, a little wiggle room in the sleep schedule might be called for, especially in the summer months when school is out. Regardless, your children shouldn’t suffer sleep deprivation because of your work schedule. Sensible flexibility is the key here.

You should also know that kids fight sleep when they are over-tired. This seems counter-intuitive. We think, “Hey, if they’re really tired, they should fall asleep easier.” But an overtired child is fussy and cranky, and often has a much harder time getting to sleep. The trick is to put your kids to bed when they first begin to show signs of drowsiness, but not after they are getting cranky. When they start yawning or rubbing their eyes, that’s the time to make your move. Your 4-year-old should also be getting a regular daily nap. If this doesn’t happen, she may be even more over-tired at the end of the day.

You and your spouse should also have a regular bedtime routine for your kids. This might consist of a warm bath, followed by a story time and bedtime prayers. The goal is to help your children slowly wind down and get ready for sleep. If you try to put them down right after they’ve been roughhousing or engaged in active play, their adrenaline will be pumping and it will be difficult for them to fall asleep. The same goes for watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer just before bed. You should also have a strict policy against televisions or computers in your children’s bedrooms.

Once your kids are in bed, don’t give in to pleas for “one more story” or “one more glass of water.” Be firm and consistent. Make it clear that when the lights are off, it’s time for sleep. The best way to deal with a child who continually gets out of bed or repeatedly protests going to sleep is to implement consequences. If your kids know they’re going to lose some kind of privilege the next day, they are much more likely to stay in bed and go to sleep.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your situation with a member of our staff, we’d like to invite you to get in touch with our Counseling department for a free consultation. They’ll be pleased to assist you in any way they can.


Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care



You May Also Like