Most parents wonder, "Is my child getting enough sleep?" A certified sleep consultant and mom of two offers five tips to make sure your child is getting the right amount of sleep, including signs that your child is overtired or sleep deprived.
As a certified sleep consultant from the Stamford, CT-based Family Sleep Institute and founder of Baby Sleep 101, Joleen Dilk Salyn works with a lot of tired families. Although each family is unique, there are often elements that are common between them. One prevailing issue with parents is the misunderstanding of how being overtired affects their child. Being overtired leads to "sleep debt" and can cause a multitude of sleep disturbances and behavioral issues. Below, Dilk Salyn offers five tips to avoid "sleep debt" in children and all the unwelcoming issues that happen as a result.
"When parents come to me, they often say that they've tried a certain sleep training method and it didn't work," Dilk Salyn says. "But if their child is constantly being kept up too late or skipping naps, then the child never gets caught up on sleep. Sleep training doesn't work on chronically overtired children. It doesn't matter how great the child is at self-soothing. If they're always overtired, they are going to continually have sleep problems."
Children often react to sleep deprivation in one of two ways: they're either cranky, clingy, and crying a lot or just the opposite; they're overactive and hyper because their bodies are running on adrenaline. In the latter instance, a child will often resist sleep, which misleads the parent into believing that the child isn't tired.
When our culture praises people who survive on little sleep, it's challenging for parents to appreciate the side effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have on babies and children.
Overtiredness causes the following disturbances in children:
- frequent night wakings
- early wake ups
- short or broken naps
- resisting naps (excessive crying or extreme giddiness)
- night terrors
- bedtime battles
Overtiredness also can cause behavioural issues such as:
- clingy and/or unable to play independently
- temper tantrums
- refusal to eat
"When a child has been missing his or her required amount of sleep for several days, weeks, or months, this missing sleep takes its toll on their body and produces a 'sleep debt,'" Dilk Salyn says. "This is similar to what we experience when we are financially in debt. A healthy bank account is similar to a healthy body--you want to have a surplus."
When a child is sleep deprived, it is like being $10,000 in debt. You need to work at depositing at least $10,000 back into the account just to break even. Once you break even, you need to be vigilant with the deposits to get to a surplus. This doesn't happen overnight, which is why getting a child on a healthy sleep routine can take so long and cause some parents to give up. The good news is, if you are consistent, you will start to see some changes quickly.
Here are five tips to help your child get healthy sleep and avoid being overtired:
1. Know how much sleep your child should be getting in a 24-hour period. Track your child's sleep periods for three days to see if she is getting the required amount.
2. Ensure that your child is taking the right amount of naps in the daytime. Adequate night and day sleep are equally important for optimal health.
3. Maintain a regular routine. Children thrive on consistency and it will help to set their body clocks to a regular rhythm.
4. Keep bedtime early. This is one of the quickest ways to begin to catch a child up on lost sleep. Depending on how tired the child is, they may need to go to sleep as early as 5:30pm for a few days. But overall, children younger than 5 do best with a bedtime between 6-7:30pm.
5. Stay consistent! When you hit a bump in the road, go back to the basics, stay consistent and know that your child can get back on track with some time and patience.
Joleen Dilk Salyn is an independent certified baby and child sleep consultant and founder of Baby Sleep 101. She received her extensive training from the Family Sleep Institute. She is also a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. Joleen is a mother of two children, ages 2 years and 5 months. Visit babysleep101.com for more information.