Sleep

Examining your toddler's sleep habits

Author: Canadian Living

Sleep

Examining your toddler's sleep habits

Sometime between her first and second birthday, your child will gradually reduce her daily sleep time to a total of twelve or thirteen hours. The afternoon nap, the last remnant of daytime sleep, may disappear at about two years of age. That's the usual age at which one out of four kids no longer requires an afternoon nap. But most children still need a daytime nap until they reach age four or five. Each child's sleep pattern is unique -- there isn't any average sleep behaviour.

Getting to sleep
For many toddlers, the main sleep difficulty isn't waking during the night but settling down in the first place. At this stage, a child's brain is developing very, very quickly. All day he has been absorbing new knowledge and experiences through all his senses, and information is whirring about in his head. It's difficult for him to slow down to a relaxed state for sleep.

Somewhere between the ages of one and four, about 25 per cent of kids are awake for more than half an hour from when they're put to bed before they drop off to sleep. Don't put your child into bed until you're reasonably sure he will go to sleep in less than half an hour. Many parents find that a long session of comforting and cajoling a toddler into bed is a real source of end-of-day frustration.

Develop very predictable bedtime activities. Roll out a nightly ritual of baths and bear hugs and bedtime stories, always in the same progressive order. Give yourself and your baby a half hour each night to go through all the steps. Start at 7:30 p.m. and aim for an 8 p.m. bedtime. By the time your child is about one year old, he should be making it to about 8 o'clock before the long nighttime sleep. The only acceptable bedtime beverage, other than water, is milk. Avoid cocoa, juice, and any soft drinks before bed.

Help your child to comfort himself while getting to sleep or when he wakens in the night by encouraging him to have a transition object, which might be a teddy bear or a favourite blanket. The attraction for a transition object happens around one year of age and that object can be tremendously comforting for a toddler. A small, dim night-light in the room, and perhaps a low-level sound -- like a fan or air conditioner -- can help.

Once you've established your bedtime routine, don't give in to whining and whimpering. Experts advise that your routine is more important than ever during this stage. If you capitulate to your fussing child and pull him out of bed to watch a television show together, you'll make bedtime even tougher for both of you the next night. He needs his sleep.

Crib to bed
Around your child's second birthday, it's time to help her make the momentous move from her crib to a child's bed. To help her get ready for the change, engage in lots of discussions and big-bed stories. Let her help pick out her new bed or the bedding that will cover it. And then play it safe by keeping her crib in the same room for a time, so that your child has the extra time she needs to ease the transition. Put the mattress on the floor for a few nights and let your child sleep on it to help her learn to "centre" herself.

Nightmares
No one can say for sure what causes children's nightmares. For many children, they begin after the age of two when the child becomes more verbal, although they can certainly begin earlier than that. A nightmare occurs during the dream cycle, usually in the latter half of a night's sleep. It is typically brief in length, and awakens the child. We don't know why kids have more nightmares than adults. It may be that the world contains more new things for children than for adults and novelty tends to be more frightening. You won't know many details of your child's nightmares or bad dreams until he can describe them to you. When your child wakens from a bad dream, comfort him and help him go back to sleep.

• Sit in the dark with your child for a bit, and talk quietly about happy subjects.
• Tuck in his stuffed animal or doll.
• Pat his back.
• Offer a glass of milk or water.

If nightmares increase and become a problem, review and restrict your child's daytime television-viewing habits. Some kids have such vivid imaginations that they can't distinguish between reality and fiction. For persistent or severe nightmares, consider taking your child for professional counselling.

Night terrors
A night terror is a bad set of emotional experiences, usually without dream content, that brings on feelings of absolute fear. A night terror occurs at the soundest point of sleep, generally between one and four hours after a child goes to bed. It's an emotional response, accompanied very often by thrashing limbs, bulging eyes, or a contorted face. A child experiencing a night terror usually wakens in a state of sweaty panic, with a very rapid heartbeat, and a look of genuine confusion and fright.

Your child may call out for you and then push you away. Or he may cling to you desperately. But it's not unusual for him to appear unaware of your presence. On average, night terrors last between ten and thirty minutes and are forgotten by morning. If your child wakens from the night terror, comfort him. He may, however, fall back into a calm sleep without waking first. Let him sleep.

Although a night terror will not harm a child, it can be as frightening for a parent to watch as it is for a child to experience. The prevailing explanation for night terrors is that a child's brain simply doesn't have the kind of control over all aspects of the body during sleep that it will later acquire. By the time of puberty, his night terrors will be all but gone, and his nightmares will be much fewer.

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Examining your toddler's sleep habits

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