1. Make sure that your child is getting adequate sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, babies need 14 to 15 hours of sleep, toddlers need 12 to 14 hours and preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours in each 24-hour period to function at their best. And the more sleep-deprived a child is, the more likely he is to be sleepy and overtired during the day, to change sleeping locations at night, and to have more sleep problems overall. Sleep begets sleep -- it can't be said often enough.
2. Begin your child's bedtime routine when your child is sleepy but not overtired.
Ideally, your baby's bedtime routine should last 30 to 60 minutes and your toddler or preschooler's bedtime routine should last 20 to 30 minutes, and it should include elements that he finds genuinely enjoyable. (Having problems getting your child to go to bed? Read 3 solutions for bedtime battles.)
3. Use the power of daylight to reset your child's sleep-wake clock.
Daylight plays a powerful role in resetting our circadian rhythms, so by exposing your child to daylight as soon as she wakes up in the morning, you'll be giving her body a powerful cue that morning has arrived.
4. Provide your child with a sleep environment that is sleep-enhancing.
That means a sleep environment that is cool (but not cold), dark and quiet. And don't forget to check for comfort, too. Make sure that your child is sleeping on a comfortable mattress in nonitchy pajamas so that nothing can disrupt your child's trip to dreamland.
5. Make sure your child's sleep environment is safe, too.
Childproof your child's bedroom and keep the hall clutter-free at night.
6. Teach your child how to soothe himself back to sleep, and be aware of how sleep associations affect your child's sleep habits.
Continue to reinforce relaxing bedtime routines and to encourage your child to soothe himself back to sleep if he wakes up in the night. About one-third of preschoolers still need some hands-on help from Mom and Dad in soothing themselves back to sleep.
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7. Keep your child on a regular sleep and nap schedule.
Your older infant, toddler or preschooler's wake-up time and bedtime should stay within a one-hour window most of the time (a 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. bedtime works best for most toddlers and preschoolers). Obviously, you can make exceptions on special occasions, but you don't want those special occasions to be too frequent or your child's circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) will start to get seriously out of whack.
8. Don't be in any rush to eliminate naps.
And when your child does eliminate his nap, try to encourage him to replace nap time with quiet time instead. That way, he can have a bit of a break in the midst of his busy day and, on days when the two of you are home together, you can benefit from that break, too.
9. Serve your child foods that are sleep-enhancing, not sleep-inhibiting.
If you serve complex carbohydrates with protein, you're giving your child a snack with plenty of lasting power. He won't wake up hungry anytime soon. On the other hand, foods high in protein or sugar tend to give you an energy blast that can make it hard for you to get to sleep. And carbs straight up can make you very dozy. Other things to think about on the dietary front: Be particularly careful of the timing of big meals (not too close to bedtime) and watch how much caffeine your child is consuming.
10. Use physical activity to promote sleep.
Provide your toddler or preschooler with opportunities to be physically active during the day so that he will sleep more soundly at night. And give your baby some opportunity for some "floor time," too.
11. Avoid TV/computer and other highly stimulating forms of play right before bedtime.
Vigorous exercise can be quite stimulating, so enjoy being active as a family earlier in the day. Remember that preschoolers have particularly vivid imaginations. Monitor your preschooler's media consumption carefully to reduce fears of "the monster in the closet." And if your preschooler does develop some bedtime or middle-of-the-night fears, treat those fears seriously. Then help him to come up with a concrete game plan for dealing with the monster in his nightmare or the monster in his closet.
12. Don't forget to practise good sleep hygiene yourself.
Not only will you have more patience and stamina to deal with whatever parenting challenges await you in the night, you'll also be modeling healthy sleep habits for your child. (Are you having problems getting to sleep? Read 10 bedtime rituals to guarantee a good night's rest.)
Excerpted from Sleep Solutions For Your Baby, Toddler and Preschooler by Ann Douglas. Copyright 2006 by Ann Douglas. Excerpted, with permission by John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.