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Establishing Healthy Sleep Patterns for Your Child

March 2 - 8 is Sleep Awareness Week and if you are a sleep-deprived parent, sleep is probably top of mind more than just one week out of the year. Today’s we’re sharing tips and information to help parents, whether you have a newborn waking every one to two hours, or a preschooler who can’t seem to make it through a night without coming into your room. Sleep health is important not only for parents, but also for children as it is as essential as nutrition and their overall safety and well-being. The following are some helpful tips for establishing good sleep habits for your child:

  • Newborns do not have a set night or day schedule for the first several weeks of life. It is best for a newborn not to sleep longer than five hours at a time in the first five to six weeks as their small bodies need frequent feedings.
  • Older babies and children should have a nap time and bedtime schedule.
  • Start a quiet time, such as listening to quiet music or reading a book, 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. TV should not be a part of the quiet time.
  • After quiet time, follow a bedtime routine, such as a diaper change, going to the bathroom and brushing teeth.
  • Set a time limit for quiet time and the routine so it does not drag on and your child knows what to expect before bedtime.
  • Say goodnight, turn off the light and leave the room.
  • Security objects, such as a special blanket or stuffed animal, can be part of the bedtime routine.
  • It is important for children to be put to bed awake so they learn to fall asleep themselves.
  • Babies should not be put to bed with a bottle. It causes problems with tooth decay and ear infections.
 
Helpful tips for children with poor sleep habits
 
Children can easily fall into bedtime habits that are not always healthy habits. The following suggestions can help when a child does not want to go to bed or is having trouble staying in bed:
 
  • If your child cries, speak calmly and reassure him or her, "You are fine. It is time to go to sleep." Then leave the room.
  • Do not give a bottle or pick up your child.
  • Stretch out the time between trips to the room if your child continues. Do not do anything but talk calmly and leave.
  • Your child will calm down and go to sleep if you stick to this routine. It may take several nights for your child to get used to the new plan.
  • If your child is used to getting a large amount of milk right at bedtime, start to cut down the amount of milk in the bottle by a half to one ounce each night until the bottle is empty and then take it away completely.
  • Sometimes children get out of their routine of night sleeping because of an illness or travel. Quickly return to good sleep habits when things are back to normal.
     
Sometimes, older children go through a stage or a period of time when they revert back to bad sleep habits or develop new problems in going to sleep. The following are some tips to help parents with older children who have problems going to bed:
 
  • If your child gets out of bed, take him or her back to bed with a warning that the door will be shut (not locked) for one or two minutes if he or she gets out of bed.
  • If your child stays in bed, the door stays open. If your child gets out of bed, the door is closed for two minutes. Your child can understand that he or she has control of keeping the door open by staying in bed.
  • If your child gets out again, shut the door for three to five minutes (no more than five minutes).
  • Be consistent. Put your child back in bed each time he or she gets out of bed.
  • When your child stays in bed, open the door and give your child praise (for example, "You are doing a great job of staying in bed. Goodnight.").
  • Your child can be rewarded by earning a star on a calendar for staying in bed all night. You can give a special prize for a certain number of stars earned.
 
Utica Park Clinic's Dr. Hassan Abouhouli practices sleep care for both children and adults. Learn more here