Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
12
Sleep Regularity
February 1, 2021

Found in age groups

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
Chapter 1 (only 16 pages!) outlines everything you need to know about your child's sleep.

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

Sleep is serious business. If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial, from the point of view of the United States of America Department of the Army. A major point, emphasized by the Army, is that more sleep produces more benefits for Soldiers. Also, more sleep produces more benefits for children. Even small amounts of extra sleep help (Blog Post 6). At every age!

Another point made by the army is “A consistent and regimented schedule of sleep- and wake-related activities [Sleep Regularity] helps to lock in other biological systems associated with circadian rhythms. These rhythms include hormone release, digestion, muscle strength, and cardiovascular performance. Circadian rhythms act in tandem with the need to sleep which builds throughout the day. These rhythms optimize the process of falling asleep, staying asleep, and ensuring sleep quality.” And “Although some Soldiers [Children] may require a little more or a little less sleep, for the vast majority of Soldiers [Children] a steady diet of regular sleep is needed to sustain normal levels of brain function and health indefinitely.”

The Army is clear about who is in charge: “Planning for sleep is a leader [Parent] competency”

Blog 12Sleep Regularity

SLEEP REGULARITY

For young children in day care, dual-career families with long commutes, and older children with scheduled activities, it may be impossible to catch that exact magical drowsy state for going to sleep. An alternative strategy is to maintain a reasonably regular sleep schedule. Here is the evidence from published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals:

  • Children with irregular bedtimes at ages 3, 5, and 7 years had more behavioral difficulties at age 7 than those with regular bedtimes. The effect of nonregular bedtimes is cumulative, that is, the more years of nonregular bedtimes, the worse the behavior. But when children change from nonregular bedtimes to regular bedtimes, their behavior improves. Thus, the harm is reversible.
  • Children with variable sleep schedules at ages 4 and 5 years had more behavioral adjustment problems in preschool.
  • High school student with irregular sleep schedules had more daytime sleepiness, lower grades, more injuries associated with alcohol or drugs, and days missed from school.
  • College undergraduates with irregular sleep patterns had lower academic performance.
  • Two experimental studies on college students showed that regularization of sleep/wake schedules caused improvements in alertness, and a reduction in negative mood (tension-anxiety, anger-hostility), and fatigue.

These studies show that irregular bedtimes are harmful. For young children, when parents establish regular bedtimes, the harm is reversible.

Comments

  1. Hi Dr Weissbluth

    I have been blessed to have a baby who has slept through the night 6pm-7am every night since 9 months old and who has napped for 3 hours a day since she dropped to one nap. This all came about because of the advice I received from you through your book and also online here on your blog.

    She has recently (last week) started child care for the first time. On both of her visits, she slept just over an hour at the centre. She was put in her cot today for her nap (at home) but slept only 45 minutes then spent the next hour tossing, turning and crying out. It is so unlike her and now I am worried that her naps are going to be like this going forward. She slept like normal overnight after the first visit, but tonight she has woken up crying at 8pm (but seems to have pits herself back to sleep).

    My question is- should we persist with our routine (12-3ish nap, 6pm-7am bedtime) or delay her nap or bring forward her bedtime (it’s already so early)?

    Any advice would be appreciated!

    1. The brief nap at child-care may lengthen over time, or not. Because she is getting less daytime sleep, he bedtime has to be moved earlier to prevent bedtime battles, night wakings, or both.
      What time do you enter your home after picking her up at child care? Does she go 5 days a week? The answers may modify my advice.

  2. Thanks for your response. She goes twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. We have been picking her up at 5 and getting home about 5:15.

    1. Here are some not mutually exclusive considerations that may apply to your situation:
      Maybe on Monday and Wednesday, you’ll have a super-early falling asleep time (e.g., 6:00pm) to compensate for short naps at child care. Or if impossible, a little earlier bedtime twice a week.
      Maybe on the days that she is not in child-care, the bedtime will be 10-20 minutes earlier to prevent cumulative sleepiness from short naps twice a week at child care; and/or
      Maybe on week-ends you will be very careful to protect naps and have an early bedtime based on drowsy signs.

      Does this help?

  3. Thank you for your suggestions- I will give these a go and hopefully she will adjust to her new schedule. I really appreciate your advice!

  4. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,

    I have been trying to search for any advice your book or this blog has on managing sleep for infants in daycare, and I haven’t had much luck.

    I came across your book 18 months ago, and it changed everything for my daughter and I. I have a 20 month old who is still on 2 naps and 12 hours of sleep at night (bedtime 6:15pm).

    She sleeps so differently (and well!) at daycare. She has her own private room there. Her person is very busy managing the other kids — she can’t watch for the magic drowsy signs. Right now she is putting my daughter down easily after 2 hours of awake time.

    At home, if I try to put my kiddo down at the same times she goes down at daycare she stays awake! Sometimes for hours! I try to watch for drowsiness but also keep her within 30 minutes of daycare nap times.

    Am I doing it wrong if she is not napping well at home? How long is reasonable to keep her in her crib if she isn’t sleeping? Do you think I have the wrong sleep times?

    Also, any links you can share to other blog posts on managing sleep in 2 very different environments would be much appreciated.

    1. There are too many unknown variables for me to answer your question. I would suggest that, based on her age, one nap and an earlier bedtime might be a healthier sleep schedule.

  5. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,
    How can I maintain a schedule when my daughter’s naps vary so much in length. She is 9mo, wakes up around 5:15am (+/- 15min), but her naps last anywhere between 35min to 1h30 (40min is the most common). If they are shorter than 1h, I leave her in the crib until she has been in there for at least 1h (she moves around, tries all her pacis, and makes noises with her mouth, but doesn’t cry). She goes to bed between 5pm and 6pm depending on the length of her naps that day. I feel so much anxiety around her naps: if they go well it’s a good day for me, but if they are short, it triggers me so much because of apprehension of a cranky baby and knowing she is tired and needs more sleep. The wide variety in length of nap makes it impossible to have a stable schedule. I feel like I’m stuck. (she is sleep trained, falls asleep on her own). I wish she’d wake up closer to 6pm and had more regular long naps!

    1. What are the common times that she actually falls asleep at night?
      Please describe her mood and behavior during the hour before bedtime when she is alone with toys (no screens or parental involvement).

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