Every young child needs to sleep. It is the primary activity of the brain during early development.
Many children have trouble falling asleep. But also waking up throughout the night is very common. By understanding the mechanics of a baby’s sleep cycle, you can learn and adapt best practices for better sleep for both Your Child and you.
Short sleeping circles
In children aged six months to 18 months, sleep is made up of cycles that last about an hour. A sleep cycle consists of both light and deep sleep and it is normal for children to wake at night when a sleep cycle comes to an end. Then some children can easily resettle themselves, while others need help getting back to sleep.
Sleep habits and associations
It is common for parents to feed their child to sleep or use techniques such as patting, rocking, or holding the child until they fall asleep in their arms. When these techniques become habits that are needed to soothe a child to sleep, they are called sleep associations.
Sleep during the night by age
The younger the children the more sleep they need in general. If we just look at the sleep during the night, most children need between 10-12 hours, depending on their age:
- Age 0-3 month, 10-18 hours/day
- Age 4-11 months, 9-12 hours/day
- Age 1-2 years, 11-14 hours/night
- Age 3-5 years, 11-13 hours/night
Promote good sleep habits
To reduce your child’s dependence on certain habits and promote good sleep, try the following:
- Keep a consistent and predictable routine each evening so Your Child learns what to expect and how to react
- Stop any form of screen time or active play in the hour before bedtime. Quiet time such as storytime or taking a warm bath is a better activity before Your Child is put to bed
- Patting or rocking your child to sleep is good for newborns, but older children can form a sleep association. Try to cut down on these techniques if this is the case and instead lay next to Your Child until the baby can lay down alone
- Feeding Your Child before bedtime can become a sleep association. Try instead to time the last feed for at least half an hour before bed
- Let Your Child hold a comforter, such as a soft toy or small blanket (not recommended for children below 6 months to avoid any risk of choking)
- If dummies have become a habit, try to help Your Child give them up gradually
- Set your own limits but be consistent in your behavior
After it works, they wake up again
Even once your child has learned to fall asleep and stay asleep, things can change again. Coughs and colds or holidays can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleeping routine. Many children who used to sleep well when they are 12 months old are starting to wake up again when they are 18 months of age.
As children grow, they can collect more experiences during the day. And during sleep, their dreams of those experiences are turned into memories. If these dreams are too vivid, children wake up. If they cry or and need you to fall back to sleep, try to be there for Your Child.
Dr. Piyawut Kreetapirom, MD. (26 August 2021)