Kids’ sleep expert Alanna McGinn is a mother of three (including a set of twins), founder of goodnightsleepsite.com and the Canadian representative for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. You asked, and she answered your questions on how to overcome sleep challenges.
Q: How much sleep should kids get? Is there such a thing as too much sleep? — Lisa Morgan Rossiter
Logically thinking, the less sleep a baby or toddler gets throughout the day, the more he will sleep at night; or, the later he goes to bed, the later he will sleep in the morning. Not true! Children need a lot more sleep than we do. They need to get the proper amount of consolidated sleep at night and restorative naps at the right times of day. Quality sleep during the day translates into quality sleep at night. I do recommend waking children up to keep them on a routine — capping their naps and morning wake times to protect that next sleep phase. Frequently missed naps and pushed-back bedtimes can easily cycle into an overtired child because of missed sleep and sleeping against his natural sleep cycles.
Q: How can I get my children, aged two and four, to stay in their beds at night? They end up in our bed almost every night. — Amanda Liebeck
The first step is reconsidering your child’s bedtime. Kids who go to bed too late can become overtired and may sleep more restlessly at night. If you bump up bedtime, they sleep better and are less likely to wake up and come looking for you. A behavioural-modification clock (which lights up when it’s OK to get out of bed) or sticker reward chart can encourage them to stay put. At some point, parents must ask themselves who is training whom. It’s easier to just go with it at 1 a.m., but children need limits, and giving in sets a precedent. At first, you may have to escort them back to bed 50 times a night, but that will lessen with consistency. Setting limits can be a struggle, but it’s an important component of fixing sleep struggles.
Q: My kids, aged 10, eight and five, still fall asleep with their bedside lights on. How can we move past this? And does it affect quality of sleep? — Michelle Hamood Podnar
The first thing to do is understand why your child needs her bedside light. If it’s anxiety, talk to her and try to address the core issue. If she’s using the light for comfort, let her use it as long as she needs to. It won’t be forever. As long as you are using a light bulb not greater than 15 watts (four to seven watts is ideal), her sleep shouldn’t be disrupted. If she’s using the light so that she can play, then it’s time to get rid of it. Let her turn it off before bedtime — she’ll like being in control of hitting the switch. Introduce a transitional object, like a stuffed animal, that she can cuddle with. Or gradually lower the bulb wattage, so she can get used to sleeping in the dark.