Recent findings that room sharing can disrupt infant sleep may carry far-reaching implications, including poor sleep later in life — which may lead to behavioral and mood problems as well as inferior school performance in children.
In light of this information and current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Jodi Mindell of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that parents should make a decision based on their unique family situation.
But sleep habit development doesn’t stop after infancy. Parents of toddlers or older children who already struggle to sleep can make strides toward healthier sleep habits by asking the right questions about their child’s lifestyle and diet.
1. Is your child’s diet helping or hurting sleep?
Make note of what — and when — your child eats. Even otherwise healthy diets may cause sleeplessness at night due to certain stimulants like caffeine, tyramine, fat and sugar. Try to introduce more foods that contain sleep-inducing substances such as melatonin, magnesium or lycopene.
2. Is your child getting enough exercise?
For every one hour of inactivity during the day, your child will take three minutes longer to fall asleep at night, according to a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Exercise brings many health benefits, not the least of which is better sleep. Encourage your child to turn off the TV, shut the laptop and venture outside.
3. Does your child’s bedroom and your overall home environment promote sleep?
The perfect sleep-conducive environment for a young child should be dark, quiet and cool.
When possible, avoid using a night light, bright alarm clocks or other screens, especially those that emanate disruptive blue light. As bedtime approaches, consider turning off the television or any other sources of loud noise until your child has fallen asleep. And finally, maintain a low but comfortable temperature in your child’s room.
4. Do you maintain consistent napping and bedtime routines?
Children respond to routines. If you maintain a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, establish a comforting sleep ritual and encourage sufficient naps throughout the day, your child should learn to recognize those sleep cues. Eventually, your little one may even grow drowsy in anticipation of bedtime.
The bedtime routine can be as simple as a quick bath or reading one story before saying goodnight — and you can even keep it flexible enough to adjust as needed for any unexpected obstacles.
Of course, sometimes these simple fixes can only go so far in helping remedy your child’s sleep problems. If you continue to struggle with establishing healthier sleep habits for your child, you may want to consult a pediatrician or sleep expert for more guidance.