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If you were to ask a new parent, “Does your baby sleep through the night”, the answer would almost always be “No”.

Newborn babies don’t really know the difference between day and night. Their tiny stomachs can hold very little breast milk or formula to keep them satisfied for a long period of time. They need food every few hours, no matter what time of the day or night it is. New parents discover the crucial importance of sleep in the first few weeks of parenthood. Sleep, or lack of it, is probably the most discussed topic between new parents and pediatricians. The quality and quantity of an infant’s sleep affects the well–being of everybody else in the house. Over a period of time, an infant’s sleep only changes in form. By the time the child grows and moves from crib to the bed, instead of crying he/she either “Pleads”, or refuses to sleep.

Well, actually it’s not all that bad, it depends on the age of the infant. There are many questions parents would like to have answers to. “How do you get them to go to bed even as they cry, scream, plea and refuse to sleep?” “What should be the infant’s bed–time routine?” and, “How much sleep is enough? Or for that matter, “What should you do when your kids wake you up?”

How much sleep is enough?
There is no magical number of hours required by kids belonging to certain age groups. Two–year–old Anu might sleep from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m., while two–year–old Ahkil on the other hand, may sleep only from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., and be just as alert the next day.

Every child is an unique individual with different sleeping patterns and needs. Most children’s sleep is based on how old they are. Here are some approximate numbers based on age, accompanied by ‘Age–appropriate pro–sleep strategy’. A newborn may sleep as much as 16–20 hours a day or even more, often in stretches of three to four hours at a time. Babies also have different phases of sleep: drowsiness, REM (rapid eye movements) sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, and very deep sleep. Their periods of wakefulness increase as they grow.

Short stretches of three to four hours of sleep may be annoying to you, as they interfere with your own sleeping pattern, But, have patience. As your baby grows and begins to adapt to the rhythms of life this will gradually change. At first, though, the need to feed will overshadow the need to sleep. Many pediatricians recommend that a parent shouldn’t let a newborn sleep too long without feeding. So, you have to feed your baby every three to four hours or so.

Where and how should my baby sleep?
For the first few weeks, parents should place their child’s crib in their own bedroom. The baby should not be kept in a separate room at this early stage in his/her life. For safety reasons, your infant should not sleep in the same bed with you.

Parents should have different locations for diurnal (daytime) and nocturnal (night–time) sleep. For instance, if you let your baby snooze in a stroller during the day, and only put him/her into the crib at night, he/she may become accustomed to the “Difference” between day vis–Ã –vis night by means of association with regard to the change of scene.

Do keep “Sleep–safety” in mind. Do not place anything in the crib that may interfere with the baby’s breathing. This includes soft toys. Avoid objects with cords and any objects with any kind of sharp edges or corners. Make sure the crib you have been using is in keeping with today’s safety standards. Healthy infants who are placed on their backs or sides to sleep, and not on their stomachs, sleep well. The back or side position for sleep might be safer. Various studies suggest that babies sleeping on their backs or sides have a somewhat lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies who sleep on their stomachs.

What should you do?
You could convey, through your actions, that night–time is for sleeping. Avoid stimulation while feeding the baby at night or changing the baby’s diaper. Try and keep the lights dim, and resist the urge to play or talk with your baby.

You should begin to create some sort of bed–time routine like bathing, reading, singing that would help your baby to relax when he’s a bit older. Your newborn may be too young to understand the signals yet, but you can set up the bed–time drill early enough so that you are on the right track later. What if your baby is fussy? You can always rock, cuddle, and sing to your baby as he/she settles down. For the initial months of your baby’s life, “Spoiling” is not a problem. Your child could be fussy due to various conditions like hunger, illness, being overly tired, colic, tight clothes, etc.

Sleep for 1–3 years of age
A simple bed–time routine, should be established and if it remains the same night after night, it is your best bet for fighting the toddler’s cry of “I don’t want to go to bed!” Of course, he doesn’t. When mum, dad, and older siblings are still up and active, and the world is an exciting place of endless discovery, he doesn’t want to miss a thing by going off to sleep.

As your child progressively becomes increasingly aware of the outside world, and various stimuli begin to disturb him more at night, his growing imagination may start interrupting his sleep as a result of it.

How long will your baby sleep?
There’s a wide range of what constitutes “Normal” when it comes to sleep, but generally between the ages of one and two, a toddler requires about 10–13 hours of sleep every day. Whether your child continues to snooze during the morning or afternoon is quite up to his/her individual choice.

Some parents feel their child needs that nap during the day, while others might discover that as their child grows, day–time napping interferes with a good night’s sleep. Sometime during this period, you’ll have to deal with the prospect of combining two short naps into one, or doing away with the nap altogether. It may take several weeks of experimentation to arrive at the right combination of rest/sleep. Just make sure your toddler gets enough rest. It could mean the difference between a happy, sunny disposition and a cranky, hard–to–manage child. Try to become attuned to your child’s needs and personality.

Where should your baby sleep?
Most probably, your one to two year old might still sleep comfortably in a safe, secure crib. Never put any extra–large soft toys or stuffed animals in the crib with him, and look out for items with ties or strings that could wind up around his neck and cause suffocation. Also, be on the constant lookout for nearby objects your child might be able to reach for from a standing position in the crib: curtains, pictures, or wall hangings are all possibilities.

If you observe that your kid is an active climber who gets out of his crib and suddenly appears in the living room, you could think of a bed at this stage. It will be difficult at first to keep him in it, but at least you’ll know that he is less likely to fall down on his way out of bed, whereas he much more likely to hurt himself climbing out of a crib.

Don’t even think that waking up at night is something your baby would have left far behind by now! Toddlers wake up for several reasons. Sometimes, it’s during their dentition period, caused by teething troubles or any other kind of illness. Sometimes, it’s a mild attack of “separation anxiety”: “Where’s Mummy? Where’s Daddy?” Dreams and nightmares could also disturb the toddler. If this is true of your child, be especially aware of any videos or books he is exposed to just before bed–time. Keep him away especially during sleep time.

Look around for an environmental cause for your baby’s night–time awakenings
Is he cold? Toddlers are famous for not staying covered at night. So in the colder months you might want to dress your child in some warmer clothes to keep him warm.
Is there too much noise? Toddlers will learn to sleep with some noise, but if it is too loud, it could be disturbing.
What Should You Do?
childLow–key activities like warm bed–time baths, bed–time stories, and prayers prepare a child for bed.
Most kids love taking a favorite soft toy, like a teddy bear or a favorite doll.
Violent videos and jarring music, especially videos should be avoided both during the day, and especially at night before bed–time.
If your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night, just as when he was younger, you’ll want to quietly and quickly reassure him that everything is OK, and you are close by.
If your child is an early riser, make sure the sunlight doesn’t wake him/her up by keeping the curtains or blinds closed. Try putting a few “safe” toys in his crib while he’s asleep. That would keep him busy in the morning.

School–Age Children
A six–year–old child may need about 11 to 12 hours of sleep. The amount of sleep needed decreases with age. Give your baby some private time before his bed–time. This time could be used have chats, which will also prepare him for sleep.

Baby bath Baby bath
Generally, a 12–year–old needs only 10 hours of sleep, but it is up to the parents to judge the amount of rest the child needs, and see that he/she is in bed in time for sufficient sleep. Make your school–age kid to go to bed early on week days as this will refresh him in the mornings and not make him/her feel lousy while going to sleep. Also, allow a school–going child to choose his bed–time on weekends, depending on the events planned for the following day.

Poor sleep quality
The body’s immune defenses sag after lost sleep. The good news is that a sound night’s sleep restores those cells to their former levels of effectiveness. Kids with poor sleep quality have generally had higher levels of depression, hopelessness, and low confidence. These symptoms translate into a whole list of day–time woes like hyperactivity, behavioral problems and learning difficulties. Also, the kid becomes a bit cranky. Most children have the ability to sleep well. Inculcate from very early on healthy sleep habits in your child and that may last for a lifetime.

There are various aspects that affect a child’s ability to sleep. And these often go unnoticed by most parents. These could be the birth of a new sibling, stress at school, witnessing parents’ fights or even separation, divorce and death in the family. Co–sleeping is another sleep destroyer. That’s when young children make it a habit of crawling into their parents bed. If this continues, and becomes a habit–it is a very hard one to break. This leads to restlessness, exhaustion and crankiness during the course of the day.

Establish a bed–time routine
Stick to your sleep time, alerting your child both half an hour initially, and about 10 minutes beforehand.
Allow your child to choose what to wear and which to take to bed, etc.
Snuggle with your child into bed giving him/her a feeling of security.
Consider playing soft, soothing music or singing a lullaby.