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Joan E. LeFebvre Family Living Agent



Sleep and Your Preschooler
Children have amazing amounts of energy. They can play for hours and don’t want to miss out on anything. In fact, if adults don’t intervene, most children will bypass naps and put off bedtime for as long as possible. However, young children need lots of sleep. It’s not realistic to expect children to operate on the same sleep schedule as adults. Preschoolers, ages four and five, need at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Some will need naps, others won’t. Does your child? ♦ Have a problem waking up in the morning? ♦ Sleep later in the morning when they can? ♦ Fall asleep during the day and early evening? ♦ Have sleep habits that conflict with family’s daily schedule? ♦ Get over-tired or cranky before bedtime? “Yes” answers indicate a need for more sle ep. Sleep Routine Provides Security Whatever the hour you choose for your preschooler’s bedtime, follow the routine every night. Consistency helps children feel safe. There’s a difference between putting a child to bed and putting a child to sleep. Adult are responsible for putting a child to bed. The child has a choice to rest or sleep. No one can make a child sleep. Tip: If a child is allowed to become over-tired, getting to sleep is harder. If timing is right, not too soon or too late, then getting to bed and to sleep is a lot easier. Tips for Naptime/Bedtime Routine ♦ Give children transition time. Say, “It’s naptime in 10 minutes.” or “After I read you a story it will be time to go to go to bed.” You might use a timer so children will know when time is up. ♦ Set rules about the number of stories, drinks of water, kisses goodnight, etc. ♦ Plan a calming activity before bedtime. Read a story, turn down the lights, play quiet music, or just talk. Avoid TV, movies, roughhousing, or active games. ♦ Allow children to have some security such as favorite stuffed animal or blanket, night light, the door open, or a flashlight by the bed. ♦ Talk about fears and anxieties. Do a “monster check” if that’s a concern. ♦ Avoid activities that compete with resting or going to sleep. Have adults and older children observe a similar quiet time that encourages little ones to go to sleep. Remember, your preschooler doesn’t want to miss out on anything exciting. ♦ Decide on a regular bedtime that is about 10 to 12 hours before the child needs to get up. If a child is getting up too early, you may be putting your preschooler to bed too soon. On the other hand, if your preschooler is grumpy or drowsy, bedtime may not be early enough. ♦ Adjust daytime naps to support the bedtime schedule. Remember naptime is a time for rest and relaxing. Children may or may not actually sleep during naptime.

An EEO/Affirmative Action employer, University of Wisconsin-Extension provides equal opportunities in employment and programming, including Title IX and ADA requirements.

Reasons parents give for not having a regular bedtime for their children. Reason Worn out parents Guilty parent Why? Parents may be too tired to participate in a nightly bedtime battle. Potential benefit to change Think how nice it would be to have some time to relax after your child goes to bed.

Parents worry that the child will feel Arrange to have time together earlier in the parents don’t love him if the child is put evening. Let chores wait. Take time for your to bed. child. Children who complain of night fears Provide a consistent time and routine for may be allowed to fall asleep on the bedtime that encourages the child to sleep. sofa and/or with the parent. Over time, the child may begin to believe the excuses and fears.

Overprotective parent

Common Problems Children often wake and call for a parent while sleeping. When this happens, give the child some time to go back to sleep. If the crying or calling persists, check on the child. Reassure the child that everything is all right. If the child has night terrors or nightmares, hold the child and talk in a soothing voice. To help your child feel safe and secure, sta y with your preschooler until asleep again. (For more information, see “Nightmares: What to Do about Scary Dreams” October 2001.) Tell your pediatrician if your child snores. Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea which has been linked to learning problems, slow growth, bed-wetting, and high blood pressure in children. Research shows that children between the ages of three and five who slept less than 10 hours a day have a significant increase of risk of injury. Boys, in particular, are at increased risk of injury. Sleep patterns can be disrupted by changes–a new bed, new room or sleeping arrangement, moving to a new home, change in the family (new baby, divorce, death, marriage), absence of a family member or pet, or a change in the daytime schedule. Be patient while your preschooler makes adjustments.

Some preschoolers have separation anxiety about leaving the world of their parents and entering into the world of sleep. Suggest your child think of something safe and happy such as a sandy beach or grandma’s house. Start to describe it and then say, “Now you finish the rest in your mind while you fall asleep. Good night. I love you.” Tell your child he/she doesn’t have to go to sleep right away. Tell your child you will be back in five minutes to check on them. Leave the room. Be calm. Be firm. Don’t give in. Within a week, parents usually see some amazing results. If, however, the child still resists going to bed, there may be some deeper sleep problems. You may wish to talk to your pediatrician or explore information on the Internet at:
Sources: Donna K. Donald. “Children and Sleep.” Iowa State University. 1999. National Sleep Foundation (Online June 2002). “Teaching Good Bedtime Habits.” Family Information Services. 1998.


Joan E. LeFebvre, Professor, Department of Family Development, University of Wisconsin-Extension Reviewer: Dave Riley, Extension Specialist, Child Development and Early Education, UW- Madison Layout: Penny Otte, Program Assistant I, Family Living Area Office, Vilas County

For more information on Parenting and Child Development, contact: Joan E. LeFebvre, Area Family Living Agent, University of Wisconsin, Extension, 330 Court Street, Courthouse, Eagle River WI 54521-8362, 715-479-3653, FAX 715-479-3605, E- Mail September, 2002

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