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How to Handle Common Sleep Problems In Children

March 19, 2018
Behavior Child Milestones Sleep
How to Handle Common Sleep Problems In Children

Sleep. Glorious, restful, quiet sleep. For many, it’s the holy grail of parenting. If only your child would sleep for, what, 6 hours straight? Even 5—or 4!–would be, well, wonderful. Is good sleep just a pipe dream?

For parents of babies, sleep is one of the most commonly discussed aspects of childhood. Among myriad other issues to plan for, think about and figure out, sleep is one of the big ones. Sleep is an important component of child development, and lack of quality sleep can affect the entire family. Babies and children that don’t sleep well can experience increased irritability, more frustration and difficulty controlling emotions. Families, including parents and older children (that presumably sleep well) can be affected as well when their sleep is disrupted on a regular basis.

The good news is that by starting off with good habits, or making some modifications to routines, many sleep issues can be eliminated. We’ve put together a list of common sleep issues and suggestions. As always, if you have any questions about your child’s sleep habits, we suggest your speak with your child’s pediatrician first.

Start Your Infant Off With Good Sleep Habits
Infants – to about 4 months – cry because of physical needs. They can’t be “spoiled” at this age, so when your infant cries, pick him up and give comfort by rocking and cuddling. When your infant wakes up at night, take care of him quickly and matter-of-factly, without much social contact or play. Then put him back in the crib and leave the room, to discourage waking up for the rewards of play and attention.

If Your Baby Wakes In The Middle of the Night
Many older babies wake up at night for the privilege of sleeping in the parents’ bed. This desire often continues throughout childhood. Unless you believe in the family bed, avoid this attractive response to nighttime waking at all costs!

Tips for Helping Baby Sleep
Establish daytime routines, including consistent waking times. Regular meal and activity times promote regular sleeping times. Develop bedtime rituals (a story or song, bath); routines make it easier for a child to “wind down.” Provide an environment that promotes sleep. A cool, dark, quiet room is best. Discourage excess evening fluids. Be consistent!

SIDS And Steps Toward Prevention
According to the Center for Disease Control, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death during sleep of a seemingly healthy baby. Although there is no known cause of SIDS, there are things that parents can do to help with prevention:

-always place babies on their backs to sleep for every sleep

-use a firm sleep surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, with a fitted sheet

-have the baby share your room, but not your bed; your baby should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or on a chair alone, with you or with anyone else

-keep soft objects, such as pillows and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep area

-prevent exposure to smoking during pregnancy and after birth as these are important risk factors for SIDS; the risk of SIDS is even stronger when a baby shares a bed with a smoker

Don’t Postpone Bedtime
Don’t postpone bedtime in the hope that a tired child will be easier to put to bed. When an overtired child loses self-control, it can be almost impossible to meet the child’s needs and the child can’t fall asleep comfortably.

How To Put Your Older Baby To Sleep
The older baby (4 months and older) must learn to relax and fall asleep without help. After the rituals of bathing, quiet play and feeding, put your older baby into the crib while he is still awake. Your baby will become better at relaxing and drifting off to sleep without help, which will also help when he wakes up in the middle of the night.

If Your Preschooler Won’t Go To Sleep
If your older preschooler resists going to sleep, try allowing the child to stay awake-but only in his bedroom-as long as the child wants, but without the stimulation of television or other screens. Your child feels somewhat in control, while you maintain a define bedroom time. There’s little reason to stay awake once the child realizes that further contact with the family is unlikely, and the child is likely to drift off the sleep—perhaps while playing on the floor. Eventually, the child will find that a soft bed is a better place to spend the night.

When A Child Should Move Into A Bed
Generally, a bed is introduced at about age 2-1/2 or 3, when the child can get in and out of it easily. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises switching to a bed when a child is 35 inches tall. Other signs of readiness include if your child starts climbing out of the crib, or if he sleeps through the night and adheres to a regular bedtime routine. Some popular choices with regard to selecting a bed include:

-A junior bed is made for young children. It is low to the ground and has guardrails. However, as it uses a crib-size mattress, it will be good only until your child reaches age 5 or so.

-A twin-size bed will work, but push one side against the wall and use a guardrail on the other.

Be sure to keep the bed away from windows, and as your child will be mobile, remember to keep door and entrances to off-limit areas closed and locked, and install a safety gate at the top of stairs.

If Your Child Wets The Bed
This is a common problem for many young children. They often are very sound sleepers and have small bladders that can’t hold all of the urine made during the night. Suggestions include:

-limit the amount of liquids your child drinks 2 hours before bedtime

-have your child try to use the toilet just before going to bed and as soon as he wakes up

-cover the child’s mattress with a rubber pad

-praise him when he stays dry

-respond gently when he does have an accident; getting angry doesn’t help either of you

-tell him to use the toilet if he wakes up in the middle of the night; remind him he can come and get you for help

How Medication Affects Sleep
Medications can affect a child’s sleep. Many medications—over the counter and prescription-can cause or add to a sleep problem. Always check with your child’s pediatrician before administering medications of any kind.

How Much Sleep Children Need
As children grow, their need for sleep changes. Below is a guideline for the amount of sleep children need at various ages. The amount listed includes naps and sleep.

Age                       Amount of Sleep

0-3 months            14-20 hours

3-6 months            14-16 hours

6-12 months          13-15 hours

12-14 months        12-14 hours

2-4 years                11-13 hours

4-7 years                10-12 hours

7-11 years               10+ hours


Making small changes can reap huge rewards. When babies get into poor sleep habits, it can be trying to change routines. With a calm approach and consistent new routines, change is possible! If you have any questions about your child’s development, MKSA’s professionals are happy to speak with you. You can reach us at 516-731-5588 or email us today.