Author: Dana Crater, MD, FAAP
One of the biggest factors for overall health through all stages of childhood and even adult life is sleep. This is because the organ in your body most impacted by sleep is your brain. For young infants, the brain is still growing rapidly and even more so than adult brains developing trillions of those all-important connections within the brain for learning. For toddlers and older children, it affects mood and learning.
Getting enough sleep is very important and even the quality of that sleep is important.
Our bodies love routine at every age regarding sleep. So developing good sleep habits is important. A schedule for sleep time; fall asleep as close to the same time every day (7 days per week). This includes nap times for toddlers. Also, try to do it in the same quiet environment. Have a get ready for sleep routine at night. Electronics off one hour before bedtime, brush teeth, bath/shower, book, bed. It was always well known not to have televisions in the bedroom but now tablets and phones have all slipped into bedrooms. If they cannot turn them off then take them out.
Infants: Put down while drowsy, not asleep. Under six months in a crib in parent room, no co-sleeping. After six months ok to transition to a separate room if available.
Toddlers: Transition to bed. Can keep crib next to bed initially. Always sleep in “Big Bed”, talk it up positively before it arrives. Then big praise for successful use of it.
A quick note on checking on children versus letting them cry it out: the earlier method is known as partial extinction or some people call the Ferber method (the name for Dr. Richard Ferber) or a modified Ferber method. You put the infant child down and if they cry and do not fall asleep you go in and check on them in gradually longer increments of time. You can verbally reassure them in a calm voice they are alright, go to sleep and you’ll check on them in a bit. The other idea of just let them cry and settle themselves is known simply as extinction. This is after you have of course ensured that they are fed, changed, and otherwise just tired and it is bedtime. I personally always used the Ferber method with my two boys but was surprised to find that the research shows the two methods to be equal in success in sleep training and no negative psychological effects in the complete extinction method over the partial extinction method. So as a parent it really comes down to what you feel most comfortable with. From experience, I can say that after a shift to the routine like a family trip, or some other event. You may be back to square one in re-Ferberizing or resetting the routine but then should happen much quicker than the initial sleep training.