Parents deal with disrupted sleep, early risers, scared sleepers and sometimes even a family bed. It's a wonder they can even function. Here, local pediatricians answer some of the most commonly asked questions about sleep in the hope that children -- and parents -- can get a little more shut-eye.
At what age should children be sleeping through the night?
It's variable, says Dr. Abraham Green, a pediatrician with Pediatric Healthcare of Long Island, which has offices in Woodmere and Bellmore. "Most children sleep through the night by 9 months, which means they'll be sleeping long enough so parents can sleep at night without interruption," he says. "By 10 months, most children will sleep 10 hours straight."
What can you do to stop a child from waking before 6 a.m.?
"Some babies are just early risers," says Dr. Elliott Friedman, medical director of PM Pediatrics, an after-hours urgent care clinic with offices in Syosset and Selden. Also, putting a baby to sleep too early in the evening and then expecting him or her to remain asleep until later in the morning is unrealistic, he says. But there are some things a parent can do to help a baby stay asleep as long as possible. "His bedroom needs to be maintained as a sleep-promoting environment -- shades should be down to keep out sunlight, and doors should be closed to block out the noise if others are rising early," he says. "Alarm clocks, TV and bathrooms all create sounds that will awaken him. Even if he can sleep with those ambient noises at night, they may awaken him in the morning, when he is in a lighter state of sleep."
How do you break children of the family bed habit?
You can use a star chart for positive reinforcement when the child uses his own bed, says Green. "If this doesn't work, put a gate in their doorway, which essentially baby-proofs their rooms so they can't get out," he says. "It's easiest, however, to simply make sure this doesn't become a habit when the children are young." Before the age of 6 months, most babies fall asleep to the bottle or the breast. By 6 months, they should have a sleep routine and should be put to bed sleepy but awake. "They will become accustomed to sleeping in their crib," he says.
How do you quell an older child's fears of sleeping alone or in the dark?
A child's imagination is a wonderful thing, but at times imaginations run wild and can lead to bedtime fears with ensuing difficulties. Avoid TV programs, movies and video games that have scary content, Friedman says. "Scary means anything your child finds scary," he says. "It is better to tell your child there are no such things as monsters than to affirm their existence and support the fear by proclaiming to have killed all the monsters." Using a night-light and security blanket can be helpful. "Don't dismiss their fears -- talk it out and help them cope," says Friedman.
Any advice for parents of siblings sharing a room?
"If you have newborn twins or young twins, you have to sync their schedules -- there's no way around it," says Dr. Edward Kulich, a pediatrician who makes house calls across Long Island and the author of "The Best Baby Sleep Book" (KidsHousecalls, $15.95). When the siblings are different ages and one is waking the other up, you have to separate them the best you can. Stick the crib in the living room or in the hallway. "The most difficult cases arise when the parents quickly appease the younger child so that he doesn't wake the older one," he says. "This works initially, but it's the worst thing you can do. The baby is always soothed and shushed, so they don't learn how to soothe themselves, and they're the toughest kids to sleep train later."
How much sleep does a child actually need?
A child needs enough sleep to be comfortable during the day, to be awake and focused, and not be cranky. "If your child gets a small amount of sleep and they're fine, then they're fine," Green says. "If your child goes to sleep late, it's fine as long as they are getting enough sleep."