Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

date Jun 1, 2020
authors Marc Weissbluth M.D.
reading time 6 mins

Why sleep habits from infants is important

The prevention and treatment of unhealthy sleep habits in infants and young children is important, because if those habits are uncorrected, they will persist. There is no automatic correction. Children do not simply outgrow these problems. Adult sleep specialists commonly see incurable adult insomniacs, chronically disabled from sleepiness and dependent on sleeping pills, who correctly describe themselves as never sleeping well as children.

Second wind

Overtired children are fatigued, and the body’s natural response to fatigue is to fight it by producing a stimulating chemical. This “second wind” of stimulating energy causes a hyperalert or hypervigilant state that prevents easy entry into sleep or sleeping for long periods.

Sleep deficiency

Likewise, sleep deficiency in childhood may harm neurological development; the problems remain “hidden,” not showing up until later. I think it is quite possible that unhealthy childhood sleep habits contribute to school-related problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.

Emotional regulation

I also suspect chronically tired children become chronically tired adults who suffer in ways we can’t measure, including less resiliency, less ability to cope with life’s stresses, less curiosity, less empathy, and less playfulness. The message is simple: sleep is a powerful modifier of mood, behavior, performance, and personality.

Put naps and sleep more emphasis than school

And school itself has grown more demanding, with children expected to master more knowledge and skills at an earlier age than ever before, to say nothing of the demands placed on students by sports programs and other extracurricular activities. All of this runs the risk of interfering with naps and early bedtimes for children, ironically making it more difficult for them to learn.

Bringing out the baby might excite him more!

After 6 weeks of age, he became more socially aware of people around him; after about 4 months of age, he, like all children, became interested in barking dogs, wind in the trees, clouds, and many other curious things, all of which could and did disturb his sleep, either by waking him up or by making him fight to stay awake.

Sleep duration and timing are both important. It depends on the timezone too!

In 9- to 16-year-olds, the timing of sleep, not just sleep duration, makes a big difference. Even when the sleep duration is the same, those children who went to bed later did less vigorous exercise each day and had more periods of physical inactivity than children with an earlier bedtime.

Sleep settles into one long night + 1 nap by 3 years

By 3 years of age, the easier-to-manage children in my study—mild, positive in mood, adaptable, and more likely to approach unfamiliar people—slept twelve and a half hours total.

Kids will not make up with more night sleep!

An important conclusion is that 3-year-olds who nap are more adaptable than those who do not. But napping did not affect the length of sleep at night. Comparing nappers and non-nappers, night sleep duration was ten and a half hours in both groups… Therefore, it simply is not true that children who miss naps will “make up” for it by sleeping more at night. In fact, the sleep they miss is gone forever.

Well rested kids have a state of quiet alertness

In dramatic contrast, over and over again I have seen well-rested children in my practice who spend enormous amounts of time in a state of quiet alertness. They take in everything with wide-open eyes, never missing a thing. They find simple little toys amusing or curious. They never appear bored, even though the toy they pick up may be one they have played with many times. The

Nap well during day too!

Not napping well causes his sleep tank to go toward empty by the end of the day and results in an even higher state of arousal, so it now becomes even more difficult for him to easily fall asleep and stay asleep at night.


It’s a virtuous circle: sleep begets sleep. It’s also a vicious circle: sleeplessness begets sleeplessness.

REM sleep

Not only are naps different from night sleep, but not every nap is created equal. There is more REM sleep in the midmorning nap compared to the midday nap. During a nap, the duration of REM sleep within a nap, not simply the total duration of the nap, is related to creative problem solving… Research also suggests that high amounts of REM sleep, under the influence of low melatonin levels, help direct the course of brain maturation in early life.

Sleep == Brain rest + repair

Sleep is not the absence of wakefulness; rather, the brain automatically and actively turns on the sleep process and simultaneously turns off wakefulness. You and your child can force wakefulness upon sleep, but you cannot force sleep upon wakefulness.

Once in a while during travel / visits are fine!

Of course, once in a while—when relatives visit or when a painful ear infection keeps the child awake—a child will make up for lost daytime sleep with longer night sleep. But day in and day out, you should not expect to satisfy your child’s need to sleep by cutting corners on naps and then trying to compensate by putting your child to sleep for the night at an earlier hour.

Always in motion is not good.

How well do you nap in a car or on a plane compared to in your bed? I think babies have better-quality, more restorative sleep when they are sleeping in a stationary crib, bed, or bassinet. Vibration or motion during sleep appears to force the brain to a lighter sleep state and reduce the restorative power of the nap.

Working parents’ challenges

Fathers or mothers who have a long commute and return home from work late want to play with their baby, and so they keep their baby up too late at night. Digital and social media distraction interferes with healthy sleep routines.

Teenage sleep schedule

He is now 13, and even with his homework load, a five-nights/week swim schedule, and weekly youth group participation, Trystan “owns” the decision to head up to bed by 9:00 p.m. each evening.

Feeling outcast

Occasionally they feel a little like outcasts because they refuse to frequently socialize late at night with other parents or relatives with their child. Sometimes not attending late night events or leaving early may have social costs. Similarly, parents may choose not to participate in playdates as frequently or go to family barbeques on weekends if they interfere with naps.