Be Child Care Aware: Rest Is Best For Young Children But Sleep Issues Can Be Problems

Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:35 PM

News You Can Use For October 2004

Sleep issues are common among young children, especially during the first five years of life. Such issues range from a reluctance to rest to nightmares and toileting accidents during rest periods, says LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe.

"It’s easy to see that sleep issues can lead to stressful battles," Gioe says, adding that children vary in the amount of sleep they require, how easily they settle down and the amount of time it takes for them to fall asleep.

"According to sleep research conducted at the New York University Medical Center, children up to one year of age need at least 14 hours of sleep, preferably more," Gioe says. "Children from age 2 to age 5 need 14 hours of sleep, as well, but they should get 12 hours of that at night and the other couple of hours from rest in the form of daily naps."

The research indicates that children from age 5 through adolescence need 10-12 hours of sleep a day.

"Children are great about giving signs when they are not receiving enough sleep," Gioe explains. "They have difficulty getting up in the morning, they become cranky, they can’t focus on activities, and they may even have trouble resting or falling asleep.

"Since sleep plays such an important part in the healthy growth and development of young children, it is important to schedule an appropriate rest time in an appropriate space and to pay careful attention to helping make rest time a peaceful, warm, calm and relaxing activity."

Gioe says establishing a framework or routine conducive to getting the appropriate amount of sleep is the way adults can help children get the rest they need.

"A scheduled naptime or bedtime is extremely important," she says. "By scheduling a time, this helps the adults know how to plan the time prior to bedtime or naptime, and it helps children develop good sleep habits at an early age."

The LSU AgCenter expert says caregivers also should establish a set of "resting rules" with children.

"The rules may be as simple as ‘stay in your resting spot’ or ‘use your whispering voices,’" Gioe explains.

Establishing the schedule and the rules then can develop into rituals and routines.

"When children experience rituals or routines, it helps them to develop a sense of time," Gioe explains. "Therefore, by having a rest time ritual, the children will automatically know that they are expected to rest – and the rituals can help them to transition from an active pace to one of a resting pace.

"For example, the ritual might involve reading a book to the children every day before naptime and choosing a "wake-up" fairy who will wave his or her magic wand over each child’s head when it is time to wake up. Those signals indicate it’s time to move into the rest period and to move out of it."

In addition to such routines, the environment plays an important part in a child’s resting experience, according to Gioe, who says certain rules are applied to child-care environments by the state.

"Louisiana State Child Care Regulations require at least 18 inches between cots or mats, and the children are to be placed alternating head to toe so that they are never face to face with another child," she says. "The regulations also state that when using mats on non-carpeted surfaces, the mats must be at least 3 inches thick."

Other tips offered by Gioe include that the resting area should be darkened and soothing music played throughout naptime. Caregivers should rub children’s backs or forehead or stroke their hair, if permitted. In addition, parents should be asked to provide comfort items from home, such as stuffed animals, dolls, sheets, blankets and small pillows, and children should be permitted to use them.

"Even though resting is important, not all children do rest," Gioe stresses, however. "If this situation does arise, children should never be forced to sleep, defamed or punished for not resting.

"Likewise, it is not appropriate to reward children for resting – simply because resting should be thought of as being good for overall, healthy development and not all children have the self-control to settle down and rest."

Some alternatives for those children who do not rest are:

  • Allow non-resters to play with table games set away from those children who will rest.
  • Provide books and puzzles for non-resters to use quietly on their mats or cots.
  • Organize naptime boxes – shoe boxes or other containers that have been decorated and filled with small manipulative items, writing materials, stickers and so forth that children can use on their mats or cots.
  • The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.

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    Contacts: Cheri Gioe at (225) 578-6701 or cgioe@agcenter.lsu.edu
    Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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