Preschool Age Children (3 – 5 years)
As children reach preschool age, their cognitive and physical abilities are developing rapidly, and they are learning to socialize and express themselves. What can I do to help my child sleep better at this age?
From ages 3 to 5, sleep in children undergoes rapid changes as it continues to approach adult sleep. Typically, sleep cycles are 60 minutes in length at the age of three Brain activity from sleep studies show that from the ages of 3 to 5, sleep cycles increase in duration, so that by age five, sleep cycles are 90 minutes in length. This 90-minute sleep cycle is consistent with what is found in adult sleep, and suggests that by the age of five, sleep in children is roughly similar to that of adults. Children experience roughly six to eight of these cycles per night, and as a result sleep roughly 9-10 hours per night on average.
As with toddlers, preschool age children benefit tremendously from a bedtime routine. This will help the child become accustomed to falling asleep at the same time each night, which is important for maintaining quality sleep. It is also important at this age to continue developing proper sleep hygiene, including reduced screen time before sleep, a comfortable and quiet bedroom, as well as maintaining a regular sleep schedule. A bedtime routine will also assist in reducing bedtime resistance, which is still common at this age.
It is important at this age to let the child fall asleep independently, and as a result, the bedtime routine should leave the child drowsy, and then have them fall asleep on their own in their own bed. Sharing a bedroom or bed (co-sleeping) with a parent has been found to lead to adverse sleep outcomes, which can have an impact on cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Typically, at this age, children will have consolidated their sleep at night, and will no longer be taking significant naps during the day. It is not uncommon, however, for parents to report night awakenings at this time during development, especially if the child is put to sleep in a place that is not their bed and moved there after falling asleep.
As mentioned previously, at this stage it is important to teach the child to fall asleep independently. It is not uncommon for parents to report troubles with the child getting to sleep, and there are various strategies to counteract this, including a bedtime routine and bedtime resistance strategies such as extinction. Bedtime resistance is still common at this age, and bedtime resistance strategies are useful in helping your child get to sleep and stay asleep.
Role of Sleep in Development
Typically, at this stage, a child’s brain is constantly reorganizing itself through neuroplasticity as it takes in new information and begins to process them at higher levels. At this age, children are becoming more accustomed to the world and are beginning to socialize and express themselves, and sleep plays a very integral role in this very accelerated period of learning. One specific area in which sleep plays a critical role in learning is the development of speech in preschool age children, as there is evidence to suggest that sleep is important for the consolidation of vocabulary in preschool age children.
Children are also learning to socialize at this stage in development, and there is evidence to suggest that sleep also plays a role in emotional and behavioural development. Recently, studies have shown that disruptions in sleep are related to behavioural problems in preschool age children as well as cognitive functioning and could be a mediating factor in the socialization of preschool age children.
Sleep has also been shown to be related to executive functioning, and as such is important for children who are learning to think about the world at a higher level.
If you think your child is displaying abnormal sleep, please consult the resources below.
Better Nights Better Days is a sleep therapy program designed for kids between the ages of 1-10 and focuses on remedies for sleep issues and general insomnia. If your child is having issues falling asleep and staying asleep, click on the button below visit their website.
There’s a Monster in My Closet is a website that offers sleep education programs for kids over the first five years of life. For more information on better approaches to sleep and proper sleep hygiene, visit their website below.
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre is a division of BC Children’s Hospital focusing on Mental Health and Well-Being in children and adolescents. If your child is experiencing sleep disruptions and/or emotional disturbances, click on the button below for more information.
Paper Clouds is a sleep initiative for kids that offers sleep programs for elementary school kids. The ZZZ PowerTM Sleep Program is a sleep program for elementary school kids for better sleep. Paper Clouds also offers a bedtime story called “The Quest for Rest” which teaches kids how to prepare for bed. For more information, click on the button below to visit their website.