For some time after birth infants spend the intervals between being fed, washed and dressed, in sleep, and thus pass fully eighteen out of the twenty-four hours. As age advances, the amount of sleep required becomes less, until at two years, and at three years eleven hours, are enough. The amount of sleep required will, however, vary considerably in different children, but an observant mother can soon determine this question for herself.
Any marked diminution in the average of sleep, or any decided restlessness indicate disease, and demand attention from the physician. At the same time, sleep, perhaps more than any other item of nursery regimen, is a matter of training, and many a mother, by want of judicious firmness, has rendered the early years of her child's life not only a burden to himself, but an annoyance to the entire household.
One cannot too soon begin to form the good habit of regularity in sleeping hours, and so far as circumstances permit, the following rules may be enforced:--
From birth to the end of the sixth or eight month the infant must sleep from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M., and as many hours during the day as nature demands and the exigencies of the nursery permit. This does not mean that the baby is not to be put to bed until nearly midnight; on the contrary, he should practically settle for the night at six or seven o'clock, but the last feeding should be at 11 o'clock. After this he must rest undisturbed until the early morning hour, when he should be fed and sleep again.
From eight months to the end of two and a half years, a morning nap should be taken, say from 12 M. to 1.30 or 2 P.M., the child being undressed and put to bed. Occasionally an afternoon nap for half an hour or more seems necessary, though, as a rule, sleep at night is more undisturbed and refreshing if this be omitted. The night's rest must begin at 7 P.M. If a late meal be required, the child can be taken up at about ten o'clock, but if past the age for this, he may sleep undisturbed until he wakes of his own accord, some time between 6 and 8 A.M. So soon as thoroughly awake the child must be taken up, washed and dressed, and given breakfast. This is the only way to cultivate the habit of early rising, which promotes both bodily and mental welfare, and of all habits is the most conducive to a long and healthy life.
By early rising it is not meant that the child shall be roused from a sound sleep by a rough voice or hand at a certain fixed hour in winter and an earlier one in summer, simply for the whim of a fad-ridden and over-prompt parent. Quite the reverse. Let the child wake of his own accord, for he will do so -- whether it be late or early -- after he has had enough sleep; and, if he must get up at a certain hour -- and never fix it before 7 A.M. -- make the rousing process as gentle and gradual as possible. Sudden rousing excites the brain, quickens the pulsation of the heat, and, if repeated, may have serious consequences.
From two and a half to four years, an hour's sleep may or may not be taken in the morning, according to the disposition and needs of the subject, but a child should invariably be put to bed at seven in the evening and not permitted to rise until six or seven o'clock on the following morning.
After the fourth or fifth years, few children will sleep in the daytime; they are ready for bed by 8 P.M., and must be allowed to sleep for ten hours or more.
A later retiring hour than 9 P.M. ought never to be encouraged until after the twelfth or thirteenth year. Any postponement of the usual hour for going to bed is injurious, and should abridgment of sleep be accompanied by the excitement of a child's party or the like the rest obtained is broken and productive of a pale face and nerveless frame on the succeeding day.
The position and general features of the night nursery have already been described, and it only remains to say that when occupied by day it must be darkened so as to favor sound sleeping.
The bed (and where there are several children in the family each should have its own) must be so situated in the room as to be out of the way of draughts. Curtains, while they protect, prevent the access of fresh air, and it is far better to ward off a draught by a movable, folding screen.
The form of bed known as a "crib" may be occupied until the sixth year. The sides must be high, to prevent the child from falling out and injuring himself, and the movable side should work upon hinges rather than move up and down in slots.
Springs and a soft horsehair mattress, protected by a gum cloth, placed beneath a double sheet, under ordinary circumstances constitute the bed proper. Sometimes a feather mattress is admissible, but this is only when the child is feeble, and requires artificial aid to keep up the normal body-heat during sleep.
The objection to feathers is, that the body, sinking deeply in, is so completely enveloped that it is subjected to an undue degree of heat, which relaxes and weakens the system and renders it very susceptible to the injurious influences of cold.
The bed-covering is composed of a sheet, one or more blankets -- according to the weather -- and a spread. These must be warm enough to maintain a healthy temperature but, at the same time, not so heavy as to oppress the child.
Especial care should be taken not to cover the nose and mouth, and it is much better to keep the air of the nursery at a proper, even temperature by an open fire than to secure warmth to the body alone by weighty bed-coverings.
The pillow ought to be small, rather thin than the reverse, and made, except for very young infants, of soft horsehair.
A bed should never be made up directly upon the child's leaving it, for it is then saturated with nocturnal exhalations from the body. So soon as vacated, the bed-coverings must be thrown over the backs of chairs, the mattress shaken up, and, the windows of the chamber being thrown open, allowed to air for an hour or more.
In the matter of bed-clothing, cleanliness is as important as in body-clothing, and the nurse must never neglect to re-make a bed if the sheets become wet with urine or otherwise soiled, no matter at what hour of the night the accident may occur. Much trouble in this direction may be avoided, however, by regularly taking up the child at the time of the last feeding and encouraging a thorough evacuation of the bladder.
Children should never sleep in the same room with persons who are ill, whether the disease be acute or chronic. Sleeping with those having a long-standing cough or consumption of the lungs is especially to be avoided. Do not get the baby into the habit of being rocked or walked to sleep, and do not allow older children to sleep too soon after a meal, as the processes of digestion are apt to produce restlessness and uneasiness. Again, a bright light or conversation in the bedroom should never be permitted after the children have settled to rest.
Finally, teach the nurse to make up the bed neatly and smoothly, and direct her to turn the pillow and smooth out the sheets, should her charge be restless at night. By the latter procedure sound sleep is often brought to a fretful child.