Common sleep problems and their causes
Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, NCT, Summer 2011
Although each child with a sleep problem exhibits it in his or her own way, the underlying causes fall into a small number of general categories.
The origins of sleep disruptions can originate from a variety of factors, from a child who has never learned to go to sleep by himself to a child who has been recently disturbed by and illness, holiday, or a new baby. In their efforts to get their child to sleep parents may be inadvertently perpetuating their child’s night-time behaviour by their actions.
The child’s own stage of development – and whatever difficulties she experiences on the way – will influence when and how sleep problems initially emerge. The three factors that can sustain or limit them are what happens during the day, how bedtime is handled, and what happens when a child wakes at night.
Daytime napping problems
Try to keep daytime naps regular and consistent, this not only helps to establish predictable times for sleeping and eating, but is also likely to make her a better sleeper at night.
Young babies will often need to sleep every 1 to 2 hours in the day, but as children become more socially aware the time between naps can start to extend. Avoid late afternoon naps in babies over 9 months, they can steal sleep from the night time and make her more difficult to settle. By 3 years old most children no longer need a nap in the day.
– Establish a regular time for bed, this helps eliminate bedtime battles with your child and regulates their body clock.
– Avoid stimulating activities in the hour before bedtime
– Build a brief routine into your child’s pre-bedtime period, but always keep it low-key and relaxing.
– Avoid stimulating foods or drinks in the evening.
– Have a bedtime routine that includes; a bath; a story; then lights out and a purposeful ‘goodnight’. Make it low-key and relaxing. It is repetitive for you, and may even get boring. But it is worth it for the long-term benefits to your child’s sleep pattern. It should take no longer than 45 minutes.
– Enforce clear boundaries for bedtime behaviour, this applies to you as well as your child! If you have said you will give your child a cup of milk in bed, don’t be talked into fetching a second. Once boundaries start to get stretched, most children will push at them more.
– Place a baby in her cot when she is drowsy, not asleep. Try this as soon as you see the opportunity. If your baby can get used to falling asleep without your presence, she is likely to wake and demand you far less frequently.
– Try not to feed or soothe your young baby to sleep every night. This is easily done, especially with very young babies, and rarely fails. But it can create a rod for your own back if she is unable to settle without a feed further down the line.
– Teach your child a settling routine that does not rely on props that require your presence and leave your child awake when you say goodnight
– Ensure your child is asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving him. This is the maximum amount of time it should take your child to fall asleep. If she is still awake, she may be having a nap too late in the afternoon – or bedtime routine too stimulating and not focussed.
Waking in the night
Feeding at night
Sleep phase problems
This information provided by Mandy Gurney – Founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic, was adapted from her book “Teach Your Child to Sleep” Hamlyn’s.