When you have a brand new baby, you can expect some sleepless nights – it’s all part of the deal. For many of us though, those disturbed nights will either continue or re start as our babies grow into toddlers and can persist right up to school age and beyond.
Having a child or children who can’t sleep can have a disastrous effect on any mum or dad’s health, career, social life and love life (not to mention appearance!) Everyone in the family benefits when children sleep well – especially the children themselves. Here are some facts:
- Sleep strengthens children’s immune systems and improves their concentration skills – i.e. gives you healthy, brainy kids.
- The most intense period of growth hormone release is during sleep – having a good diet is only part of what makes them tall and strong.
- Kids need some quiet time and their own space at the end of a busy day; just as you do. There is no need to feel guilty about wanting “me” time.
- They also need parental boundaries, in order for them to feel safe and nurtured – it’s right that you should be in charge.
Andrea’s 10 Point Plan
- From the earliest weeks right up to teens, a lovely consistent bedtime routine for your child will help them to feel both sleepy and safe. For little ones, include a nice warm bath, and lots of loving contact with you. It is a wonderful investment of your time and energy to help your child go to sleep feeling happy and content.
- Try to avoid allowing babies & toddlers to fall asleep over the bedtime milk feed. Introduce a little familiar picture book to look at together after the feed and before putting them into the cot. This will break the milk/sleep association, so common in sleepless babies. Babies who are over 6 months old and are gaining weight nicely rarely require a feed during the night.
- Aim to always place them` into their cot/bed whilst they are awake. It is alarming for them to wake in the night to find that they are no longer in your arms. [Or on the sofa.]
- Remember that it is normal and healthy for all of us to wake several times during the night due to the sleep cycles. Children are no exception and those who are able to ‘sleep through” are generally those who go to sleep independently at the beginning of the night.
- Get the daytime naps right. Your baby or child needs to be tired at bedtime but not overtired. Encourage naps during the morning and early afternoon, but avoid very late afternoon sleeps if your baby has difficulty settling to sleep at night. By the age of 4 or 5 years, children tend not to need to nap any more.
- Never send children to their bedroom as a punishment. Don’t automatically give sweets as treats or rewards.
- Accept that when your family is growing up, you’re going be tired. So go to bed early, go easy on the wine/coffee and other stuff that affects your sleep. Learn to take advantage of the times when your baby is napping to put your own feet up. This way you will be better prepared to rise to the challenge of their demands.
- Provide plenty of fresh air and stimulation for your baby or child during the day. Not only will this provide vital clues to help establish a day/night sleep schedule, but it will stimulate the sleepy hormones and aid restful sleep.
- Make bed time a happy time of day! Even though you might be at your most exhausted and ready for a break, try to take the time to show your child just how much you love them. Turn off the TV, telephone etc. and give them your undivided attention. This will help them to fall asleep feeling secure and happy.
- Once your baby or child is settled, take a few moments to care for yourself. Even though you might be beyond tired, reward yourself with a nice warm bath, a good film or book and an early night!
Remember, that as the parent of a sleepless child you are not on your own. If it all feels like too much and you can’t even face the prospect of putting the above plan into place, you should see your GP or health visitor about getting some expert support.
Andrea Grace, mother of 4, independent health visitor and sleep expert.
Andrea is a trained health visitor, nurse and mental health nurse. She is also the mother of four children. She specialises in gentle, child centred techniques, which respect the values and parenting styles of each individual child and family. As a leading authority in her field, she is frequently seen on TV and in the press. Her work is recognised by professional as well as families.
Andrea’s sleep clinic is based in London’s Harley St but she offers individual consultations both nationally and internationally via Skype, Facetime and telephone. She is the author of “Andrea Grace’s Gentle Sleep Solutions” [Hodder 2012]
Copyright Andrea Grace