Sleep Problems in children and toddlers are all too common, even infants may have sleep disorders.
Every night tens of thousands of parents are woken up by their children. They are left exhausted, frustrated and feel guilty and incompetent when faced with child sleep problems.1w1
All parents want their children to go to bed by themselves and sleep through the night. Unfortunately, over 30 per cent of today’s parents do not have such a child. Indeed, regular night waking is the commonest problem suffered by the parents of young children, with four out of 10 children aged between six months and five years having some sort of sleep problems.
However, despite this, many parents feel they are suffering alone and they have no idea of how everyone else is coping. A good night’s sleep is important for the physical and emotional health of every child. Proper growth and development of children require uninterrupted sleep. And a good night’s sleep helps parents perform better both outside and inside the home.
It is a hard fact that no one sleeps through the night without waking. And it is natural for young children to wake more frequently in the night than adults. Parents mistakenly believe that it’s up to them to help their children go to sleep at night or return to sleep if they are waking at night. So they rush in each time they hear a baby whimper, and cuddle it back to sleep. Thus, the child will only go back to sleep if it is cuddled. The parents may think they are soothing the child back to sleep, but in fact they are teaching it that it can only sleep if they are there. It is not surprising the child then cries out for company when it wakes up.
Insomnia In Children – Toddler Sleep Problems
Many newborn babies are fed to sleep. As a result, when they wake up they expect and need a soother or teat in their mouths to get back to sleep. Infants will not learn how to fall asleep on their own when parents ‘help’ their children go to sleep by cuddling or feeding them. They need the chance to learn how to self-soothe and fall back to sleep.
How Common Are Sleep Disturbances In Children ?
The two most common sleep problems in infants & toddlers are:
- Night awakening
- Difficulty to settle in bed
Prevalence rates for night awakening vary from 10 to 40 per cent in the first four years of life. But, if the sleep problem is established without intervention, it can persist for years. Difficulty to settle in bed is equally demanding for young parents.
Teach the baby — night-time is time for sleeping
The newborn does not know the difference between day and night. In the first few weeks of life there is usually no pattern to eating and sleeping. A parent’s first job is to teach the little one that the rest period happens at night. In order to achieve this, guidelines are:
- Place the baby for sleeping in the crib while awake.
- No rocking or feeding the baby until it falls asleep.
- The last thing the baby should remember before sleeping is the crib and not the parent.
- Always remember that crying before bedtime is not bad for babies, just difficult for parents.
- Parents should follow regular and set bedtime routine for the child.
How to prevent sleep problems in Infants
The best way to prevent night awakening and sleep problems like difficulty in settling for sleep is to teach children how to sleep alone from as early as 10-12 weeks of age.
- Keep night-time encounters with children short.
- Wean off night-time feeding at the age of six months.
- Have consistent bedtime routines with their child from an early age. This consistency helps to reassure the child and also give a regular signal that night-time is coming.
For example, give a bath to the child, tell a short story, a little snuggling and a kiss then put it into its cot, awake. Encourage a transitional object like a stuffed toy or a favorite blanket at the time of sleeping.
Baby Sleep Problems – How To Manage Night Awakening
Many different approaches can be recommended to parents to manage sleep problems like night awakening but there are two basic principles in common:
- Identify the ‘incorrect’ sleep associations, and teaching the child to fall asleep alone. Examples of sleep associations are: falling asleep with the parent, with a bottle or in front of a TV.
- Identifying and removing the night-time positive reinforcements. Examples of positive reinforcements are night-time feeding, sleeping with parents and extended parental care.
How To Tackle Night-Time Feeding
This is one of the important things bothering parents. In children over six months of age feeds can be gradually decreased over one to two weeks. If the child is bottle-fed, this is most easily done by putting one ounce less of milk in the bottle each night.
If the baby is breastfeed, the feeding time should be decreased gradually by 1-2 minutes each night to ensure that the child is not hungry.
How To Teach A Child To Fall Asleep Alone
This routine works best for children under two years of age when they are still sleeping in a cot. At bedtime, the child is put in the cot when it is awake. The parent leaves the room and returns intermittently to reassure the crying child until it falls asleep.
Remember, the parent should stay in the room for 1-2 minutes and not pick up the child. The parent will gradually increase the time between visits. A majority of children will be quite upset the first few nights but will learn to fall asleep alone shortly after this.
- Parents can keep a diary of the child’s sleep patterns.
- Both parents should work together to help child overcome sleep problems.
- Reduce daytime sleep for the baby.
- Decide where baby sleeps best.
- Set predictable and consistent sleep routines for the baby.
- Properly and fully feed up your baby during the day
The best way to deal with Sleep Problems is to “meet it, greet it and defeat it”.