While parenting is fraught with all sorts of stresses, sleep is an issue that’s so emotive that a simple query about whether your child is sleeping through yet is enough to trigger yet another sleepless night.
Sleep is important for kids and adults
Sleep deprivation is a huge wake-up call for parents as it’s very rarely factored into their pre-baby preparations. “Yet sleep is fundamentally important for the physical and emotional wellbeing of both children and adults,” says Petro Thamm, a Specialist Sleep Consultant and Director of Good Night. “Our brains can’t physically function when we’re sleep deprived and sleep debt affects every aspect of our lives.
It’s also particularly important for children as the growth hormone needed for tissue and muscle development is primarily released during sleep. What parents need to understand is that babies will develop the ability to sleep well naturally – just as they learn how to walk. However this will only happen if you provide the correct environment for them.”
5 things that could be causing sleepless nights
Petro believes that there are a number of things that parents are doing wrong that contribute to their ongoing sleepless nights. These include:
- Underestimating how important the first few months are in establishing good sleeping habits
- Not creating an environment conducive to sleep
- Doing too much to get their child to sleep instead of allowing him enough opportunity to fall asleep alone
- Putting too much emphasis on feeding (always thinking that their child is hungry and automatically feeding him when he wakes). Sleep is influenced by the brain and not the stomach
- Not seeing sleep as a discipline and allowing the child to take the lead.
How much sleep does my baby need?
Lee-Ann Stretch, founder of Sleep Matters maintains that although all babies are different, they should generally be able to sleep for approximately 8-10 hours from the age of three to six months and for 10 to12 hours from six to12 months.
Why won’t my baby sleep through the night?
Some babies are self-soothers and have no trouble sleeping from a very young age while others battle to self soothe and need assistance.
Problems arise when babies or toddlers wake up three to five times a night. This means they’re not connecting their sleep cycles and have not learned to self soothe, so can’t put themselves back to sleep. These children are called ‘signallers’ and call/cry out for help.
There are various factors that can contribute towards a child not sleeping through the night, including:
- Not getting enough sleep during the day
- Teething, ear or other infections
- Being too hot or too cold
- Over stimulation and a dirty nappy.
- However, it also depends on the parents themselves – how soon they put their babies into their own rooms and whether they rock them to sleep or let them fall asleep on their own.
- Probably one of the biggest issues is that parents don’t like to hear their babies crying so tend to rush to pick them up.
- Then there are the moms who work full time and are often so consumed with guilt that they overcompensate at night and end up lying with their children until they fall asleep. This is repeated each time the child wakes up and they eventually end up sleeping in their child’s room.
That’s why all parents need to be realistic about expectations and have a good understanding about sleep and what they should and should not do.”
Leeann’s top tips for getting your baby to sleep through the night.
- Have a routine: Children thrive on predictability and knowing what they are going to do.
- Ensure there’s a calm sleeping environment: a dark room with black-out curtains during the day.
- Replace negative sleep associations with positive ones: don’t let your child fall asleep with a bottle or rock him to sleep because when he wakes up later he’ll need that association to fall asleep again. The aim is to teach your child to self soothe and fall asleep alone.
- Create a wind-down period before bedtime: no child can go to sleep after playing or running around.
- Be consistent and confident: make sure you’re ready to see sleep training If you stop in the middle you’ll confuse your child and make him more resilient the next time you try. Your child will also feel your anxiety and play on it.
A freelance journalist and content writer with a passion for people and health. She has worked in the magazine industry for many years and is a regular contributor to Living and Loving.