After having children, it can feel like a good night’s sleep is suddenly an ‘impossible dream’. Anywhere up to 70 per cent of children suffer child sleep disorders in their lifetime. Not surprisingly, this can have a significant impact on the whole household including siblings and on daytime functioning whether it be concentrating at school or handling emotions.
Child sleep disorders: Let’s start with the little ones
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Infants can have complex sleep patterns. Struggles with falling asleep or repetitive waking at night can cause great distress to families and are amongst the most common complaints to health professionals.
Baby reflux and colic can last for weeks, impacting at night when your baby lies flat. It is common to develop strategies that just ‘work’, often from trial and error.
There is no perfect time to move a baby to their own room or nursery but consider it early (even after eight weeks of age) to eliminate the noise of others whilst giving them their own space.
Strategies that are often used by sleep schools can then be implemented more easily, whether it be sudden removal of a parent from the room after resettling the child (known as extinction). Or to gradually withdrawing parental presence, known as ‘checking in’, usually every five minutes until your baby has settled.
Both of these have proven efficacy but are challenging because they involve some protest or crying. If separation provokes significant anxiety for parents or your infant, it is suggested that ‘camping out’ in a child’s room whilst you support them to sleep is also a plausible option.
There are sleep consultants popping up in every state. Consider your needs and whether you would benefit from the added support of someone else who has had experience in this field. Another source of support is the local mother-baby unit, which often runs evidence-based outpatient and inpatient programs.
Protests from older children
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Children can also be difficult to settle at night. This is very common and often tiring.
Problems like fear of the dark or being scared in general, separation anxiety, a sudden hunger or thirst can be at play. Of course, the issues can be far deeper and these may need exploring with a GP or child psychologist.
Bullying at school, anxiety disorders, recent family loss or significant change are a few examples of what may be affecting a child at night. A GP can also screen for medical causes including sleep disorders (snoring, large adenoids), restless legs, nutritional deficiencies such as lack of iron and developmental concerns such as autism spectrum disorder or neurological problems such as epilepsy.
Keep it consistent
Figure out the best bedtime for your child and stick to it. This should be before 9pm, which can be hard in places where it is still light, so use darkness such as blackout blinds to create an atmosphere of relaxation and calmness.
Develop a regular routine
Start the routine well out from bedtime so it isn’t a mad rush. Continue that same routine when away on holidays or for sleepovers.
Cut out electronics
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Aim for a minimum of one hour ‘screen-free time’ prior to sleeping. Screens not only stimulate brain activity, they switch off the essential hormone, melatonin.
Positivity and relaxation
Children argue and meltdown more when they are tired. Understandably, arguments can’t always be avoided, but make attempts to keep them away from bedtime as it is unlikely to go well. It also increases adrenaline and wakefulness.
Try one of the new meditation apps that are out there, smiling mind has multiple wind down mindfulness programs. Mindful colouring and massage might suit older children.
Accept they may never be ‘good sleepers’
With all this on board, it can still be a juggle to support a child to sleep. Understand that it may never be perfect and have expectations that it will improve even just slightly with time to keep a sense of optimism and hope.
It is easy to become emotional around bedtime and fall in a heap. Struggling with your own mental health can have a further impact on sleep problems in yourself and your child. Be aware of these feelings, breathe, and do your best to remain calm. Pick your battles, if they want five teddies, let them have it!
If they’re ‘hungry’, come up with some sort of compromise. Some things are just not worth the argument. Above all, take care of yourself as can be tough, seek help early and stick to the basics.
Dr Andrew Leech is a paediatric GP based in Perth. He has a podcast series called ‘The Kids Health Network’ providing a wide range of interviews with kids specialists on common problems parents face.
We hope this article helps you settle your child if he/she is experiencing any child sleep disorders! Being sleep-deprived can be tough on the whole family, but hang in there. Your little one will get the sleep he/she needs!
This article was first published in Kidspot and was republished on theAsianparent with permission.
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