If your child regularly has trouble falling or staying asleep, you’ll know how quickly bedtime can turn into a battle ground – and that’s no fun for anyone. Before you begin to tackle your child’s sleep problem, it’s important to consider whether there are any underlying issues that need addressing.
In their book, Teach Your Child to Sleep, the team at Millpond Sleep Clinic in London present some basic questions that you should think about when assessing your child’s sleep problem.
1. Is your child healthy? When a child falls ill, often one of the first symptoms is disturbed sleep. Sometimes this is easy to identify, such as when they are suffering from a cold. Other disorders, like an ear infection, may take longer to spot.
The priority in this case is to treat their condition, while making sure that their disturbed sleep doesn’t become a long term problem. This means sticking to a good a sleep routine as much as possible, so that it is easy for your child to readjust once they’ve recovered.
2. How long has the sleep problem been going on? Has this issue been happening since your child’s birth, or is it more recent? If your child’s sleep problem is something new, consider whether an event or upheaval may have caused the disturbance, such as a change in family circumstances.
Sleep problems can also be caused by normal developmental stages, including growth spurts, teething, and the onset of separation anxiety, as well as changes to your child’s sleep routine.
3. Are they getting enough sleep? It can be easy to lose track of exactly how much sleep your child is getting, both at night and during the day. Keeping a sleep diary can help you build a clear picture of when and for how long your child is sleeping.
You can then compare this with the normal sleep expectations for children of a similar age (outlined in Teach Your Child to Sleep). For example, a six-month-old baby needs around 4 hours of daytime sleep and 10 hours of night-time sleep, whereas a one-year-old only requires 2.5 hours of daytime sleep and 11.5 hours of night-time sleep.
4. Does he settle quickly at night? Taking a long time to fall asleep can indicate that a child has picked up unhelpful sleep associations. With a solid routine, a child should be able to settle and fall asleep 15 minutes after lights-out.
5. Do they have a regular sleep routine? Is there a set pattern for both naps and bedtime? Establishing and sticking to a consistent routine is vital in overcoming sleep problems. Again, keeping a sleep diary can be a useful way of ensuring that sleeping and waking times are regular.
6. Are they waking a night? The best way to solve night-time waking is to understand why it happens. Pay attention to how often your child is waking up, for how long and for what reason, if there is one. Young babies need to wake during the night to feed, but older children will have a variety of other reasons.
What does it take to resettle your child? How you respond to night-time wakings could be central to resolving their sleep problem.
7. Are they suffering from sleep-related anxiety? Does your child seem fearful at bedtime or when waking during the night? Anxieties such as a fear of the dark can make it difficult for children to settle.
Are you able to calm and reassure your child when he is afraid at night? Could his sleep problems be the result of stresses or worries he has experienced recently? Does he talk or walk in his sleep? Identifying the cause of the anxiety and tackling it during the daytime can help resolves sleep disturbances.
8. How is your child’s mood during the day? Disturbed sleep can have an impact on daytime mood and behaviour. Does he seem sleepy upon waking or later in the day? Is he irritable or does he seem to have trouble concentrating? These are all signs of sleep deprivation or inappropriate sleep times.
9. Does their environment encourage good sleep? Changes at home can often disturb a child’s usual sleep routine. Sometime this is unavoidable, but should be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent the problem from becoming ingrained.
Your child’s bedroom environment is also important. Consider lighting, temperature, noise levels and the behaviour of siblings. Are these all conducive with a good sleep environment?
10. What solutions have you tried? Have you already tried any techniques to improve your child’s sleep? Consider how long you kept to the plan and what effect it had.
Keep in mind that just because a technique didn’t work before, it does mean it won’t work in the future. Success can depend on your child’s age, health and developmental stage, as well as the way that you applied it.
About the book: Teach Your Child to Sleep: Solving Sleep Problems from Newborn Through Childhood is a guide to sleep written by Millpond Sleep Clinic in London. Millpond has offered sleep training, with a 97 per cent success rate in resolving children’s sleep problems, and acted as consultants to NHS Trusts on sleep since 2007. The book leads readers through the various practical options so that they can choose the right solution for their family’s needs.