It is not unusual for some parents to have a great little sleeper who all of a sudden turns into a horrible little sleeper. Typically, sleeping issues may be represented by a resistance to sleep at bedtime, waking frequently overnight or deciding that they just don’t want to nap anymore. As a result you are stuck in a cycle of overtiredness that is an unwanted gift that keeps on giving-wearing you and your child out and continually adding to sleep debt.
There are reasons a-plenty for this to happen to you but the most common culprits may be:
- Recent sickness or bout of teething
- A holiday
- Nap transitions
- Developmental milestone
- Bedtime that has become too late
The problems can be initiated by any one of or a combination of these events and of course, ones that I haven’t listed, that each contribute to a cycle of overtiredness and fuel your recent sleep issues, until sleeping through the night becomes a distant memory. I often describe this scenario as a perfect storm.
What can you do to get back on track?
- Change what you do. Forget about what you used to do and have a new plan of action to remedy the situation. The greatest solve-all solution to a large percentage of sleep issues would be to bring bedtime forward. When a child is not sleeping, maintaining your original time for sleep adds to the problem. To undo the overtired cycle significantly adjust the time that you start your bedtime routine. Consider your child’s mood and behaviour in the early evening. Many parents will observe that the mood can change between 5 and 6pm with irritable or even hyper behaviour, even if your child has napped well. This is where going to bed early can help. Aim for your child to be asleep by 7pm and don’t be afraid of even earlier if visibly tired. This is not necessarily a long term solution, but certainly one that can be implemented to correct the current issues. Once, resolved bedtime can become later again. Further, don’t worry that an early bedtime will encourage an early wake time. To start with, we want to ensure that consolidated, uninterrupted sleep is returned to your family unit; sleeping later in the morning can come with time. Also, the early bedtime can often produce a late wake time anyway, so don’t let that stop you from implementing the advice.
- Start the day. Make sure you waken your child in the morning no later than 7-7.30am. Even if they have had very disturbed sleep, allowing them to sleep later will make the problem worse and dig your sleep deprivation hole even deeper. Consider this a corrective phase and once the problems are fixed-you can go back to the original way you operated with their sleep, but to help change come, you need to change what you do.
- Re-establish the day time sleep. Sleep issues feed each other. If your child is under 5 and not sleeping well at night time, consider reintroducing the nap in an effort to help them become better rested. Most children up to age 3 will still biologically require a day sleep, so help it happen. After 18 months a lot of child will need just one nap and the ideal time for that to happen would be from 12 noon onwards. If they are resistant to napping in the cot or bed then I suggest that you just help the nap happen in any way possible-car, buggy, couch. If a nap is not achievable, encourage quiet time instead. Please ensure that quiet time does not include television but rather reading or listening to audio books for example.
- Add extra time to your bedtime routine. Your child may feel that they are not seeing enough of you, or at least getting enough of your undiluted time. Bedtime is the perfect time for families to indulge in one to one time. Make it work for you where sleep is concerned-do so in the bedroom, with the lights low. Make sure that it is non-stimulating and calm. Spend more time than usual in order to correct the issues.
- Limit the use of electronic media and television. Obviously, in the last 1 hour before bedtime, but also through the course of the day. As parents, we can often rely more heavily on gadgets than we would like and routinely their use derails sleep-cutting short the amount of deep, restoring sleep they have and alerting the waking part of the brain when we want it to slow down. It can be challenging, to alter our devise use, but a challenge that can pay dividends in terms of sleep improvements.
- Get more active. Spend more time outside, specifically in the morning and after the midday sleep. This can help to regulate sleeping patterns and ensure that our children are burning off their excess energy. On its own this strategy may be ineffective, but along with the aforementioned changes, will have a positive implications for sleep
- Be consistent in how you manage your child s sleep disturbances. Routinely, sleep problems are further exacerbated by how we are responding as parents to the awakenings. Try not to operate a “sometimes” method for sleep. Where you chop and change how you respond to your child. Pick an approach and stick with it and this way you avoid giving them mixed messages and in turn ingraining unwanted activity.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice with her 98%-effective formula for sleep she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie <https://www.sleepmatters.ie>, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org