So many parents - even of toddling or pre-school age children - struggle to get their children to sleep for the whole night without waking up or without them slipping into their parent's bed.
They wake; they demand milk; they need cuddles; they refuse to go back to sleep and they disturb you and everyone else in the house. And, at the sound of the child stirring at night send shock waves through the parents even if the little one is just turning over or breathing a little heavier than normal. So, even when they are not really awake... the parents are!
When sleep is in short supply all sorts of other repercussions occur. You're grumpy, your partner is grumpy, other children in the house are effected; your efficiency slips and everyone has a rotten time! Do you go to a doctor, let them scream it out, get up and give them everything they demand in order to get a easier and quieter life? It is incredibly hard and unless you're in the situation you really don't know how much endless sleepless nights can disrupt all your lives.
Why do they wake? Here are some thoughts:-
- Hunger: they may feel hungry and genuinely need food or some milk.
- Potty training: if they have just started potty training, they may have a more sensitive bladder and be aware when they urinate in the night even with a night time nappy on.
- Disturbed routine: if things have changed at home or school. A new teacher or childminder, things changed at home like Mum working more or Dad not home so often, or starting a new job.
- Outside influences: the neighbours have a new barking dog or a noisy motorbike.
- Bedtime: if you've move bedtime later or earlier this can impact on the sleep patterns.
- Stress or anxiety: are they worried about something at home or nursery?
- New baby: even a pregnancy or thought of a new sibling can effect their sleep.
- Poorly: they may be unwell so keep an eye on them.
- Teething: they may be uncomfortable with teeth emerging or causing pain even if you can't see any evidence.
- Growing pains: see our recent post on Growing Pains to understand this strange symptom.
How to help:
- If they ask for water, leave some by their bed so they can sip and return to sleep alone. Use a sippy cup if you're worried about spillages.
- Favourite toy: make sure any favourite toys are in bed with them for comfort and show them how to cuddle up with their toys at night.
- If you do wake and sit with them, keep it boring: no chat, no lights, nothing except a cuddle and return to bed.
One third of British adults take a teddy bear to bed with them, according to a recent survey which also found that over half of the adult population has an old teddy bear in their home dating back to their childhood. This makes the average age of teddy bears 27 years old!
Over 6,000 adults were questioned on behalf of the hotel chain Travel Lodge. It found that a quarter of businessmen take a teddy with them on business trips because it reminds them of home! Allegedly, the hotel chain receive hundreds of worried telephone calls each month from owners who fear they may have left their teddies behind in their bedrooms.
The survey also found that traditional teddies were most popular followed by Winnie the Pooh and Paddington. It has also been said, by the American writer Christopher Andersen, that Prince Charles even travels with his childhood teddy.
Although we may claim to love our teddies and take them all over the world, we are not always that careful. Over 75,000 Teddies are lost and reunited with their owners each year by Travel Lodge staff alone!
According to research, about 70% of children under five have sleep problems; sleep is a vital part of our daily lives, both for children and their parents, so any problems in this are can have dreadful consequences. The issues behind sleep problems are complicated and stressful because too little sleep at night can make the days even harder for both parents and children.
So, what can be done to improve sleeping? Here are a few tips:
1. A day and night timetable
It is important to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day so you begin to "train" your child's biological clock. This will mean that around 7 am each morning your child will begin to wake and at around 7 pm they will be ready for bed.
Children that follow a routine are more likely to have a more peaceful and calm bedtime. They know that the same thing will happen each night: bath, wash teeth, pyjamas on, book in bed, cuddle then bed. They will come to know what happens next and will expect it to be the same each night.
3. Daytime naps
Surprisingly, sleeps or naps during the day can effect how well a child sleeps at night. You'd think not, but naps are important. Children find it hard to go all day long without a break and it can make them more relaxed and focused. The better the daytime sleep, the better the night sleep.
4. Help get them in the mood
Dim the lights, talk more quietly, turn off the TV or music and be calm during the last half hour of the day. Put black out curtain in your child's bedroom so any sunlight is not making the room bright. Similarly, the sunlight will encourage them to wake up so keep the binds down if you want them to increase the chances of them sleeping in later in the morning.
Try and make the bedroom a calm place in the evening. Make it warm and comfortable. Warm the pyjamas if its cold outside, make the bed look welcoming and just try to make it a nice place to be.
6. Hungry or hyper?
Try not to feed sugary foods in the evening that can make children too alert and awake. Carbohydrates are more calming on the body so try and eat these in the evening. And, make sure they have eaten well during the day. A hungry tummy can make sleep very hard!
7. Wear them out!
Make sure that you do lots of physical exercise with children during the day so they are worn out by bedtime! It's good for them to enjoy the outdoors and healthy too, so take them out whenever you can so they are tired and drop off to sleep quickly.
8. Read a book
A great way to end the day is to share a book. Snuggle up somewhere warm and chat about your day together. Relax and make it a special time of day.
9. Take a teddy
Allow your child to take a favourite teddy to bed with them. Its comforting and helps them sleep. Just make sure it's safe with no loose buttons or ribbons they could swallow.
10. Separation anxiety
If they worry about being away from you and use it as as excuse not to sleep, comfort them, show you where you sleep and be firm about not letting them out of bed.