Seven reasons why your child may not be sleeping
Struggling to establish better sleep for you and your baby? It may be worth considering making some changes to how you operate when it comes to sleep and daytime, writes sleep expert Lucy Wolfe
In an ideal world all children would sleep when we want them to and no parent or child would struggle with not getting enough sleep, but sleep by its very nature is highly complex with many factors directly affecting how well your child may sleep.
Here are seven reasons why your child may not sleep well for you:
1 Your bedtime may be attempted when your child is already overtired.
This can result in a chemical response of cortisol and adrenaline to the system that has two main functions: firstly it may make it hard for your child to achieve sleep, resulting in a resistance to sleep when you address bedtime, meaning that it can take anywhere from one to three hours to actually get your child to sleep at bedtime, and secondly, the hormonal secretion can make it hard for your child to stay asleep causing frequent night awakenings outside of biologically necessary feeds and input, long wakeful periods overnight and also early waking. Consider your child's mood and behaviour before you are commencing the bedtime routine. If they are obviously signalling that they may be tired with intense eye rubs and yawns, agitated, cranky or increasingly upset, or perhaps hyper and entertaining, then it is likely that an earlier onset of bedtime may be suitable here. Sometimes, adjusting bedtime forward, as little as 20 minutes can have a significant, positive impact on the overnight sleep duration.
2 Your child may be getting too much or not enough daytime sleep.
Find out how much sleep your child may require based on their age group and work on making sure that they get closer to the suggested amount. The closer you get in achieving their average sleep-need suggestion, then the more likely that your child will stay in a deeper night-time sleep for you. Conversely, if your child is napping far in excess of the suggested sleep-need, then consider curtailing the amount that they are getting, in an effort to re-distribute the sleep into night-time. Don't be tempted to limit the day sleep far below the amounts outlined as that intervention may increase your night-time activity.
3 A nap imbalance can also have a pernicious impact on night-time sleep.
Your child may be getting the right amount of daytime sleep but it is not at the right time for their natural body clock. The intervals of wakefulness between nap periods can sometimes be too long resulting in some children under eight months of age missing a crucial third nap, and in some older children being awake too long before bedtime. Furthermore, some children may have too long a nap in the morning and as a result not enough in the afternoon. Most children from eight months to 15-18 months sleep very well when they are having two naps per day, with the second nap being of equal duration or longer than the first nap and a wakeful period not exceedingfour hours before bedtime. This seems to create the best nap dynamic which in turns helps for a better night-time sleep to emerge. Once the young child is ready to have one nap per day, then this recommended wakeful period ideally should not exceed 4-5 hours, thus ensuring that over-tiredness does not unnecessarily interrupt your child's night-time sleep.
4 Your child may not being getting enough to eat and drink throughout the day or they may be getting enough, but at the wrong time for the body, which can result in night waking as they don't feel full.
Once solid food is established, children benefit from three balanced meals with two healthy snacks and an age-appropriate milk intake, further ensuring that your child is hydrated. Filling up the calories in advance of sleep time does not generally improve sleeping patterns, so avoid "extra" meals, but make sure that your child has eaten enough for their age group, with many benefiting from a conventional evening meal (protein and carb) at dinner time, about 5-5.30pm, filling the need and preventing awakenings that could be avoided, by a change in feeding approach. Additionally, over relying on milk at bedtime and indeed overnight, when it is no longer a biological requirement, may also impair the daytime appetite for a varied and balanced food intake that in turn results in night-time activity.
5 Your child may not be getting enough outside activity and fresh air or exposure to bright and natural light.
With a winter like the one that we have just had, pretty much every child in the country has probably not been outside enough, to help burn off their energy and regulate sleeping patterns. Now that spring is afoot and we can now see a stretch in the evenings, make a special effort to get out and about. An hour a day is the recommendation, so 30 minutes mid-morning and again in the mid afternoon, fills this quota. If your child is not yet walking, then you will need to walk them and play with them outside, but your active toddler can walk and explore with you. For the days when you can't get outside; spend play time close to windows, so that natural, albeit dull, light is meeting your child's face.
6 Too much exposure to television and electronic media.
With studies consistently supporting the relationship between TV and electronics and a negative impact on sleep patterns, parents may find that just a simple adjustment of restricting the use throughout the day and more significantly in the final few hours before bedtime; your child may achieve sleep with greater ease, stay asleep for longer and also receive a better quality of sleep as well, which promotes more daytime sleep and in turn restful sleep, so it's the opposite of a vicious cycle.
7 You do not have a sleep-inducing environment and corresponding sleep-promoting bedtime routine.
The optimal sleep environment is adequately dark without too many distractions or stimulation. The use of blackout blinds is helpful as we head into spring/summer and the avoidance of external hall and bathroom lights outside of the bedroom help promote production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Consider a 4w night light to help ensure that the room is not scarily pitch black, and that your child can feel safe. Make sure that you are providing a simple, consistent pre-sleep ritual before bedtime, in the bedroom where your child will sleep. Studies continue to demonstrate the importance of regular sleep times along with repetitive sleep practices, and to a bedtime routine before you want your child to sleep. Allocate 20 minutes for a wind-down period before your child is due to go to sleep. Provide low impact, high sensory cuddles, rubbing, massage, story time activity, in the same order and same way each night to help your child ingrain a positive sleep association, which in turn helps to promote better overall sleep hygiene.
Don't be disappointed if you do not see immediate results. It may take time for the benefits to emerge from making initial changes. Continue working away at improving and adjusting how your child's sleep is approached, stay patient and committed as well as flexible to your child's needs and you will yield the desired outcome.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice with her 98pc-effective formula for sleep, she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See sleepmatters.ie
t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Age Day Sleep
6-8 months 3-3.5h (3 naps)
8-12 months 2.5-3h (2 naps)
12-18 months 2-2.5h (2 naps)
18-30 months 2-2.25h (1nap)
2.5 -3.5years 1-1.5h (1 nap)
3.5years + No nap