When all else fails…
If, and despite your best efforts, your little one is not sleeping, Lucy Wolfe suggests some strategies to try when nothing else works
What can you do when you feel like you have already tried everything to help your child sleep? Sleep can be a substantial challenge for many parents and you are not alone. Although it is common for parents to feel like they are the only ones, the reality is that some 40pc to 70pc of families report sleeping issues and challenges within their home within the first three years — and sometimes even longer. Common sleep complaints with children over six months of age are represented by resistance to sleep and or inability to maintain night time sleep far beyond waking for biological feeds or brief reassurances.
Some parents will tell you that their child wakes extremely frequently — on the hour every hour; others will report waking and staying awake from one to three hours, and others will say that they wake really early and want to start the day from 4am or 5am, together with similar napping issues. Parents will also say that they have tried everything…. so this one is for you. I have put together five strategies to try once more, when you feel you have already tried everything. Don’t forget it won’t be just one thing you need to try; it is generally a combination of the recommendations, so here goes:
1 GET MORE DAYTIME SLEEP FOR YOUR BABY
Even if it means using the buggy, the car or the sling. Better daytime sleep, together with a better balance between the day sleeps, will encourage a deeper and less broken dynamic to night time sleep. Although your child may fight you on this, persevere as the more sleep that they get, the more they will actually want. Establishing more sleep by day can, on its own, be challenging, but if you start the day no later than 7.30am and then look for early sleep signs such as brief eye rubs, yawns and moments of quiet, then it may start to remove the resistance hugely for you. Don’t worry initially if your child won’t nap in their cot or their bed, just focus on getting enough sleep to start with. Understand that after they wake in the morning, up to around 12 months of age, most children do very well if they return for nap one within two hours of getting up. If you can master nap one, then nap two and three (if still required) will be easier too.
2 TRY THAT EARLIER BEDTIME
I know it gets old, but I want you to know that when your child routinely does not sleep well, no bedtime is actually early enough. I also know that early bedtimes are not always feasible between work, commutes and collections, but give it a try. Start at the weekend so that you are not under too much pressure and I can almost guarantee you, you will report improvements.
If you start off with aiming for a bedtime routine to start in the bedroom at 6.30pm and into the cot or bed at 6.50pm then it’s a very positive adjustment.
In order for this to work effectively, your naps will need to align to accommodate this bedtime. Keep in mind until eight months of age, the final nap needs to over by 5pm and from eight months plus to three years or so, the final naps needs to end by 3pm or 3.30pm to exactly align this natural bedtime that I am promoting.
As you start making this adjustment it may still take time for your child to achieve their night time sleep and they will still wake up overnight, but it will start to yield over a few days or a week, and bedtime will get easier and the night waking will start to lessen.
Later on, when your sleep is well established, then you can push bedtime back out, but be careful that it doesn’t undermine your sleepwork — young children are designed to go to sleep early.
3 STAY, DON’T LEAVE
Instead of always trying to leave the room and not stay with them when they go to sleep, reverse on this and support them to go to sleep with your presence. Many children are distressed when parents leave them to go asleep themselves, or refuse to stay in the bed. Initially, commit to staying with them. My stay-and-support method is a great approach. This way you can help your child go to sleep with your undivided attention and then they can start to feel safer and more secure to do this on their own. When they wake overnight, you will need to repeat this exercise and that will help diminish the night time activity in conjunction to the other changes that you are making.
4 HAVE THE LAST BOTTLE ENTIRELY SEPARATE TO SLEEP
Create a clearance of 45 minutes between finishing the bottle and aiming to be asleep. Sometimes a partial dependency represented by a final milk feed too close to sleep time stops your child’s ability to sleep through their night time sleep phases with ease. Although many families worry if their child won’t drink the bottle unless it is in the bedroom, I would once more encourage this adjustment. It will ensure that there are no partial dependencies on feeding and will also allow you to brush teeth before sleep time too.
5 TRY FOR LONGER TO HELP YOUR CHILD SLEEP BETTER
Very few issues are resolved in three to four days, although that can often be dangled in front of parents as the norm. In my experience, it definitely takes three to four weeks for better sleep to entirely emerge and whatever changes you make, rarely provide for an upward-only spiral of improvement. In fact, it is more common for sleep to get worse before it gets better, often resulting in parents stopping or changing what they are doing in the mistaken belief that it’s not working. Hang in there, give it time to take root, give your child the best and most positive learning experience, with your support, and understand that you will be more tired at the start. However, if you can systematically work through each day and night, sharing the load and drafting in support, then generally within 10 to 14 nights, it will start to feel different, provided that you are making decisions that support better sleep and that you are also giving your child predictable and consistent and loving responses too.
Don’t give up trying to help your child to sleep better and longer, it does takes time, but it is also very possible to achieve with these changes.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant, Author of ‘The baby Sleep Solution’ 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