Baby sleep problems can usually be traced back to a few common causes. If you want to help baby sleep you have to identify the causes first, but also understand that there is no one set pattern for seep that all babies adhere to.
The young baby who is only a few months old will sleep about 60 per cent of the day, but as he gets older the number of hours sleep he requires per day will decrease gradually. He will not fall asleep almost immediately after his
feed, and as he becomes more active and able to sit up and take notice his need for sleep will lessen. Young children vary a great deal in the amount of sleep which they require, but as a general guide:
- from about nine months the baby should be sleeping 12-13 hours at night with two long naps during the day.
- at 15-16 months he may only have one daytime nap and a rest period, witi12 hours sleep at night.
- by two years of age he should be getting 12 hours sleep at night and may only need an afternoon rest. This amount of sleep and rest continues until after he has started school when it again decreases gradually.
It is sensible to establish realistic bedtime routines right from the start, but these routines should be flexible and suit the child and the family. It is natural for babies and young children to want to be with their parents during the night as well as during the daytime, and there is no harm in letting a small child share his parents’ bed if he finds difficulty in getting off to sleep. It is much better the: they should all get their sleep in this way than that parents and child should suffer disturbed nights for long periods. Eventually he will want to be in a bed of his own, perhaps popping into his parents’ bed sometimes for comfort. Some parents have their baby’sor a single bed for him next to their own, so that he can feel close and secure. Some children will take quite happily to their own bed in their own room, or one shared with a brother or sister. Whatever the bedroom arrangements are, they should be as relaxed and pleasant as possible.
Most children prefer having a regular bedtime routine, very often starting withand play, then a story and a cuddle before settling down for the night. If a child is put to bed early, about 5.30 or 6.00 p.m., he will probably wake up early, so parents must decide whether they want an evening to themselves anc an early morning rising, or to lie in longer in the morning and have the child with them until 7.00 or 8.00 p.m. Very often, even if a child wakes early he will amuse himself for a while playing with a cot toy, watching a mobile, or singing to himself.
A child should never be left to cry himself to sleep. A small child can quite suddenly develop a fear of the dark, or of being left alone, and just leaving him to cope can cause worse problems such as nightmares, sleep-walking, or bed wetting.
These things will help a child who is experiencing sleeping problems:
- Make sure the bedroom is warm enough in winter and cool in summer, with some ventilation.
- The cot or bed should be comfortable, with light, warm bedding. Cotton sheets and pillow slips are cool and soft; cellular wool blankets are light and warm. Duvets should only be used by children over the age of two years, because of the danger of suffocation. Small children like to be wrapped up securely and quite tightly tucked in.
- Nightwear should be loose, comfortable and absorbent, preferably cotton or brushed cotton for warmth, with all-in-one feet and soft ribbing at cuffs and neck.
- The bedroom door should be left open so that the child still feels part of the family. Any noise made by the family should not disturb him, but will reassure him. Let him have a night-light, or leave the landing light on if he needs it.
- Do not let him watch anything frightening on the TV, or tell him a frightening story before he goes to sleep. He will enjoy hearing the same stories over and over again, and singing nursery rhymes or songs with repetitive noises.
- A warm drink will be soothing.
- Let him have a comforter if he needs one. This may be a dummy, his thumb, or an old piece of fabric which he sucks. He may like to cuddle a doll or his teddy.
- If a regular, relaxed, early bedtime routine is established, this will give the child a sense of security and he will know what is expected of him. Staying up late for something special can be given as a treat.
Problems that may have either physical or emotional causes include fear of the dark, nightmares, sleep-walking, wakefulness, talking in his sleep, wetting the bed, and disturbed sleep.
- he is physically comfortable, not hungry, and has not had too much food before going to bed.
- he is not overtired and ‘wound up’. If he has had too much excitement and insufficient rest during the day he will be unable to get off to sleep easily.
- he is not ill or sickening for some infection.
- he has not developed a fear of something in his room, or something happening outside.
- he has not been frightened by another child telling him about ghosts or `things in the night’.
- he is not feeling insecure or unhappy, perhaps because of a new baby, or because he has been naughty and thinks his parents do not love him any more.
All these problems must be treated with sympathy and understanding. He should not be scolded or laughed at. If necessary the doctor or health visitor will give advice. They rarely prescribe sleeping tablets unless the sleep situation is really desperate, and then only to establish a sleep pattern. Usually if a child has a fairly active day, with plenty of opportunities for exercise and rest, a go: diet, and loving care, he will sleep well.
Once the milestones of crawling and walking have been achieved, young children seem to be constantly active. This is a natural part of their physical development and opportunities should be provided for them to be active. Not only does it help with their physical co-ordination, but it is a release for psychological and emotional. A child who has been told off for being naughty will whack his hammer and peg toy; a group of small children released from sitting in a classroom will dash round the playground. In these ways they are releasing the build-up of energy.
Once a child is able to get about, he should, be allowed to play outside in the garden as much as possible. Even in cold weather he can be well wrapped up and encouraged to go out. A child who is kept indoors and inactive for long periods will become naughty and grizzly; he will get to the stage where he becomes lazy and unwilling to exert himself.
Parents who do not have gardens must make an effort to get their child to a park or recreational area, every day if possible. Even a walk to the shops, pointing things out on the way, will exercise and educate the child. Children can enjoy water play at the local swimming pool or park paddling pool, and they can climb, jump, dig, etc. on visits to the country or to the seaside. The fresh air and exercise will help to make the child naturally tired and hungry and should minimise feeding and sleeping problems.