You probably know what your child’s sleep problem is, but, before you explore ways of tackling it, it is useful to consider some basic questions about the precise scale and nature of the problem. Read on for advice from Teach Your Child to Sleep: Solving Sleep Problems from Newborn Through Childhood by Millpond Sleep Expert Mandy that will help you to isolate the issues that are causing the problem.
1 Is your child well?
Could your child’s sleep disturbance be the result of an illness? An inability to sleep properly can be the first sign of, for example, an ear infection. If so, the priority is to treat the medical condition, but it is also important to ensure that the short-term sleep disturbances do not become longer-term problems. The best way to do this is to maintain as good a sleep routine as possible during the illness, so that it can readily be reinforced when your child is better.
2 How long has the problem been going on?
Consider whether your child’s problems existed from birth or began more recently. If they are of recent origin, were they triggered by a particular event or episode in his life and the family’s life? Or are they linked to stages in his development, sudden changes in your child’s circumstances or changes in his sleep routines?
3 How much sleep does your child get?
Do you know if he is getting enough sleep, both in the daytime and at night? Sleep problems are so disorienting that it can be difficult to remember exactly what has happened in the preceding days and weeks. Completing a sleep diary can help fill this gap, providing a clear picture of what is going on.
4 How easily does he settle at night?
The bedtime routine often sets the pattern for the night. Is he taking too long to settle? And has he acquired inappropriate sleep associations? He should be settled in his own room and fall asleep alone within 15 minutes of lights out.
5 Does your child have regular sleep routines?
Irregular routines often underpin sleep problems. Are his nap times and bedtime routine consistent day to day? Again, with the aid of a sleep diary, you can identify whether his sleeping and waking times are regular. Establishing appropriate and consistent routines, if these are not already in place, is often the only measure you have to take to solve your child’s problem.
6 Is night waking an issue?
Understanding why night walking happens is the key to solving it. How often does he wake, for how long and for what apparent reason, if any? What does it take to get him back to sleep? Your response to his night waking is crucial to whether the waking continues or disappears.
7 Does your child experience sleep-related anxiety?
Anxieties can prevent children settling well. Fear of the dark is probably the most common and can contribute to a sleep problem. Is your child fearful if awake in the night and are you able to calm or reassure him? Alternatively, are his anxieties caused by other sources of stress that have then resulted in sleep problems? Does your child thrash around or call out in his sleep? Does he sleep-talk or sleep-walk.
8 What is your child’s condition like in the day?
Sleep problems often have an impact on daytime mood and behaviour – and not just for the child! Is your child sleepy when he gets up, or later in the day? What is his general mood? Does he get irritable or have problems concentrating on what he is doing? All these can be signs of sleep deprivation arising from sleep disruption or inappropriate sleep times. The sooner you tackle these, the easier their solution.
9 Is the environment conducive to good sleep?
All kinds of changes in the family can potentially disturb a child’s sleep patterns. These may be unavoidable in the short term, but should not be allowed to become ingrained problems. The physical environment is also important. Are the circumstances surrounding his bedtime routine calming? Consider temperature, noise, lights and the behaviour of siblings. Is sharing a room with a sibling exacerbating his difficulties?
10 What solutions have you previously tried?
Consider any techniques that you have tried before, how long you kept to your plan and to what extent they worked. Do not assume that a technique that you have already tried will not work ever. Its success may depend greatly on how and when you apply it.
Find out more in the book: Teach Your Child to Sleep: Solving Sleep Problems from Newborn Through Childhood by Millpond Sleep Clinic, published by Hamlyn, £9.99, www.octopusbooks.co.uk