Help your children sleep

Parenting experts give some insights into why your child may not be sleeping

Help your children sleep

1. You aren’t doing anything wrong. Night waking in infancy and toddlerhood is very common. It’s not a sign that you are doing something wrong. In fact, it’s so common that scientists have theorized that frequent night waking may protect small babies, as those who feed during the night, sleep close to their mothers, and don’t sleep too deeply for long stretches seem to be at less risk of SIDS.

2. Waking is natural. Remember that young children have different sleep cycles. Even adults don’t sleep through the night without waking - our sleep cycles last about 90 minutes, while theirs last only about 45 minutes, which means they wake regularly and often right in the middle of our sleep cycle.

3. Babies like to be close. Most people in the world sleep with babies and toddlers. This is how our ancient ancestors evolved – and while our expectations have changed in modern times and we now expect babies to sleep independently in their own cot and sometimes their own room, the babies have not evolved. They still feel best and sleep best when they are close to us throughout the night; a time when they are most vulnerable.

4. It won’t last forever. Sleepless nights with small babies is intense and exhausting, but it won’t last forever. Eventually, they will sleep through the night and are happy to stay in their own beds. Nobody expects their mum to go off to university with them, so that they can continue to co-sleep!

5. There’s no need to feel guilty. Most parents who feel they have a sleep problem tend to feel guilty about it, convinced that they are “doing it all wrong” or have allowed their child to learn “bad habits.” But if you are up in the night with your child, you are a good parent. Why don’t we feel proud for sacrificing our precious sleep for the love of our children?

6. Even “good” sleepers will have sleep problems. Just when you think your child is sleeping through the night, something will throw them off again. Jet lag, illness, teething, growth spurts, visitors, holidays, starting nursery, and more can all disturb sleep patterns. Everyone goes through it.

7. Babies and toddlers are not manipulative. They don’t have the cognitive ability to understand anything from another person’s perspective. They simply have a need - and you are the person who always meets their needs. Why would it be any different at night?

8. There has been no solid research on controlled crying. While babies can be trained to stop crying, research shows that their stress hormone levels are just as high as they were while crying. It’s impossible to do random controlled trials, so we may never know what the real consequences are.

9. Create sleep associations. Bedtime routines are crucial. Babies and toddlers are sensory people so using scent, sound, and touch can help them to understand that it is time for sleep. It doesn’t work over night, but in the long run it can help to make bedtime easier and can help them settle back into sleep more easily after night waking. Soothing music or white noise, soothing scents, darkness, a cosy place to sleep, a comforting object (especially if it smells like mum), can all help some kids settle down to sleep and can be a tool that they will
eventually use to settle themselves independently.

10. Take care of yourself. Your baby is depending on you day and night, so you need to find ways to catch up on sleep! New parents can function on remarkably small amounts of sleep, but the effects are cumulative and will catch up eventually. The advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not just a friendly tip, but a survival skill. Nap whenever possible, go to bed early, and take turns catching up on sleep on the weekends when daddy is there to take a shift. Over-caffeinating yourself can backfire by keeping you awake even when your baby is sleeping - and if you are breastfeeding, it can keep your baby awake as well. Parenting is hard work and it’s important work that we are highly invested in doing well. We can’t change that babies and young children need parenting in the night - we just have to figure out how to cope as best we can and know that someday they will grow out of this phase. In order to be the parent you want to be, you need to get some sleep.

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