Loads of babies are notoriously bad sleepers.
Meg Faure, author of a range of baby books such as Babysense and Sleepsense, offers useful tips for helping babies to get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping patterns usually improve dramatically as babies grow up but certain kinds of sleep problems can persist into childhood.
If your child suddenly develops sleep problems after having spent most of her life sleeping well, you need to investigate it further. It may be a sign that something is going wrong, either physically or emotionally. Pain, fevers, leg cramps, upper respiratory tract infections and more serious illnesses can keep children awake at night. Take your child to a doctor to get a proper diagnosis if you are in any doubt.
If there is nothing physically wrong, your child’s insomnia is probably psychologically based. Simplistically speaking, your child could struggle to sleep if she is worried about something or feeling insecure or unhappy. This could be about almost anything, either inside her own mind or in her environment.
Examples of sleep-disrupting stressors
- parental divorce
- exam nerves
- conflict with a parent or sibling
- friendship difficulties
- physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- after a traumatic incident such as a highjacking
- childhood depression or anxiety
- substance abuse
- moving house
- loss or death of a loved one
Sleep problems in children that have persisted from their baby years are often linked to attachment and separation difficulties with the mother or the primary caregiver. For this reason, if your child has always struggled to sleep since she was a baby, it would be wise to consult a psychologist who specializes in mother-child problems. This kind of sleep problem can often be attributed to separation anxiety between the mother and the child. Dylis Daws, consultant child psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic in London and author of Through the Night: Helping Parents and Sleepless Infants, describes how babies with sleep problems are often afraid to be apart from their moms. Interestingly, these babies often have mothers who are carrying unresolved grief about a loss they have experienced in their own lives. The separation anxiety often effects the mothers too. These moms are unconsciously afraid of being separated from their babies during sleep. Both the mothers and their babies are scared of losing each other. This dynamic can continue well past babyhood.
How to help your child to get a good night’s sleep
Establish the root cause of the insomnia
Consult with a psychologist if you need guidance
Check your child’s environment and change what you can to improve feelings of security
Get help for yourself if you are feeling stressed or depressed
Get your child to stick to regular sleep patterns with a consistent bedtime (usually around 8pm)
If separation anxiety is the problem, either position your child’s bed or mattress fairly close to your own or have another mattress close to yours that your child can walk to during the night if she feels scared
Cut out drinks for two hours before bedtime (to avoid too many toilet wake-ups)
No tv for two hours before bedtime
Do not allow your child to watch violent or frightening movies or play disturbing computer games, even if she really wants to
Do guided relaxation exercises with your child at bedtime
Make sure your child does physical exercise every day
Make sure your child is eating a healthy, nutritious, balanced diet
Keep your own temper in check. Children exposed to aggressive parenting often become fearful
Try not to expose your child to frightening behaviour or experiences