Sleep Problems in Children

sleep problems

Children who get enough sleep have less behavior problems. They have better memory, longer attention spans. They may also recover from illness faster.

The amount of sleep that a child needs varies, but on average children require about the amount of sleep listed in the chart on the left.

Common sleep problems

Here are tips on coping with some of the most common sleeping problems children have.

Difficulty settling at night:

  • Create a simple and familiar routine for bedtime. For example: feed, bath, bed.
  • Keep things quiet, this helps toddlers to settle.
  • Keep household noises going. Some children are happier if they know you're nearby.
  • Make sure your child winds down before bed.
  • If your toddler keeps getting up after you've put him to bed, you need to be firm and take him back again. It may take time, but eventually he'll get the message.

Never seems to be tired:

  • A predictable daily routine can help to encourage sleep at the right time.
  • Don't let your toddler get overexcited before bedtime – he needs to wind down.
  • If your child really doesn't seem tired, put him to bed but leave him toys or books to play with.
  • Cut out daytime naps, especially in the afternoon.
  • Try to tire out your child with lots of enjoyable daytime physical activities.
  • Move your child's bedtime back 15-30 minutes.

Monsters under the bed:

  • Never laugh at your toddler's fears.
  • Use a night light.
  • Promise to come back and check on him every ten minutes. He may relax knowing you'll be back.
  • Move around where you can still be heard for a while after your child goes to bed.
  • Play soft music.
  • Make sure your child has his favorite comforter - a pacifier, cloth or toy perhaps.
  • Never use your child's bedroom as a place to send him as a punishment.
  • Suggest pleasant ideas to dream about, such as visiting the beach for the weekend.
  • Give him lots of loving attention during the day so he feels safe and secure.

Waking too early:

  • Use thick blinds or curtains to make children's rooms darker.
  • Provide toys for the mornings, so he can play quietly until the family is awake.
  • Be patient. Usually, once children start preschool, they sleep in for longer.

Waking in the night:

  • Many toddlers continue to wake for feeds. To stop this, gradually replacing milk with water.
  • Decrease night time feeding when appropriate
    • Birth–2 months: most kids wake twice for feeding
    • 2-3 months: most babies need one night time feeding
    • 4 months: bottle fed babies can sleep 7 hours or more without feeding
    • 5 months: most breast fed babies can sleep through the night
  • Grazing
    • This means feeding the baby every time he cries (using the breast as a pacifier) . If a baby is used to frequent feedings during the day, he will get hungry during the night.
    • Increase time between feedings: If the baby is fed hourly, advance to feeding every 1.5 hours.
    • When the baby begins to tolerate feedings every 1.5 hours advance to every 2 hours.
    • When your baby cries and it's not time for feeding, cuddle him or give him a pacifier.
      • Goal - Formula fed babies 4 bottles per day by 4 month of age; Breast fed babies 5 feedings per day until 6 months
    • Awaken the infant for a last feeding between 9 and 10 pm. This is necessary until at least 8 months of age, if you want the child to sleep until 6 am.

If a baby has not learned to lull himself to sleep by the time he is five to six months old and he is waking up during the night, there are ways to help the child learn to sleep through the night.

To begin, you will need to develop a bedtime routine that will end with you placing your child in his bed to fall asleep on his own (with a favorite object-a stuffed bear or blanket).

The first night, after placing your child in bed to fall asleep alone, leave the room and allow him to cry for about five minutes. If he is still crying after that time, you can return to his room to reassure him that you are still there. You can speak to him briefly and pat his back, but avoid picking up or rocking your child. After 2-3 minutes you are to leave the room again (even if he is crying). If your child continues to cry now for ten minutes, return to his room briefly for reassurance, but be sure to leave after 2-3 minutes. If he is still crying after 15 minutes you can return again, and the rest of the night wait for a maximum of 15 minutes. Your child will probably fall asleep during one of these 15 minute periods. If your child wakes up again during that first night, repeat the same process.

The next night start off by waiting for 10 minutes and increasing by 5 minute intervals to a max of 20 minutes. Each night, you will increase the 'First Wait' by 5 minutes. For example:

Day

First Wait

Second Wait

Third Wait

Subsequent Waits

1

5

10

15

15

2

10

15

20

20

3

15

20

25

25

4

20

25

30

30

5

25

30

35

35

 

The first few nights may be difficult, but your child will eventually learn that it isn't worth crying for 20-30 minutes if the only reward is you coming in for a few minutes. He will quickly learn to fall asleep on his own.

When nothing works

If you're despairing about your child's sleep routine (or lack of it) get help from your local nurse or doctor.