Bedtime problems and night wakings are common in young children and one of the most common complaints made by parents to health care professionals. Studies have suggested that when left untreated, bedtime problems and night wakings in young children do not spontaneously resolve.
Why might children wake up during the night?
Some parents try everything they can to ensure that their child is sleeping in a comfortable and safe environment. Even then, their child continues to awaken frequently at night or has troubles sleeping in the first place. There are many factors that can contribute to sleep problems. These factors are either intrinsic in nature (occur due to a characteristic within the child) or extrinsic (something external to the child). Some examples of intrinsic factors contributing to sleep problems are: having a difficult temperament, premature birth, separation anxiety, onset of movement such as crawling or walking, colic, teething, and growing pains. Examples of extrinsic factors related to sleep problems are: the child’s sleep environment, whether the child and the parent sleep together in the same bed, feeding practices (breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding), the parents’ behaviour when putting the child to sleep, and the infants’ daytime environment (including napping).
Things to keep in mind:
- Unlike adults, children can actually become hyperactive when sleepy, which parents may interpret as a sign that their child is not yet ready to sleep.
- Prolonging bedtime can result in shortened sleep which has been associated with behavior problems, impairments in academic, neurobehavioral and emotional functioning
- Part of a child’s normal development is to test the limits and push the boundaries of appropriate behavior. This helps children learn about their environment, how to behave, and what they can and cannot control. A parent’s job is to set appropriate limits and devise rules for appropriate behavior. Although children may appear to dislike these rules and limits, they in fact desire these limits as they provide a sense of safety and security.
- One of the most essential components of dealing with childhood sleep problems is consistency in providing a daily routine and being consistent when responding to your child’s behaviour.
- Infants who participated in sleep interventions were found to be more secure, predictable, less irritable and to cry less following treatment
- The safest place for your baby to sleep is on his or her back, in a crib, cradle or bassinet. Health Canada recommends room sharing for the first six months of your baby’s life. Room sharing is when you place your baby to sleep in a crib, cradle or bassinet that is within arm’s reach of where you sleep. Research has shown that it is good for babies to share a room with one or more caregivers, and that it may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The most effective solution is developing a bedtime routine that is characterized by quiet activities that the child enjoys. It usually lasts 30 minutes and can include 2-3 relaxing and enjoyable activities (i.e. bath, stories). Remember to provide verbal cues to improve transitions (i.e. 5 minutes until bedtime). One great idea is to start a bedtime chart.
The chart should contain pictures of each step of the bedtime routine (i.e. wear PJs, eat snack, brush teeth, storytime, kiss goodnight, sleep). When each activity is completed, the child or parent can place a check or sticker next to the picture. The use of this structure prevents children from making extra requests at bed time (i.e. one more book). Consistency is key here – it can take up to three weeks to really get it down.
There are many other approaches to solving sleep problems in your children. Tune into our webinar on sleep treatments for children for a more detailed discussion.
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Runda obtained her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Western University in London, Ontario, where she also currently resides with her family. She has partnered up with the Muslim Women Success Coach website to deliver a course entailing a series of webinars regarding childhood-related issues and strategies to deal with them effectively. Runda has a passion for working with children and has experience working with children with various disorders.