How to get your child to sleep through the night
My child won’t sleep through the night
You just want your child to sleep through the night without waking up and disturbing you? Your friends’ children sleep through, so why doesn’t yours?
I’m afraid to say it’s quite normal. We all sleep differently, adults and children alike. Some children will be excellent sleepers and get through the whole night, others just won’t. There are a few things we can do to understand what the underlying issue is, and what we can do to improve things. The first thing to understand is that sleep is a learnt behaviour. We’re not born with the understanding that we need sleep, or how to sleep – in fact children under the age of five don’t even know when they’re tired.
It’s absolutely normal to wake up throughout the night as we drift in and out of different sleep phases. But the tricky bit is being able to get back to sleep again without help. Your child will be used to you helping them to sleep at bedtime, so trying to do this on their own is difficult. When we’re very young it’s easy to get spooked when we wake up to a pitch black room on our own, especially if it’s not how we remember going to sleep. So a good thing to try is to start leaving the bedroom after ‘good nights’, exactly as they’ll find it when they wake up during the night. So don’t leave the landing light on if you know it will be off late at night. If you think it would help, turn the light out before you leave the room and give them cuddles with lights out so they don’t have negative associations with the dark. If they wake up during the night let them try to self-soothe.
If they go into your bedroom for comfort, gently lead them back to their own bed. Be prepared to repeat this many times if necessary. If they’ve had a nasty dream of course they’re going to want cuddles, but the more your child associates waking up at night with you-time, the more they’re going to do it until they’re body clock is wired to do so.
Some children get into a pattern of waking up during the night and associating that time with snuggles with you. So make sure they get plenty of cuddle time during the day, and perhaps even schedule special times during the day for snuggling together.
Nightmares and night terrors
These peak around 3-6 years of age, and could be part of the reason your child is struggling to get themselves back to sleep. This is the age that children’s imaginations start to run wild, so during REM they’re more likely to get nightmares. There’s not a lot you can do about this, but do be aware of it and perhaps have a friendly night-light on in their room.
Create positive associations
It’s important that your child has positive associations towards their bedroom and bedtime. Never use their room as a punishment – send them somewhere else for a time out. Make sure you have a gentle, calm routine before bedtime and stick to it. All gadgets and forms of entertainment shouldn’t be allowed in your child’s room – not only do they stimulate the brain – the blue light they emit decreases the levels of melatonin produced which is essential for feeling sleepy.
March 10th 2014