Sleep and Bedtime Problems
Sleepless nights are a fact of life for new parents. Sleep — or lack of it — is probably the most-discussed aspect of baby care.
New parents discover its vital importance those first few weeks. The quality and quantity of an infant's sleep affects the well-being of everyone in the household. The fact is that infants are not programmed to sleep through the night.
Because they don't have the capacity for large quantities of food, they need nourishment at regular intervals around the clock. There are no shortcuts to lengthen an infant's sleeping schedule, but you can encourage nature's own sleep transition, which occurs at about five months of age.
Babies eventually can learn to put themselves to sleep. But it takes time and your patience. Don't always rock the child to sleep and then put him in the crib — place them in the crib before they are completely asleep, so they become accustomed to going to sleep in the crib.
How Much Sleep Do They Need?
Infants: Newborns sleep an average of 16 to 17 hours per day, but they may only sleep one or two hours at a time.
Toddlers/Preschoolers: 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night
Infant Sleep Positioning and SIDS:The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caregivers place healthy infants on their backs when putting them down to sleep. This is because recent studies have shown an increased incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in infants who sleep on their stomachs. There is no evidence that sleeping on the back is harmful to healthy infants.
During the toddler years, children make the change from two to one long nap, and usually sleep about eleven hours at night. Bedtime problems at this age are very difficult to deal with because it's hard for parents to tell the difference between a real need (an illness or a fear, for instance) and the child's impulse to control and hold power over the parents, which is typical of toddlers.
This difference is not easily apparent to toddlers either. Their feelings are just as strong whether they awake at midnight scared by an unusual noise or mad because there's no one to play with. Throughout childhood, but particularly in toddlerhood, the child's need to be able to count on the parents can at times conflict with the child's need to learn competence and independence.
Parents must be particularly sensitive to the fact that they must attend to both providing nurturing and to encouraging independence.
As a parent, there are several things that will prove very helpful to you when you're faced with a toddler who has developed a bedtime problem.
One is every toddler's love of ritual and routine. If you make the whole going-to-bed routine friendly, relaxed, and the same from night to night, you stand a better chance of things going smoothly.
Shape your routine so one step leads to the next, and let your toddler handle as much of the washing, tooth brushing, laying out clothes for tomorrow, and selecting a story as possible. You can move things along by having parallel jobs: "I will wash the tub while you turn out the light and pop under the covers."
If child has began to call you back for another drink, or a different stuffed animal, or any other of a hundred possibilities, try anticipating his or her needs by offering all the usual services before you turn out the light. Wait outside the door for a few minutes and when you hear "wawa," call softly, "No water now. Night-night, Mary," and wait a while longer.
Many authorities recommend not responding at all to a child's demands after lights out, but a young toddler is only beginning to understand that people still exist when they're not visible. While you do want to teach your child that you won't play games after lights-out, it seems better to take a little extra time to reassure your child with the sound of your voice. Just remember to be consistent: If you say "no water," don't let her talk you in to it.
Waking and crying at night is a common occurrence with toddlers. Some physical causes that should be considered are teething, stuffy nose, earache, irritated diaper rash and pinworms. Toddlers also react to too-exciting days, arguments between parents, new daycare arrangements and other emotional factors. Often, after the physical or emotional cause has been taken care of, a toddler will continue to wake and cry at night Just from habit. There are a few things you can do when you realize this is happening.
- Be sure your child is awake and crying before you go in. Children often talk and whimper in their sleep, and if left alone will drift back into deeper, quieter sleep.
- Let your toddler's love of routine work for you. Offer the same set of comforters in the same order as the last part of the bedtime routine, a drink of water, a kiss, a teddy bear, a "night-night." Don't make too much of a social occasion of it, and don't turn on the light.
- Sometimes you will want to sit with a child who cries inconsolably. A backrub or a cuddle in the rocking chair is appropriate and comforting when something is wrong. The trouble arises when it becomes a nightly occurrence. More cuddle time together before bed may help, plus lessening the amount of contact you give at night, giving your toddler a drink of water and a hug without picking him or her up, sitting near the crib and singing a lullaby, turning the radio on for company are all tricks that have helped some toddlers break the middle of the night cuddling habit.
Nightmares are relatively common. Sleep terrors (a hereditary sleep disorder) are different from nightmares. A child with sleep terrors will scream uncontrollably and appear to be awake, but is confused and can't communicate.Sleep terrors usually begin between 4 and 12 years of age.
A question often raised is whether to let the toddler come to bed with the parents. This idea is one that used to horrify the experts, but now some are taking a more relaxed attitude. Many of the middle-of-the night problems of toddlers are automatically solved by all night togetherness.
Studies of other cultures reveal no psychological or physical harm apparent where children sleep with their parents. Studies also show that in these cultures it is expected that by three or four, children will leave to sleep with their brothers and sisters.
Certainly, once-in-a-while bringing your toddler to sleep with you can do no harm, particularly if yours is the kind of child who can accept changes in routine. A child who is going through a very rigid or demanding stage, of course, is much more likely to cause a fuss if you allow him or her one night in bed with you, and then try to return to the old crib routine.
One issue you may want to consider is the psychological need parents have to spend time alone together. Parents who are with their children literally every minute of the day and night may begin to feel that they have lost all individuality, that they exist only in their role as parent.
Another problem is the situation of the single parent. A single parent may bring a child to bed for the same reasons two parents would. But the single parent has to deal with personal loneliness, and having a toddler to share the bed is very comforting. Because the child is meeting the strong emotional needs of the parent, needs which would more appropriately be met by another adult, it is extremely difficult for the child ever to make the change back to his or her own bed. It's also very hard for the parent to sense the appropriate age when this shift should happen.
The best news is that there are lots of resources and information available on this issue. If sleep issues become a problem for your child and family, consult your health care professional for advise. You and your child need proper rest in order to maintain a happy, healthy relationship. See the following links and resources for additional information on this and related issues.
Portions of article content taken from: Children Youth and Family Consortium Electronic Clearinghouse, (612) 626-1212, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Full article entitled: "Toddler Sleep and Bedtime Problems."
1. "Understanding Your Child's Dreams," by Pam Spurr, Ph.D. (Sterling Publications, $14.95). Colorful book that provides descriptions of real children's dreams. Glossary provides possible meanings of common dream themes. Aimed at parents of children ages 3-12.
2. "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems," by Richard Ferber, M.D. (Simon & Schuster, $13). Comprehensive book that covers a wide range of sleep problems. In addition to nightmares and night terrors, author provides information on bedwetting, insomnia, body rocking and refusing to go to bed. Aimed at parents of children ages 3-12.
3. "Baby & Toddler Sleep Program," by John Pearce, M.D. (Fisher Books, $9.95). Easy-to-read book provides guidelines that establish a sleep routine for toddlers. Discusses normal sleep patterns for babies and children and gives effective tips to reducing nighttime stress. For parents of children 6 weeks to 5 years old.
4."Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," by Marc Weissbluth, M.D. (Fawcett Books, $12.95). Father and pediatrician shares his step-by-step program to solving and preventing sleep problems. Points out several mistakes parents make when dealing with nightmares and other sleep problems. Aimed at parents of children 6 weeks to 5 years old.
Related Early Childhood Information Clearinghouse Articles
Touch Means Bonding; Touch Means Love — Infant massage.
Baby bottle syndrome — why you should NOT put a baby to bed with a bottle.
Copyright 2007 by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
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