Tackling sleep time tensions

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
Time to talk about the little ones again. This week - bedtime, writes Ian Munro.

Bedtime is the time of day that can be most fraught with tension, and it's this very tension that can create an atmosphere that's less than ideal for getting them to sleep.

What's more, if they sense your tension, more often than not they can also sense the power they have over you because of it.

Later, there's the 2-year-old manipulator with a call for a drink or to go to the toilet and Mr Charming or Miss Sweetie who appears beside you a few minutes after being put to bed, keen to chat and have a cuddle.

Getting to sleep involves complex changes in brain chemistry and then, while we are asleep, other things happen - our immune system seems to gain benefit, our short-term memories become long-term memories and children seem to do most of their growing.

On average, babies sleep 16 hours a day, 1-year-olds 13 hours and 2-year-olds 10-12 hours, often with a nap. Up to 2 years of age children generally find their own sleep times. Late-night feeding aside, if you can leave them undisturbed until 6am this will help them get into a pattern of sleeping 11 to 12 hours. As they get a bit older you can decrease the daytime naps to maintain that pattern.

While you might be concerned that very young children are not getting enough sleep, as long as they're in good health they'll generally take the amount of sleep they need. The trouble is that you might feel you're not getting the amount of sleep you need.

It's helpful if the family as a whole has a regular sleeping pattern. Baby will gradually pick up the family rhythm and come to associate night time with sleep.

American paediatrician, Dr Barton Schmitt, offers the following guidelines that might help prevent those early sleeping problems.

By all means comfort a distraught baby, but be aware that babies quickly learn cause and effect - in this case that crying can bring cuddles and activity. If you feel you have to go to a crying baby, try to catch a quieter patch so that it's the lull that's being rewarded, not the full-throated scream.

If you can get baby to bed when drowsy rather than when crying, it means that the last memory before falling asleep is of the bed rather than of being cuddled or fed. This will become the familiar going to sleep pattern, and babies learn they don't need you in order to get to sleep.

Make night feedings brief and boring, keep lights low, or even off, and feed quickly and quietly to minimise stimulation. Save the extra cuddles and play for daytime.

 

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