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Toddler Talk - Sleep Problems with Pat Rees

Tuesday, 6 March 2007


When one of your children has a sleeping problem the world can seem as if it's coming to an end. You're probably so tired you don't even know how to begin to tackle the problem so practical parent Pat Rees is here to help.

The best way of tackling sleeping problems is to be firm and consistent using techniques that are fair and adapted to suit your own child's particular needs. Tackle the problem confidently, a child can pick out half, hearted weak attempts before they even start, so be positive.

Common reasons for sleep problems
. Is your baby getting overtired? Contrary to popular belief, keeping babies from napping can make them so overtired that they may become more difficult to settle down, not less.
. Noise on a constant basis may be comforting to babies, but sudden noises may waken them. For example, dogs barking, a train passing.
. Hyperactive children who do not seem to need much sleep may benefit from having their diet completely revised. They may be sensitive to certain foods, such as cow's milk, dairy products and foods containing artificial preservatives and colorants. Foods containing E102 especially can cause wakefulness.

Specific problems we will look at today are
A toddler who suddenly starts waking at night (maybe night terrors)
A toddler who wakes repeatedly and then too early
A toddler who wants to sleep in the bed with parents

Problem - A toddler who suddenly starts waking
Caroline Hunt
Caroline from Co. Clare contacted us to say:
My 20 month old has been waking up for the past 2 weeks between 3 and 4 am and staying awake for over an hour until he crys himself back to sleep.
Until now he has slept thru the night since he was 4 months old so I am not sure what is the reason for him waking up at the moment he has not had any change in his routine he still goes to bed in the afternoon at 2pm for about 2 hours and I still put him to bed at his usual time 7.30 - 8pm.  He seems to wake up screaming like he is dreaming and I have gone in to his room checked his nappy & some times give him a bottle or just talk to him he seems to go back to sleep and 5 minutes later starts screaming or calling out for Mama or Dada. Is he having night terrors? Help!

Pat's advice
. When you hear how most experts describe night terrors, it is easy to see why parents find them distressing. Children who have night terrors are usually described as 'bolting upright' with their eyes wide open, with a look of fear and panic, and letting out a 'blood curdling scream'. Typical night terrors last about 5 to 30 minutes and afterwards, children usually return to a regular sleep. If you are able to wake your child up during a night terror, he is likely to become scared and agitated, mostly because of your own reaction to the night terror, especially if you were shaking or yelling at him to wake up. Instead of trying to wake up a child having a night terror, it is usually better to just make sure he is safe, comfort him if you can, and help him return to sleep once it is over. If a child who normally sleeps through the night suddenly starts waking, it may indicate a health problem, for example earache, which is very common in toddlers in winter time, or eczema which is associated with allergies. A visit to your GP may be worthwhile.
. If a child who normally sleeps through the night suddenly starts waking, it may indicate a health problem, for example earache, which is very common in toddlers in winter time, or eczema, which is associated with allergies. A visit to your GP may be worthwhile.
. Make sure there is nothing frightening in the room, use a night light, change the room around, and ask children are they frightened of something.
. Anxiety causes wakefulness - talk to your children and reassure them.
. Do not bring the toddler into bed with you.

Problem 2 -  A toddler who wakes repeatedly and wakes too early.
Susan O' Neill

Susan is from Co. Cork, she contacted us to tell us about her little girl Chara's sleeping problems.
Chara is 2yrs 4mths old. When she was born she had undiagnosed reflux for a number of months and could not sleep. As we solve one problem another one seems to take its place. This is the situation at the moment:
We have the same bed routine for a while. At 8pm she gets into her Pjs, brushes her teeth, one story downstairs, one story on the beanbag in her room, and one or two in her bed. Then we leave her to go to sleep. She will get out of the bed once or twice but will usually fall asleep sometime between 8.30 and 9pm. From 11.30 onwards she will wake repeatedly. She comes into our room and as soon as she sees one of us get out of bed towards her she will run back into her own room. We go in, ssshh her and tell her to go back to sleep. We are not too good on making sure she goes back to sleep on her own. We have a 6month old little girl who is a good sleeper and I am very slow to sabotage her good sleep for Chara's bad sleep. She might take 10mins to go back down, and often by the time we are back in our bed she cries again. This happens anything from 3-6 times a night and if she wakes anytime after 5.30- that is up for the day. She is always up by 6.30.
We are shattered from it. We are tired of second guessing why she is awake, what we could do right, what we are doing wrong. At this stage she is beginning to understand that it is an issue although I am not sure she is taking advantage of the situation.
We are in desperate need of a remedy as we cannot go on like this. We are both wrecked.

Pat's advice
. Something new in the room could encourage your child to stay in bed, for example a new poster, or bedspread or cuddly toy.
. For older children, try a reward or star chart for going to bed on time or not getting up in the night.
. Put a book or toys in the cot or bed to keep them occupied in the morning so they will not disturb you.
. Try a later bedtime.
. Ensure they get plenty of fresh air and exercise in the day time.

Problem 3 -  A toddler who wants to sleep in the bed with mammy and daddy
Emma O'Dowd
I have a one year old girl who sleeps all night long, however my problem is my two and a half year old, he has slept one night in the past two and half years, We have tried everything  controlled crying, (42 times back to his own bed )redecorating the room- new paint, new curtains, new 5ft bed etc the only place that Max will sleep is with myself and my husband and unfortunately his comfort blanket is my hair.
I know I gave him the problem as he slept in our room until he was one, and anytime he cried he got immediate attention.
He twists and turns in our bed we even bought a bigger bed 6 ft to fit us all in, but we still get no sleep with him.

Pat's advice
. She thinks buying a bigger bed to facilitate him is ludicrous.
. Try the reward charts. If they stay in bed until the alarm clock goes off or the clock says 7.00 am a star is given.
. Are they testing you? Sometimes children - especially around two years of age - test you to see how far they can go.
. Be firm

To help your child to develop a good sleep routine you need to increase the amount of time you wait before going into your crying child.. Follow the plan below and write down the progress as you go.

Day At First Wait 2nd Wait 3rd Wait subsequents
1 5 mins 10 mins 15 mins 15 mins
2 10 mins 15 mins 20 mins 20 mins
3 15 mins 20 mins 25 mins 25 mins
4 20 mins 25 mins 30 mins 30 mins
5 25 mins 30 mins 35 mins 35 mins
6 30 mins 35 mins 40 mins 40 mins
7 35 mins 40 mins 45 mins 45 mins

For more information
PRACTICAL PARENTING - An Irish Survival Guide by Pat Rees is available in book stores nationwide priced at €13.00