How do you feel when your baby, toddler or child does not sleep through? And what is sleeping through anyway?
Are you and your child getting enough sleep? Currently, if my sleep is uninterrupted I function well on about 7 and a half hours. However, there were many, many years where I could count on one hand the number of uninterrupted sleeps I had for the whole year.
Two of my children were very poor sleepers. One of them screamed with colic and undiagnosed food allergies for a year. He slept briefly when I sat on a fitball bouncing him up and down. Although his screaming improved with age, he had frequent night terrors and developed habits such as coming in very frequently to our room. He slept through with a little bit of consistency (3-4 nights a week) at about seven years. The other child slept through for the first time when he was about five years.
Any wonder that my major thesis at University was on Influences of Early Childhood Sleep Difficulties, Fatigue, Social Support and Personality on the Development of Maternal Self-Efficacy….
So what does sleeping through mean?
Sleeping through is defined as between 5-6 hours of non interrupted sleep. Most infants do this at about 6 months of age. By about eight months 60-70% of infants can self-soothe – put themselves back to sleep. Full maturation of infant sleep occurs about the age of three, however, night wakings are unstable until then. So it is normal for your child not have a full nights sleep until about the age of three.
Studies show that about a quarter of school aged children have some sort of sleep difficulty.
Yes, I though I would give that sentence some space all by itself.
We tried many different approaches to these sleep problems. With my first chid I tried to follow all the guidelines given to establish good sleeping patterns, but they just did not work for him. Strategies across the years included a few trips to sleep school, co-sleeping in my bed, and co-sleeping in another bed in our bedroom. We also tried getting up each time a child came in and putting them back to bed without a sound; telling them to go back to bed themselves; and waking up and finding them lying in the bed and being too tired to put them back to theirs. We had reward charts. We had regular bedtime routines. We also had disruptions caused by shiftwork and illness – in other words real life.
And how did I feel through all of this? exhausted, despairing, like a failure, angry, frustrated, and at the end of my rope. It was an extremely difficult time.
Sleep deprivation is challenging, for the child and the parent. It leads to impaired cognitive functioning, which is another way of saying you have trouble making decisions, and in fact trouble just thinking about anything. The more fatigued you are the more your ability to remain calm is like to be effected.
Sleep difficulties can be very complex and there are physiological, emotional, behavioural, and environmental factors to be examined. Throughout this process trying to keep up with self-care is important, make naps and rest (for yourself) a priority, check in with how you feel,. Self-blame and feeling a failure as a parent may happen. Being able to recognise and let these feelings go can help.
If you feel you need some help it is worth checking in with a professional. A paediatrician is a good place to start and can take a close look at underlying physiological causes. Helping with behavioural, environmental and emotional factors is something I can work on with you in a private parent consultation. You don't need to cope with the fatigue and the emotional rollercoaster sleep difficulties bring alone.
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy.. If you are experiencing stress please contact your GP or mental health professional.
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.